Torlakian dialect

Native to Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Romania
Native speakers
(undated figure of ca. 1.5 million)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Linguist list
Glottolog None

Areas where Torlakian dialects are spoken.

Torlakian, or Torlak (Serbo-Croatian: Torlački/Торлачки, [tɔ̌rlaːt͡ʃkiː]; Bulgarian: Торлашки/Torlashki), is a group of South Slavic dialects of southeastern Serbia, southern Kosovo (Prizren), northeastern Republic of Macedonia (Kumanovo, Kratovo and Kriva Palanka dialects), western Bulgaria (BelogradchikGodechTran-Breznik), which is intermediate between Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian and Macedonian. According to UNESCO's list of endangered languages, Torlakian is vulnerable.[1]

Some linguists classify it as an Old Shtokavian dialect or as a fourth dialect of Serbo-Croatian along with Shtokavian, Chakavian, and Kajkavian. Others classify it as a western Bulgarian dialect, in which case it is referred to as a Transitional Bulgarian dialect. Torlakian is not standardized, and its subdialects vary significantly in some features.

Speakers of the dialectal group are primarily ethnic Serbs, Bulgarians, and Macedonians.[2] There are also smaller ethnic communities of Croats (the Krashovani) in Romania and Slavic Muslims (the Gorani) in southern Kosovo.


The Torlakian dialects are intermediate between the Eastern and Western branches of South Slavic, and have been variously described, in whole or in parts, as belonging to either group. In the 19th century, their classification was hotly contested between Serbian and Bulgarian writers.[3] In addition, there have been disputes regarding whether the Torlakian dialects in Macedonia, like with all dialects in Macedonia, belonged to Bulgarian or were a separate language.

Previously, "Torlakian" was not applied to the dialects of Niš and the neighbouring areas to the east and south.[4]

Serbo-Croatian linguists

Most notable Serbian linguists (like Pavle Ivić and Asim Peco) classify Torlakian as an Old-Shtokavian dialect, referring to it as the Prizren-Timok dialect.[5]

Bulgarian linguists

All Bulgarian scientists as Benyo Tsonev, Gavril Zanetov and Krste Misirkov[9] classified Torlakian as dialect of 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.[10]

Macedonian linguists

In Macedonian dialectology, the Torlakian varieties spoken in Macedonia (Kumanovo, Kratovo and Kriva Palanka dialects) are classified as part of a northeastern group of Macedonian dialects.[11]

Balkan sprachbund

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 languages of the Balkans such as Albanian 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.[3][12][13][14]



Basic Torlakian vocabulary shares most of its Slavic roots with Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, and Macedonian, but also over time it borrowed a number of words from Aromanian, Greek, Turkish, and Albanian in the Gora region of the Šar 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 defeat of the Ottoman Empire. The Slavs indigenous to the region are called Krašovani (Krashovans) and are a mixture of original settler Slavs and later settlers from Timočka Krajina (eastern Serbia).

Cases lacking inflections

Macedonian and Bulgarian 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 [x], [ɦ] or [h]. In other Slavic languages, [x] or [ɦ] (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 Macedonia but outside of the standard language region. In Macedonian, this is the case with eastern towns such as Pehčevo. 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 Serbo-Croatian (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 Pehčevo in the Republic of Macedonia at the southern extreme, and reaching central Serbia (Šumadija) at a northern extreme. In Šumadija, local folk songs may still use the traditional form of I want being oću (оћу) compared with hoću (хоћу) as spoken in Standard Serbian.

Syllabic /l/

Torlakian has generally 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 ъ ([ɤ]) to separate consonant clusters. Not all Torlakian subdialects retained the syllabic /l/ to the full extent, but it is reflected either as full syllabic or in various combinations with [ə], [u], [ɔ] or [a]. Naturally, the /l/ becomes velarized in most such positions, giving [ɫ].[15]

Torlakian Krašovan (Karas) влк /vɫk/ пекъл /pɛkəl/ сълза /səɫza/ жлт /ʒɫt/
Northern (Svrljig) вук /vuk/ пекал /pɛkəɫ/ суза /suza/ жлът /ʒlət/
Central (Lužnica) vuk /vuk/ pekl /pɛkəɫ/ slza /sləza/ žlt /ʒlət/
Southern (Vranje) vlk /vəlk/ pekal /pɛkal/ solza /sɔɫza/ žlt /ʒəɫt/
Western (Prizren) vuk /vuk/ pekl /pɛkɫ/ suza /sluza/ žlt /ʒlt/
Eastern (Tran) вук /vuk/ пекл /pɛkɫ/ слза /slza/ жлт /ʒlt/
North-Eastern (Belogradchik) влк /vlk/ пекл /pɛkɫ/ слза /slza/ жлт /ʒlt/
South-Eastern (Kumanovo) влк /vlk/ пекъл /pɛkəɫ/ слъза /sləza/ жут /ʒut/
Standard Serbo-Croatian vȗk /ʋûːk/ pȅkao /pêkao/ sȕza /sûza/ žȗt /ʒûːt/
Standard Bulgarian вълк /vɤɫk/ пекъл /pɛkɐɫ/ сълза /sɐɫza/ жълт /ʒɤɫt/
Standard Macedonian волк /vɔlk/ печел /pɛtʃɛl/ солза /sɔlza/ жолт /ʒɔlt/
English wolf (have) baked tear yellow

Features shared with Eastern South Slavic

Features shared with Western South Slavic

In all Torlakian dialects:

In some Torlakian dialects:


Literature written in Torlakian is rather sparse as the dialect has never been an official state language. During the Ottoman rule literacy in the region was limited to Eastern Orthodox clergy, who chiefly used Old Church Slavonic in writing. The first known literary document influenced by Torlakian[16] dialects is the Manuscript from Temska Monastery from 1762, in which its author, the Monk Kiril Zhivkovich from Pirot, considered his language "simple Bulgarian".[17]


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.[18] 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 from the epoch take a different view and maintain that the inhabitants of the Torlakian area had begun to develop predominantly Bulgarian national consciousness.[19][20] 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 Republic of Macedonia.

