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According to Ivo Banac, during the Middle ages Torlak and the Eastern Herzegovinian dialect were part of the Eastern South Slavic, but since the 12th century, especially the Shtokavian dialects, including Eastern Herzegovinian, began to separate themselves from the other neighbouring South Slavic dialects. Some of the phenomena that distinguish western and eastern subgroups of the South Slavic languages can be explained by two separate migratory waves of different Slavic tribal groups of the future South Slavs via two routes: the west and east of the Carpathian Mountains.
The Torlakian dialects are intermediate between the Eastern and Western branches of South Slavicdialect continuum, and have been variously described, in whole or in parts, as belonging to either group. In the 19th century, they were often called Bulgarian, but their classification was hotly contested between Serbian and Bulgarian writers. Previously, the designation "Torlakian" was not applied to the dialects of Ni? and the neighbouring areas to the east and south.
The Torlakian dialects, together with Bulgarian and Macedonian, display many properties of the Balkan linguistic area, a set of structural convergence features shared also with other, non-Slavic, languages of the Balkans such as Albanian, Romanian and Aromanian. In terms of areal linguistics, they have therefore been described as part of a prototypical "Balkan Slavic" area, as opposed to other parts of Serbo-Croatian, which are only peripherally involved in the convergence area.
Bulgarian researchers such as Benyo Tsonev, Gavril Zanetov and Krste Misirkov classified Torlakian as dialect of the Bulgarian language. They noted the manner of the articles, the loss of most of the cases, etc. Today Bulgarian linguists (Stoyko Stoykov, Rangel Bozhkov) also classify Torlakian as a "Belogradchik-Tran" dialect of Bulgarian, and claim that it should be classified outside the Shtokavian area. Stoykov further argued that the Torlakian dialects have a grammar that is closer to Bulgarian and that this is indicative of them being originally Bulgarian.
Basic Torlakian vocabulary shares most of its Slavic roots with Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbian but also over time it borrowed a number of words from Aromanian, Greek, Turkish, and Albanian in the Gora region of the ?ar mountains. Also, it preserved many words which in the "major" languages became archaisms or changed meaning. Like other features, vocabulary is inconsistent across subdialects: for example, a Krashovan need not necessarily understand a Goranac.
The varieties spoken in the Slavic countries have been heavily influenced by the standardized national languages, particularly when a new word or concept was introduced. The only exception is a form of Torlakian spoken in Romania, which escaped the influence of a standardized language which has existed in Serbia since a state was created after the withdrawal of the Ottoman Empire. The Slavs indigenous to the region are called Krashovani and are a mixture of original settler Slavs and later settlers from the Timok Valley, in eastern Serbia.
Cases lacking inflections
Bulgarian and Macedonian are the only two modern Slavic languages that lost virtually the entire noun case system, with nearly all nouns now in the surviving nominative case. This is partly true of the Torlakian dialect. In the northwest, the instrumental case merges with the genitive case, and the locative and genitive cases merge with the nominative case. Further south, all inflections disappear and syntactic meaning is determined solely by prepositions.
Lack of phoneme /x/
Macedonian, Torlakian and a number of Serbian and Bulgarian dialects, unlike all other Slavic languages, technically have no phoneme like , or . In other Slavic languages, or (the latter from Proto-Slavic *g in "H-Slavic languages") is common.
The appearance of the letter h in the alphabet is reserved mostly for loanwords and toponyms within the Republic of North Macedonia but outside of the standard language region. In Macedonian, this is the case with eastern towns such as Peh?evo. In fact, the Macedonian language is based in Prilep, Pelagonia and words such as thousand and urgent are iljada and itno in standard Macedonian but hiljada and hitno in Serbian (also, Macedonian oro, ubav vs. Bulgarian horo, hubav (folk dance, beautiful)). This is actually a part of an isogloss, a dividing line separating Prilep from Peh?evo in the Republic of North Macedonia at the southern extreme, and reaching central Serbia (?umadija) at a northern extreme. In ?umadija, local folk songs may still use the traditional form of I want being o?u () compared with ho?u (?) as spoken in Standard Serbian.
Some versions of Torlakian have retained the syllabic /l/, which, like /r/, can serve the nucleus of a syllable. In most of the Shtokavian dialects, the syllabic /l/ eventually became /u/ or /o/. In standard Bulgarian, it is preceded by the vowel represented by ? to separate consonant clusters. Naturally, the /l/ becomes velarized in most such positions, giving .
? for Old Church Slavonic? and ? in all positions: s?n, d?n (Bulgarian s?n, den; Serbian san, dan; Macedonian son, den), including in the place of OCS sufixes -, - (Bulgarian -ec, -en; Serbian -ac, -an; Macedonian -ec, -en)
Lack of phonetic pitch and length as in Bulgarian and Macedonian, present in Serbian
Frequent stress on the final syllable in polysyllabic words, impossible in Serbian and Macedonian (Bulgarian ?e'na, Serbian '?ena)
Preservation of final l, which in Serbian developed to o (Bulgarian and Macedonian bil, Serbian bio)
Comparative degree of adjectives formed with the particle po as in Eastern South Slavic ubav, poubav, Serbian lep, lep?i.
