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Macedonian ( , ) is the official language of Republic of Macedoniamarker and is a part of the Eastern group of South Slavic languages. Macedonian was codified in 1944, based on the Prilep-Bitola dialect. It is closely related to and shares a high degree of mutual intelligibility with the Bulgarian language and to a certain extent with Serbian and Croatian languages.

Classification and related languages

The modern 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, with which it is mutually intelligible. Before their codification in 1945 Macedonian dialects were for the most part classified as Bulgarian and some lingusts consider them still as such, but this view is politically controversial. Following that, the next closest languages are Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian. Macedonian and its neighbours form a dialect continuum, with the Bulgarian standard (see Bulgarian dialects) based on the more eastern dialects and Macedonian based on the more western ones. It also includes the Torlakian dialect group that is intermediate between Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbian, comprising some of the northernmost dialects of Macedonian as well as varieties spoken in southern Serbia.

Together with its immediate Slavic neighbours, Macedonian also forms a constituent language of the Balkan Sprachbund, a group of languages which share typological, grammatical and lexical features based on geographical convergence, rather than genetic proximity. Its other principal members are Romanian, Greek and Albanian, all of which belong to different genetic branches of the Indo-European family of languages (Romanian is a Romance language, while Greek and Albanian each comprise their own separate branches). Macedonian and Bulgarian are the only Slavic languages that don't use noun cases (except for the vocative, and apart from some traces of once living inflections still found scattered throughout the languages). They are also the only Slavic languages with any definite articles (there are three: unspecified, proximate and distal). This last feature is shared with Romanian, Greek, and Albanian.

Geographical distribution

The population of the Republic of Macedoniamarker was 2,022,547 in 2002, with 1,644,815 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 Albaniamarker, in Bulgariamarker, in Greecemarker, and in Serbiamarker. According to the official Albanian census of 1989, 4,697 ethnic Macedonians reside in Albania.

A large number of Macedonians live outside the traditional Balkan Macedonian region, with Australia, Canadamarker and the United Statesmarker having the largest emigrant communities. According to a 1964 estimate, approximately 580,000 Macedonians live outside of the Macedonian Republic, nearly 30% of the total population. 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 in the Republic of Macedonia, and is a recognised minority language in parts of Albaniamarker, Romaniamarker, and Serbiamarker. There are provisions for learning the Macedonian language in Romania as Macedonians are an officially recognised minority group. The language is taught in some universities in Australia, Canadamarker, Croatiamarker, Italymarker, Russiamarker, Serbiamarker, the United Statesmarker, and the United Kingdommarker among other countries.

Macedonian Slavic in Greece

The varieties spoken by the Slavophone minority in parts of northern Greecemarker, especially those in the Greek provinces of West and Central Macedonia, are today usually classified as part of the Macedonian language, with those in East Macedonia being transitional towards Bulgarian. Bulgarian linguistics traditionally regards them all as part of the Bulgarian diasystem together with the rest of Macedonian. However, the codification of standard Macedonian has been in effect only in the Republic of Macedonia, and the varieties spoken in Greece are thus practically "roofless", with their speakers having little access to standard or written Macedonian.

Wall inscriptions in Greek and Macedonian languages, (Greek Civil War, 1949).

Unlike in the Republic of Macedonia, many speakers of the language in Greece choose not to identify ethnically as "Macedonians", but as ethnic Greeks (Slavophone Greeks) or dopii (locals). Therefore, the simple term "Macedonian" as a name for the Slavic language is often avoided in the Greek context, and vehemently rejected by most Greeks, for whom Macedonian has very different connotations. Instead, the language is often called simply Slavic or Slavomacedonian, with Macedonian Slavic often being used in English. Speakers themselves variously refer to their language as makedonski, makedoniski ("Macedonian"), slaviká ( , "Slavic"), dópia or entópia ( , "local/indigenous [language]"),, bălgarski, balgàrtzki, bolgàrtski or bulgàrtski ("Bulgarian"), naši ("our own [language]"), or stariski ("the old [language]").

The exact number of speakers in Greece is difficult to ascertain, with estimates ranging between 20,000 and 250,000. Jacques Bacid estimates in his 1983 book that "over 200,000 Macedonian speakers remained in Greece". Other sources put the numbers of speakers at 180,000 , 220,000 250,000 while Yugoslav sources vary, some putting the estimated number of "Macedonians in Greek Macedonia" at 150,000–200,000 and others at 300,000Poulton, H.(2000), "Who are the Macedonians?",C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, page 167,
As often occurs with Yugoslav sources, there appears to be confusion about the number of Macedonians in Greek Macedonia at present: some Yugoslav sources put the latter figure at 300,000, while more sober estimates put the number at 150,000 - 200,000
. The Encyclopedia Britannica and the Reader's Digest World Guide both put the figure of Ethnic Macedonians in Greecemarker at 1.8% or c.200,000 people, with the native language roughly corresponding with the figures. The UCLA also states that there is 200,000 Macedonian speakers in Greecemarker.. A 2008 article in the Greek newspaper Eleftherotipia put the estimate at 20,000.

The largest group of speakers are concentrated in the Florinamarker, Kastoriamarker, Edessa, Giannitsamarker, Ptolemaidamarker and Naousamarker regions. During the Greek Civil War, the codified Macedonian language was taught in 87 schools with 10,000 students in areas of northern Greece under the control of Communist-led forces, until their defeat by the National Army in 1949. In recent years, there have been attempts to have the language recognised as a minority language.


