Macedonian language

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The Macedonian language (Македонски, Makedonski) is a language in the Eastern group of South Slavic languages and is the official language of the Republic of Macedonia. It is also officially recognised in the District of Korçë in Albania. Macedonian is closely related to Standard Bulgarian.

It also has some similarities with standard Serbian and is closest to the intermediate Torlakian dialect spoken mostly in southern Serbia and in western Bulgaria. Both Bulgarian and the Macedonian language share typological similarities with Romanian, Greek, and Albanian. These five languages make up the Balkan sprachbund, even though the last three are from different language families (Romanian is a Romance language, while Greek and Albanian comprise their own branches in the Indo-European family).

Along with Bulgarian, Macedonian is the only Slavic language not to use noun cases (except for the vocative) and to have a definite article.

Classification and related languages

The Macedonian language belongs to the eastern sub-branch of the South Slavic branch of the Slavic branch of the Indo-European family of languages. The closest relative of Macedonian is Bulgarian, spoken in Bulgaria, parts of the Republic of Macedonia, Greece and Turkey. Bulgarian and Macedonian properly form a dialect continuum, with the Bulgarian standard being based on the more eastern dialects, and the Macedonian standard being based on the more western dialects. Macedonian is mutually intelligible with Bulgarian and the Torlakian dialects, which are spoken in parts of Bulgaria and Serbia. Following that, the next closest languages are the languages formerly known as Serbo-Croatian. Macedonian is also a constituent language of the Balkan Sprachbund, a group of languages which share grammatical and lexical features based on geographical, rather than genetic proximity.

Geographical distribution

The population of the Republic of Macedonia was 2,022,547 in 2002, with 1,344,815 speaking Macedonian as the native language . Outside of the Republic, there are Macedonians living in other parts of the geographical area of Macedonia. There are ethnic Macedonian minorities in neighbouring Albania, in Bulgaria and in Greece. In Bulgaria the number of people professing the Macedonian language in the last census was 3,518 . In Greece, although groups may be considered to be speaking dialects heteronomous with standard Macedonian, they do not all identify their language with their national identity. The Slavic speaking minority in Greece varies on how it describes its language - most describe it as Slavic and proclaim a Greek national identity, although there are smaller groups, some of which describe it as Macedonian and espouse an ethnic Macedonian national identity, and some who describe it as Bulgarian and espouse a Bulgarian national identity. Some prefer to identify as dopii and their dialect as dopia which mean local or indigenous in Greek .

A large number of Macedonians live outside the traditional Macedonian region in the Balkans, with Australia, Canada and the USA having the largest emigrant communities. According to a 1964 estimate, the number of Macedonians living outside of the Republic of Macedonia numbers approximately 580,000. . The Macedonian spoken by communities outside the republic dates back to before the standardisation of the language and retains many dialectic though, overall, mutually intelligible variations.

The Macedonian language has the status of official language only within the Republic of Macedonia. The language is taught in some universities in Albania, Canada, Croatia, Russia, Serbia and the United Kingdom among other countries.


Based on a large group of features, the Macedonian dialects can be divided into Eastern and Western groups (the boundary runs approximately from Skopje and Crna Gora along the rivers Vardar and Crna). In addition, a more detailed classification can be based on the modern reflexes of the Proto-Slavonic reduced vowels ("yers"), vocalic sonorants and the back nasal (o). That classification distinguishes between the following 5 groups :

Western Dialects:

  • Ohrid - Prespa Group consisting of the Lower Prespa region, Ohrid, Struga, Radozhda, and Vevchani.
  • Debar Group consisting of the Drimkol - Golobrdo region, Debar, Mala Reka, Reka, Gora, and Skopska Crna Gora.
  • Polog Group consisting of Gostivar (Upper Polog), and Tetovo (Lower Polog), as well as the entire West Central region (Prilep, Kicevo, Bitola, Krushevo, Lerin)
  • Kostur - Korcha Group consisting of Korcha, Kostur, and Nestram.