Lack of epenthetic l, as in Eastern South Slavic zdravje/zdrave, Serbian zdravlje
Use of ?to pronoun meaning what, as in Eastern South Slavic rather than ?ta as in standard Serbian (?to also preserved in some Croatian dialects) and of the standard Bulgarian kakvo (often shortened to kvo).
Features shared with Western South Slavic
In all Torlakian dialects:
? gave rounded u like in Shtokavian Serbian, unlike unrounded ? in literary Bulgarian and a in Macedonian
v?- gave u in Western, v- in Eastern
*?r gave cr in Western, but was preserved in Eastern
Distinction between Proto-Slavic /?/ and /n/ is lost in Eastern (S.-C. njega, Bulgarian nego).
Voiced consonants in final position are not subject to devoicing (Serbian grad (written and pronounced), Bulgarian/Macedonian pronounced /grat/
*vs stays preserved without metathesis in Eastern (S.-C. sve, Bulgarian vse, simplified in Macedonian to se)
Accusative njega as in Serbian, unlike old accusative on O in Eastern (nego)
Nominative plural of nomina on -a is on -e in Western, -i in Eastern
Ja 'I, ego' in Western, (j)as in Eastern
Mi 'we' in Western, nie in Eastern
First person singular of verbs is -m in Western, and the old reflex of *? in Eastern
suffixes *-itj? (-i?) and *-atja (-a?a) are common in Western, not known in Eastern
In some Torlakian dialects:
Distinction between the plural of masculine, feminine and neuter adjectives is preserved only in Western (S.C. beli, bele, bela), not in Eastern (beli for masc., fem. and neutr.), does not occur in Belogradchik area; in some eastern regions there is just a masculine and feminine form.
The proto-Slavic *tj, *dj which gave respectively ?, ? in Serbo-Croatian, ?t, ?d in Bulgarian and ?, ? in Macedonian, is represented by the Serbian form in the west and northwest and by the hybrid ?, d? in the east: Belogradchik and Tran, as well as Pirot, Gora, northern Macedonia. The Macedonian form occurs around Kumanovo.
According to one theory, the name Torlak derived from the South Slavic word tor ("sheepfold"), referring to the fact that Torlaks in the past were mainly shepherds by occupation. Some Bulgarian scientists describe the Torlaks as a distinct ethnographic group. The Torlaks are also sometimes classified as part of the Shopi population and vice versa. In the 19th century, there was no exact border between Torlak and Shopi settlements. According to some authors, during the Ottoman rule, the majority of the Torlakian population did not have national consciousness in ethnic sense.
Therefore, both Serbs and Bulgarians considered local Slavs as part of their own people and the local population was also divided between sympathy for Bulgarians and Serbs. Other authors take a different view and maintain that the inhabitants of the Torlakian area had begun to develop predominantly Bulgarian national consciousness. With Ottoman influence ever weakening, the increase of nationalist sentiment in the Balkans in late 19th and early 20th century, and the redrawing of national boundaries after the Treaty of Berlin (1878), the Balkan wars and World War I, the borders in the Torlakian-speaking region changed several times between Serbia and Bulgaria, and later the Republic of North Macedonia.
^Friedman, Victor (1999). Linguistic emblems and emblematic languages: on language as flag in the Balkans. Kenneth E. Naylor memorial lecture series in South Slavic linguistics ; vol. 1. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University, Dept. of Slavic and East European Languages and Literatures. p. 8. OCLC46734277.
^Alexander, Ronelle (2000). In honor of diversity: the linguistic resources of the Balkans. Kenneth E. Naylor memorial lecture series in South Slavic linguistics ; vol. 2. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University, Dept. of Slavic and East European Languages and Literatures. p. 4. OCLC47186443.
^Henrik Birnbaum; Victor Terras (1978). International Congress of Slavists, 8. Slavica Publishers. p. 473. ISBN978-0-89357-046-0. Ni? is located in a dialect area called prizrensko-ju?nomoravski; the name torla?ki 'Torlak' is now applied to the dialect of the Ni? area as well as to neighboring dialects to the east and south.
^B?lgarska etnografiia, Nikola? Ivanov Kolev, Izdatelstvo Nauka i izkustvo, 1987, p. 69; Istoricheski pregled, B?lgarsko istorichesko druzhestvo, Institut za istoriia (B?lgarska akademia na naukite), 1984, p. 16.