See also


  1. 1 2 "Torlak" at "UNESCO's list of endangered languages". Retrieved 2013-03-24.
  2. The languages and linguistics of Europe, Bernd Kortmann, Johan van der Auwera, Walter de Gruyter, 2011, ISBN 3110220261, p. 515. 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2013-03-24.
  3. 1 2 Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world, Keith Brown, Sarah Ogilvie, Elsevier, 2008, ISBN 0-08-087774-5, p.120. Retrieved 2013-03-24.
  4. Henrik Birnbaum; Victor Terras (1978). International Congress of Slavists, 8. Slavica Publishers. p. 473. ISBN 978-0-89357-046-0. Ni§ is located in a dialect area called prizrensko-juznomoravski ; the name torlaSki 'Torlak' is now applied to the dialect of the NiS area as well as to neighboring dialects to the east and south.
  5. Ivić, Pavle (2001). Dijalektologija srpskohrvatskog jezika. p. 25.; Pavle Ivić. "Dijalektološka karta štokavskog narečja".
  6. Archivum philologicum et linguisticum. 7–9. Matica srpska. 1964. p. 26.
  7. Slavistische Beiträge. 67-69. O. Sagner. 1973. p. 141. ISBN 978-3-87690-076-6.
  8. Janneke Kalsbeek (1998). The Čakavian Dialect of Orbanići Near Žminj in Istria. Rodopi. p. 3. ISBN 90-420-0712-5.
  9. Мисирков, Кръстьо (1898). Значението на моравското или ресавското наречие за съвременната и историческа етнография на Балканския полуостров. Български преглед, година V, книга І, стр. 121–127; Мисирков, Кръстьо (1910, 1911). Бележки по южно-славянска филология и история - Към въпроса за пограничната линия между българския и сръбско-хърватски езици и народи, Одеса, 30.XII.1909 г. Българска сбирка.
  10. Bulgarian dialectology, Stoyko Stoykov, 2002, p.163
  11. K. Koneski, Pravopisen rečnik na makedonskiot literaturen jazik. Skopje: Prosvetno delo 1999.
  12. Papers from the 6-th International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Current issues in linguistic theory, Jacek Fisiak, John Benjamins Publishing, 1985 ISBN 9027235287, p. 17 - Henrik Birnbaum: Divergence and convergence in linguistic evolution. Retrieved 2013-03-24.
  13. The handbook of language contact, Blackwell handbooks in Linguistics, Raymond Hickey, John Wiley & Sons, 2010, ISBN 140517580X, p. 620. 2010-04-26. Retrieved 2013-03-24.
  14. Concise Encyclopedia of Languages of the World, Keith Brown, Sarah Ogilvie, Elsevier, 2009, ISBN 0080877745, pp. 119-120. Retrieved 2013-03-24.
  15. Josip Lisac. "Osnovne značajke torlačkoga narječja". Kolo.
  16. Българскиият език през 20-ти век. Василка Радева, Издател Pensoft Publishers, 2001, ISBN 954-642-113-8, стр. 280-281.
  17. Василев, В.П. Темският ръкопис – български езиков паметник от 1764 г, Paleobulgarica, IX (1986), кн. 1, с. 49-72
  18. Bŭlgarska etnografiia, Nikolaĭ Ivanov Kolev, Izdatelstvo Nauka i izkustvo, 1987, p. 69; Istoricheski pregled, Bŭlgarsko istorichesko druzhestvo, Institut za istoriia (Bŭlgarska akademia na naukite), 1984, p. 16.
  19. Felix Philipp Kanitz, (Das Konigreich Serbien und das Serbenvolk von der Romerzeit bis dur Gegenwart, 1904, in two volume) # "During this period (1872) they (the inhabitants of Pirot) did not realize that six years later the often hated Turkish rule in their town would be finished, or at least they did not know that they would be part of Serbia, because they always felt that they were Bulgarians. ("Србија, земља и становништво од римског доба до краја XIX века", Друга књига, Београд 1986, p. 215)...And today (in the end of 19th century) among the older generation there are many fondness to Bulgarians, that it led him to collision with Serbian government. Some hesitation can be noticed among the young..." ("Србија, земља и становништво од римског доба до краја XIX века", Друга књига, Београд 1986, c. 218; Serbia - its land and inhabitants, Belgrade 1986, p. 218)
  20. Jérôme-Adolphe Blanqui, „Voyage en Bulgarie pendant l'année 1841“ (Жером-Адолф Бланки. Пътуване из България през 1841 година. Прев. от френски Ел. Райчева, предг. Ив. Илчев. София: Колибри, 2005, 219 с. ISBN 978-954-529-367-2.) The author describes the population of Sanjak of Niš as ethnic Bulgarians.


External links

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