Eastern Dialects:

It must be noted that the Seres-Nevrokop group is in fact located mostly outside of the republic of Macedonia (in Greece and Bulgaria, respectively) and hence its identification as a group of Macedonian dialects is an especially controversial issue. Bulgarian linguists regard both as East Bulgarian dialects, more specifically as part of a Rupski dialect group that stretches through Southern Thrace up to the Black Sea .

Variation in vowels

The vocalic inventories of the West Central dialects consist of five vowels, /a, e, i, o, u/. Most of the remaining dialects also have phonemic /ə/. In addition, phonemic /å/, /ä/, and /ü/ and vocalic /l/ and /r/ occur in various dialects.

Most dialects have /e/ from original ě (yat), but the Eastern region is characterised by the development of ě to /a/ after /c/: Eastern cal, Western cel (whole). Besides that, in easternmost Greek Macedonia and the Blagoevgrad Province of Bulgaria ě gives /a/ or /ä/ under stress. In the dialects of Greek Macedonia, that happens regardless of the environment, whereas the dialects of the Blagoevgrad province have (just like standard Bulgarian and its eastern dialects) /'a/ if there is a back vowel in the following syllable, and /e/ if there is a front vowel. For example, 'white' (sing. - plur.) sounds in the following way in these dialects: Serres-Drama: b'ala - b'ali, Suho and Visoka: b'äla - b'äli, Nevrokop: b'ala - beli. In Korca, ě gives /iä/ under stress.

Variation in consonants

As far as consonantal features are concerned, the entire Western region is distinguished from the East by loss of /x/ (except Tetovo, Gora and Korca) and the loss of /v/ in intervocalic position (except Mala Reka and parts of Kostur-Korca): glava (head) = gla, glavi (heads) = glaj. The Eastern region preserves /x/ (except Tikves-Mariovo and Kumanovo-Kriva Palanka) and intervocalic /v/. The East is also characterised by the development of prothetic /v/ before original o where the West has prothetic /j/: Eastern vaglen (coal) but Western jaglen. The diphonemic reflexes are most characteristic of the dialects of Greek Macedonia and Blagoevgrad province, Kostur-Korca and Ohrid-Prespa. The Seres-Nevrokop dialects have a series of phonemically palatalised consonants.

Variation in word stress and its effects on vowels

The Western dialects generally have fixed stress, antepenultimate in the Republic of Macedonia, and penultimate in Greece and Albania. The Eastern region, along with the neighbouring Bulgarian dialects, has various non-fixed stress systems. In Lower Vardar and Seres-Nevrokop unstressed /a, e, o/ are reduced (raised) to /ə, i, u/. The reduction of unstressed vowels (as well as the aforementioned allophonic palatalisation of consonants) is characteristic of East Bulgarian as opposed to West Bulgarian dialects, so these dialects are regarded by Bulgarian linguists as transitional between East and West Bulgarian .


The phoneme inventory of standard literary Macedonian contains 31 phonemes. These consist of five vowels, one semivowel, three liquid consonants (which are also called "semivowels" by Lunt 1952) three nasal consonants, three pairs of fricatives, two pairs of affricates, a non-paired voiceless fricative, nine pairs of voiced and unvoiced consonants and four pairs of stops .


Macedonian vowels
Front Central Back
High и /i/ у /u/
Mid е /ɛ/ о /ɔ/
Low а /a/

In addition the schwa /ə/ may appear in certain dialects or loanwords.


Consonant Phonemes of Macedonian
Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar
Plosives p b t d c ɟ k g
Nasals m n ɲ
Fricatives f v s z ʃ ʒ x
Affricates ʦ ʣ
Approximants j
Trills r
Laterals ł l

At the end of a word, the 'voiced — voiceless' opposition is neutralised and all consonants are pronounced as voiceless.

In cases when /r/ is syllabic, the sign ' is used before the letter 'Р'. For example: 'рж ('rzh), за'ржи (za'rzhi), 'рт ('rt), 'рбет ('rbet), 'ркулец ('rkulec) etc.