^In "The Shaping of Bulgarian and Serbian National Identities, 1800s-1900s, February 2003, Katrin Bozeva, Department of History, McGill University, Montreal. Thesis to fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, claims: "The historical data examined demonstrate that before the establishment of their sovereign states ordinary Serbs and Bulgarians had only a vague idea, if any, of their national identity. The peasantry was accustomed to defining itself in terms of religion, locality and occupation, not in terms of nationality. Once the nation state was established peasants had to be indoctrinated in nationalism. The inculcation was executed through the schooling system, military conscription, the Christian Orthodox Church, and the press. It was through the channels of these state institutions that a national identity came
into existence... A recent trend in national historiography presents many social rebellions in the Serbian and Bulgarian lands as early attempts to obtain independence from the Sublime Porte... Yet is as well to recall that, in their nascent phases, the uprisings of the 19th century tended to have social causes. Mass national movements were only to be developed when conditions permitted. There is no evidence that earlier conflicts between the Ottoman administration and local Bulgarian and Serbian populations were national in any sense at all."
^According to Nenad Stefanov, PhD in history at Humboldt University of Berlin, the rebellions between 1836 and 1840 in the area of Ni?, Pirot and Belograd?ik are object of contention between a nationally centered Serbian and Bulgarian historical narrative, both sides claiming they to be a manifestation of Bulgarian national consciousness or respectively loyalty of the rebels to Milo? Obrenovi? in a Serbian national historiography. He claims, by conceptualizing the relationship of Obrenovi? to the rebellion not as the protagonist of any national idea, but as one political actor, acting in this concrete context, is possible to avoid a strictly nationalist views. A lot of sources related to the activity of Prince Milo?, shows his interaction and cooperation with the Ottoman authorities, in order to restrain this revolt. For more see: Revolutions in the Balkans, Revolts and Uprisings in the Era of Nationalism (1804-1908), Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens, pp. 27-28. and Südosteuropäische Hefte, 3 (2014) 1, pp. 163-166.
^According to Engin Tanir from Ankara University in his thesis for the degree of master of arts in history, called "The mid-nineteenth century Ottoman Bulgaria from the viewpoints of the French travelers", p, 70: The district of Nish was at the western end of the Danubean Province. It was subdivided into six districts which were Nish, Pirot, Leskovac, Vranje, Prokuplje and Iznebol. According to Ami Boué, who traveled through the region in 1837, Nish was a Bulgarian district and both in the town and in the country Bulgarians formed the great part of the population. Nevertheless, Cyprien Robert claimed that Serbs formed half of the town population. In the Pirot and Leskovac districts, Bulgarians were the main ethnic group, especially in the villages disseminated on the valleys. In the district of Prekoplie, the main ethnic group was Muslim Albanians. According to Boué, Albanians were placed in the Nish sub-province by the Porte to counterbalance the Christian majority and to prevent periodic Bulgarian rebellions. In Vranje, Bulgarians and Muslim Albanians were equally distributed. Turks lived mainly in the chief towns and formed a small minority in the whole of this sub-province. Bulgarians, Serbs and Muslim Albanians were the main ethnic groups.
^According to Mark Pinson's, "Ottoman Bulgaria in the First Tanzimat Period -- The Revolts in Nish (1841) and Vidin (1850)," published in peer reviewed journal Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 11, No 2 (May, 1975), pp. 103-146, in Ottoman usage during the period of the Tanzimat (1839-1876), the district of Nish was included in the area designated "Bulgaria" and describes all rebellions in the area at that time, as created by the Bulgarians.
^According to Kyril Drezov, lecturer at the Keele University and leading expert on Balkan politics at the turn of the 20th century, after had gained in 1878 the new territories (between Nis and Pirot), Serbia had successfully assimilated the local transitional Bulgarians and turned its attention to Macedonia. He cites professor Henry Wilkinson's book "Maps and Politics a Review of the Ethnographic Cartography of Macedonia", Liverpool University Press, 1951. Wilkinson summarized dozens of ethnographic maps which depicted the demographics of the southern Balkans. From them is apparent that up until the late 19th century the Slavs of today Eastern Serbia were displayed predominantly as Bulgarians. For more: J. Pettifer, The New Macedonian Question, St Antony's, Springer, 1999, ISBN0230535798, p. 53.
^The Serbian newspaper, Srbske Narodne Novine (Year IV, pp. 138 and 141-43, May 4 and 7, 1841), described the towns of Ni?, Leskovac, Pirot, and Vranja as lying in Bulgaria, and styles their inhabitants Bulgarians. In a map made by Dimitrije Davidovi? called ,,Territories inhabited by Serbians" from 1828 Macedonia, but also the towns Ni?, Leskovac, Vranja, Pirot etc. were situated outside the boundaries of the Serbian race. The map of Constantine Desjardins (1853), French professor in Serbia represents the realm of the Serbian language. The map was based on Davidovi?'s work confining Serbians into the limited area north of ?ar Planina. For more: G. Demeter et al., "Ethnic Mapping on the Balkans (1840-1925): a Brief Comparative Summary of Concepts and Methods of Visualization" in (Re)Discovering the Sources of Bulgarian and Hungarian History. pp. 65-100.