Neither Lunt (1952) nor Friedman (2001) recognise the existence of a palatalised (/lʲ/) or palatal (/ʎ/) lateral in standard Macedonian. That is in contrast with the surrounding related languages (Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian language). Instead, a /lj/ sequence is supposed to occur (except in rapid speech). Both of these scholars also assert that there is a phonemic contrast between the velarised lateral /ł/ and the nonvelarised /l/. While they admit that /ł/ and /l/ (both written 'л') occur mainly before front and non-front vowels, respectively, they state that, at least in the prescribed norm (Friedman 2001) or in some words (Lunt 1952), /l/ (written 'љ') may also occur before non-front vowels. Hence minimal pairs like бела /beła/ "white, feminine" vs беља /bela/ "trouble" are believed to exist.

Word stress

The word stress in Macedonian is antepenultimate, meaning it falls on the third from last syllable in words with three or more syllables, and on the first or only syllable in other words. This is sometimes disregarded when the word has entered the language more recently and from a foreign source. For example: Meнаџмент (Management) is pronounced /mɛnadʒ'mɛnt/ with the stress falling on the last syllable.

Example: планина /'planina/; планината /pla'ninata/; планинарите /plani'narite/ etc.

Further examples include:

  • Disyllabic words are stressed on the second-to-last syllable.

Examples: дé-те, мáj-кa, тáт-ко - déte, májka, tátko (child, mother, father)

Examples: тáт-ко-то, тáт-ков-ци, тат-кóв-ци-те, ма-кé-до-нец - tátkoto, tátkovci, tátkovcite, mákedonec (fathers, the fathers, Macedonian [nationality, male gender])

Deviations include:

  • Verbal adverbs: викáјќи, одéјќи - vikájki, odéjkji (shouting, walking)
  • Foreign loanwords: клишé, генéза, литератýра - klishé, genéza, literatúra (cliché, genesis, literature)


As with the Bulgarian grammar, the grammar of Macedonian is markedly analytic in comparison with other Slavic languages, having lost the common Slavic case system. The Macedonian language shows some special and in some cases unique characteristics due to its central position in the Balkans.

Literary Macedonian is the only South Slavic literary language that has three forms of the definite article, based on the degree of proximity to the speaker, and a past tense formed by means of an auxiliary verb "to have", followed by a past passive participle in the neuter.

Both double object and mediative (sometimes referred to as renarrative or admirative) mood are also found in the Bulgarian language, although the use of double object is much more restricted in the Bulgarian standard (see also Bulgarian syntax).


Definiteness (article)

The article is postfixed, as in Bulgarian, Albanian and Romanian. One feature that has no parallel in other standard Balkan languages is the existence of three definite articles pertaining to position of the object, unspecified, proximate (or close) and distal (or distant). Bulgarian only has the basic (unspecified) form, although three definite article forms also exist in certain Bulgarian dialects, notably the vernaculars of Tran and parts of the Rhodopes .

The definite articles
Gender Distance
Unspecified Close (this) Distant (that)
Masculine (Singular) -от [-ot] -ов [-ov] -он [-on]
Feminine (Singular) -та [-ta] -ва [-va] -на [-na]
Neuter (Singular) -то [-to] -во [-vo] -но [-no]
Masculine and Feminine (Plural) -те [-te] -ве [-ve] -не [-ne]
Neuter (Plural) -тa [-ta] -вa [-va] -нa [-na]
  • книга (kniga) - a book
    • книгата (knigata) - the book
    • книгава (knigava) - this book; the book over here
    • книгана (knigana) - that book; the book over there
  • книги (knigi) - books
    • книгите (knigite) - the books
    • книгиве (knigive) - these books; the books over here
    • книгине (knigine) - those books; the books over there

Gender and number

Nouns in Macedonian have gender -masculine, feminine and neuter and inflect for number. The gender opposition does not exist in the plural . Adjectives agree in gender and number with the nouns they modify.

Vocative case

The vocative case is formed by adding the endings -o (usual in feminine nouns), -u (usual in masculine monosyllabic nouns) and -e (usual for masculine polysyllabic nouns). Example: пријател priyatel (friend) > пријателe priyatele (O friend!). Compare with other languages in the Balkan sprachbund: Bulgarian: приятел priyatel - приятелю priyatel'u, Serbo-Croatian: prijatelj/пријатељ - prijatelju/пријатељу, Greek: φίλος fílos - φίλε fíle, Romanian: prietenul - prietenule. The vocative is used almost only for singular masculine and feminine nouns.


Personal pronouns (nominative):

Singular Plural
1st person јас ние
2nd person ти виe
3rd person (M) тoј тиe
3rd person (F) таа
3rd person (N) тоа


Perfect tense

In Macedonian the perfect tense is formed by a clitic which agrees in number and gender with the object of the sentence, followed by има "to have", and the passive participle of the verb in its uninflected form. This is common in Germanic and Romance languages, along with other languages in the Balkan Sprachbund, such as Albanian and Greek. For example, the sentence "I have read the book" reads:

Ја имам прочитано книгата
Ja imam pročitano knigata
It (clitic) I have read book the

In contrast, in other Slavic languages that have the perfect tense, it is almost universally built with the verb "to be" and a past active participle; that is also an option in Macedonian. The older common Slavic form with сум "to be" is predominant in the east of the country, while the form with "to have" is more widespread in the west, but has spread in the younger generations due to the influence of the standard language . The sentence "I have seen" reads:

New perfect Old perfect
имам видено сум видел
imam videno sum videl

Being replaced by the new construction, the "old perfect" tends to become an expression of the renarrative mood (aka nonconfirmative status) in Western Macedonia and in the standard language.


The aorist, called in Macedonian either aorist or minato opredeleno svršeno vreme, i.e., past definite complete tense, is a form which refers to a completed action in the past tense. It most often corresponds to the simple past tense in English: I read the book, I wrote the letter, I ate my supper, etc. In contemporary standard Macedonian, the aorist is formed almost exclusively from perfective verbs.

The formation of the aorist for most verbs is not complex, but there are numerous small subcategories which must be learned. While all verbs in the aorist (except sum) take the same endings, there are complexities in the aorist stem vowel and possible consonant alternations.

All verbs (except sum) take the following endings in the aorist:

jas -v nie -vme
ti -# vie -vte
toj -# tie -a

The sign # means that there is a zero ending, i.e., nothing is added after the stem vowel."

Future tense

The future tense is formed by means of the clitic ќе and an inflected present tense form of the verb. Thus, "I will come" reads:

ќе доjдам
ќe dojdam
will (clitic) I come (perfective aspect)
I will come.

In this respect, both Macedonian and Bulgarian differ from other Slavic languages. In Macedonian, as in other Balkan Sprachbund languages (Bulgarian, Greek and Albanian) the clitic is fixed, whereas in Serbo-Croatian it inflects for person and number . In both cases the clitic is derived from a verb meaning "to want".

Future-in-the-past is expressed by means of the same clitic and a past tense inflected form of the verb:

ќе доjдеше
ќe dojdeše
will (clitic) he came (imperfective aspect)
He would come/he would have come.

In this respect, Macedonian is different from Bulgarian: Macedonian is consistent in the use of ќе as a clitic, whereas the equivalent Bulgarian construction involves the inflection of the clitic for tense, person and number as a regular verb (щях да дойда - št'ah da dojda - I would [have] come; щеше да дойде - šteše da dojde - he would [have] come).

An interesting fact is that a past tense form of the verb can be used in a future sense as well, although this construction is mostly limited to older speakers.

Examples: Те утепав, чим ќе те фатам. - Te utepav, čim ќe te fatam. (lit. "I have killed you, when I get you") Те фатам ли, те казнив. - Te fatam li, te kazniv. (lit. "As soon as I grab you, I have punished you")


The canonical word order of Macedonian is Subject-Verb-Object (SVO).


As a result of the close relatedness with Bulgarian, Macedonian shares a large percentage of its lexicon with this language. Other languages which have been in positions of power, such as Serbian, Turkish and increasingly English also provide a significant proportion of the loan words. Prestige languages, such as Old Church Slavonic and Russian also provided a lexical source.

During the standardisation process, there was deliberate care taken to try and purify the lexicon of the language. "Serbisms" and "Bulgarisms", which had become common due to the influence of these languages in the region were rejected in favour of words from native dialects and archaisms. One example being the word for "event", nastan which was found in certain examples of folk poetry. The Bulgarian and Serbian words that had been in common use were sobitie and dogagaj respectively. This is not to say that there are no Serbisms or Bulgarisms in the language, but rather they were discouraged on a principle of "seeking native material first" .

Writing system

For more information, see: Macedonian alphabet.

The Macedonian alphabet, as any Slavic Cyrillic alphabet, is ultimately based on the Cyrillic alphabet of Saints Cyril and Methodius; it is an adaptation of Vuk Karadžić's phonetic alphabet, which is the official alphabet of the Serbian language. It differs from Serbian Cyrillic in the letters Ќ and Ѓ (which have distinct phonetic values from their Serbian counterparts Ћ and Ђ), while Dze (Ѕ, ѕ) is a unique letter preserved from Old Church Slavonic in Macedonian Cyrillic.


For more information, see: History of the Macedonian language.

The region of Macedonia and the Republic of Macedonia are located on the Balkan peninsula. The Slavs first came to the Balkan Peninsula in the sixth and seventh centuries. In the ninth century, the Greek Byzantine monks Saints Cyril and Methodius developed the first writing system for the Slavonic languages. At this time, the Slavic dialects were so close as to make it practical to develop the written language on the dialect of a single region. There is dispute as to the precise region, but it is likely that they were developed in the region around Thessaloniki.

In the fourteenth century, the Ottoman Turks invaded and conquered most of the Balkans, incorporating Macedonia into the Ottoman Empire. While the written language, now called Old Church Slavonic, remained static as a result of Turkish domination, the spoken dialects moved further apart.

During the increase of national consciousness in the Balkans, standards for the languages of Slovenian, Serbo-Croatian and Bulgarian were created. As Turkish influence in Macedonia waned, schools were opened up that taught the Bulgarian standard language as the population in the area was mainly Bulgarian. (see Demographic History of Macedonia)

In 1845 the Russian scholar Viktor Grigorovič travelled in the Balkans in order to study the south Slavic dialects of Macedonia. His work announced to the world for the first time the existence of two separate Bulgarian dialects: Eastern and Western. According to his findings, the Western Bulgarian variety, spoken in Macedonia, was characterized by traces of Old Slavic nasal vowels . It wasn't until the works of Krste Misirkov that parts of what had been regarded as West Bulgarian dialects were defined as a separate 'Macedonian' language. Misirkov was born in a village near Pella in Greek Macedonia. Although literature had been written in the Slavic dialects of Macedonia before, arguably the most important book published in relation to the Macedonian language was Misirkov's On Macedonian Matters, published in 1903. In that book, he argued for the creation of a standard literary Macedonian language from the central dialects of Macedonia which would use a phonetic orthography.

After the first two Balkan wars, the region of Macedonia was split between Greece, Bulgaria and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia occupied the area that is currently the Republic of Macedonia incorporating it into the Kingdom as "Southern Serbia". During this time, the language of public life, education and the church was Serbo-Croatian. In the other two states, Greece and Bulgaria, the respective national languages were imposed, in Bulgaria, the local dialects were described as dialects of Bulgarian.

During the second World War, Macedonia was occupied by the Bulgarians, who were allied with the Axis. The Bulgarian language was reintroduced in schools and liturgies. The Bulgarians were initially welcomed as "liberators" from Serbian domination. However, as a result of unpopular assimilation policies, reminiscent of what Serbian practice had been since the First World War, they were quickly seen as "conquerors".

There were a number of groups fighting the Bulgarian occupying force, some advocating independence and others union with Bulgaria. The eventual outcome was that the Vardar Banovina was incorporated into the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a constituent Socialist Republic with the Macedonian language holding official status within both the Federation and Republic. The first book, published in Macedonian, was "Narodni bigori", written by Venko Markovski, and published in Sofia in 1938, and it is considered the beginning of modern Macedonian literature. The Macedonian language was proclaimed the official language of the Republic of Macedonia at the First Session of the Antifascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia, held on August 2, 1944. One of the most important contributors in the standardisation of the Macedonian literary language was Blaže Koneski, who also promoted usage of alphabet, closer to the Serbian alphabet. The first document written in the literary standard Macedonian language is the first issue of the Nova Makedonia newspaper in 1944.


The Lord's Prayer

Оче наш кој си на небото,
да се свети името Твое,
да дојде царството Твое,
да биде волјата Твоја,
како на небото така и на Земјата.
Лебот наш, насушен, дај ни го денес,
и прости ни ги долговите наши,
како што им ги проштеваме и ние на нашите должници.
И не воведувај нè во искушение,
но избави нè од лукавиот.

Latin transcription:
Oče naš koj si na neboto,
da se sveti imeto Tvoe,
da dojde carstvoto Tvoe,
da bide voljata Tvoja,
kako na neboto taka i na Zemjata.
Lebot naš, nasušen, daj ni go denes,
i prosti ni gi dolgovite naši,
kako što im gi proštevame i nie na našite dolžnici.
I ne voveduvaj nè vo iskušenie,
no izbavi nè od lukaviot.

See also


  1. Although the precise number of speakers is unknown, figures of between 1.6 million [1] and 2-2.5 million have been cited, see Topolinjska (1998) and Friedman (1985). The general academic consensus is that there are approximately 2 million speakers of the Macedonian language, accepting that "it is difficult to determine the total number of speakers of Macedonian due to the official policies of the neighbouring Balkan states and the fluid nature of emigration" (Friedman 1985).
  2. Popis na Naselenie, Domaćinstva i Stanovi vo Republika Makedonija, 2002 - Vkupno naselenie na Republika Makedonija spored majčin jazik.
  3. Преброяване 2001 - Окончателни резултати - Население към 01.03.2001 г. по области и етническа група
  4. Greek Helsinki Monitor - Report about Compliance with the Principles of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities
  5. Topolinjska, Z. (1998). "In place of a foreword: facts about the Republic of Macedonia and the Macedonian language" in International Journal of the Sociology of Language. Issue 131. pp. 1-11
  6. Bernard Comrie and Greville G. Corbett. (2002) The Slavonic Languages (p. 247. The Macedonian Language) (New York: Routledge Publications)
  7. Стойков, С. (2002) Българска диалектология, 4-то издание. стр. 143, 186. Also available online.
  8. ibid. стр. 140, 143.
  9. Lunt, H. (1952) Grammar of the Macedonian Literary Language p. 1
  10. Стойков, С. (2002) Българска диалектология, 4-то издание. стр. 127. Also available online.
  11. Friedman, V. (2001) Macedonian (SEELRC), p.17.
  12. Friedman, V. (2001) Macedonian (SEELRC), p.40.
  13. Christina E. Kramer (1999), Makedonski Jazik (The University of Wisconsin Press);
  14. Tomić, O. (2003) "Genesis of the Balkan Slavic Future Tenses" in Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics: The Ottawa Meeting 2003 (Michigan : Michigan Slavic Publications)
  15. Friedman, V. (1998) "The implementation of standard Macedonian: problems and results" in International Journal of the Sociology of Language. Issue 131. pp. 31-57
  16. Seriot, P. (1997) "Faut-il que les langues aient un nom? Le cas du macédonien", in Andrée Tabouret-Keller (éd.) Le nom des langues. L'enjeu de la nomination des langues, Vol. 1, pp. 167-190 (Louvain : Peeters) (in French)
  17. Encyclopaedia Britannica - Old Church Slavonic