The total number of Macedonian speakers is highly disputed. Although the precise number of speakers is unknown, figures of between 1.6 million (from ethnologue) and 2–2.5 million have been cited; see and . 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" . According to the latest censuses and figures, the number of Macedonian-speakers is:

State Number
Lower Range Higher Range
Macedonia 1,700,000 2,022,547
Albania 4,697 30,000
Bulgaria unknown unknown
Greece 35,000 200,000
Serbia 14,355 30,000
Rest of the Balkans 15,939 25,000
Canada 37,050 150,000
Australia 71,994 200,000
Germany 62,295 85,000
Italy 50,000 74,162
United States of America 45,000 200,000
Switzerland 6,415 60,362
Rest of World 101,600 110,000
Total 2,289,904 3,200,000


Dialect divisions of Macedonian




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

Western Dialects:

Eastern Dialects:

The Ser-Drama-Lagadin-Nevrokop dialect and Maleševo-Pirin dialect are considered to also be Bulgarian dialects or transitional dialects between Macedonian and Bulgarian.


Map of the use of the intervocalic phenome kj in the Macedonian language (1962)
Map of the use of the intervocalic phenome gj in the Macedonian language (1962)

Vowels of Macedonian
Front Central Back
Close и у
Mid е о
Open а

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

Consonantsof Macedonian
Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar

Macedonian exhibits final obstruent devoicing and syllabic

Other than recent loanwords, 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. By comparison, in standard Bulgarian, the stress can fall anywhere within a word.


Macedonian grammar 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).


As a result of the close relatedness with Bulgarian and Serbian, Macedonian shares a considerable amount of its lexicon with these languages. Other languages which have been in positions of power, such as Ottoman Turkish and increasingly English also provide a significant proportion of the loan words. Prestige languages, such as Old Church Slavonic, which occupies a relationship to modern Macedonian comparable to the relationship of medieval Latin to modern Romance languages, and Russian also provided a source for lexical borrowings.

During the standardization 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 favor of words from native dialects and archaisms. One example being the word for "event", настан , which was found in certain examples of folk poetry collected by the Miladinov Brothers in the 19th century, while the Macedonian writer Krste Misirkov had previously used the word собитие . This is not to say that there are no Serbisms, Bulgarisms or even Russianisms in the language, but rather that they were discouraged on a principle of "seeking native material first".

The language of the writers at the turn of 19th century abounded with Russian and, more specifically, Old Church Slavonic lexical and morphological elements which in the contemporary norm are substituted with more current models. Thus, the now slightly archaized forms with suffixes –ние and –тел, adjectives with the suffixes –телен and others, are now constructed following patterns more typical of Macedonian morphology. For example, дејствие corresponds to дејство, лицемериелицемерство, развитиеразвиток, определениеопределба, движениедвижење, продолжителпродолжувач, победителпобедник, убедителенубедлив, etc. Many of these words are now synonymous or have taken on a slightly different nuance in meaning.

Many words and expressions were borrowed from the Serbian language to replace those taken from Old Church Slavonic, but also present in the Bulgarian language, which include известиеизвештај, количествоколичина, согласиеслога, etc. This change was aimed at bringing written Macedonian closer to spoken language and distancing it from the Bulgarian language which has kept its numerous Russian loans, and represents a successful puristic attempt at abolishing a lexicogenic tradition once common in written literature.

Writing system


The modern Macedonian alphabet was developed by linguists in the period after the Second World War, who based their alphabet on the phonetic alphabet of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, though a similar writing system was used by Krste Misirkov in the late 19th century. The Macedonian language had previously been written using the Early Cyrillic alphabet, or later using the Cyrillic alphabet with local adaptations from either the Serbian or Bulgarian alphabets.

The following table provides the upper and lower case forms of the Macedonian alphabet, along with the IPA value for each letter:


А а

Б б

В в

Г г

Д д

Ѓ ѓ

Е е

Ж ж

З з

Ѕ ѕ

И и


Ј ј

К к

Л л

Љ љ

М м

Н н

Њ њ

О о

П п

Р р

С с


Т т

Ќ ќ

У у

Ф ф

Х х

Ц ц

Ч ч

Џ џ

Ш ш


Macedonian orthography is consistent and phonemic in practice, an approximation of the principle of one grapheme per phoneme. A principle represented by Adelung's saying, "write as you speak and read as it is written" („пишувај како што зборуваш и читај како што е напишано“). Though as with most, if not all, living languages it has its share of inconsistencies and exceptions.


Lord's Prayer

Оче наш (Cyrillic alphabet)

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

Oče naš (Latin alphabet)

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


The region of Macedonia and the Republic of Macedoniamarker are located on the Balkan peninsula. The Slavs first came to the Balkan Peninsula in the sixth and seventh centuries AD. In the ninth century, the Byzantine Greek 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 Thessalonikamarker. The Ohrid Literary Schoolmarker was established in Ohrid in 886 by Saint Clement of Ohrid on orders of Boris I of Bulgaria. 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 Slovene, Serbo-Croatian and Bulgarian were created. As Turkish influence in Macedonia waned, schools were opened up that taught the Bulgarian standard language in areas with significant Bulgarian population.The concept of the various Macedonian dialects as a part of the Bulgarian language can be seen from early vernacular texts from Macedonia such as the four-language dictionary of Daniel Mоscopolites, the works of Kiril Peichinovich and Yoakim Karchovski, and some vernacular gospels written in the Greek alphabet. These written works influenced by or completely written in the local Slavic vernacular appeared in Macedonia in the 18th and beginning of the 19th century and their authors referred to their language as Bulgarian. The earliest lexicographic evidence of these local dialects can be found in a lexicon from the 16th century written in the Greek alphabet.

In 1845 the Russianmarker scholar Viktor Grigorovich travelled in the Balkans in order to study the south Slavic dialects of Macedonia. His work articulated for the first time a distinct pair of two groups of Bulgarian dialects: Eastern and Western (spoken in today Western Bulgaria and Republic of Macedonia). According to his findings, a part of 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 Pellamarker in Greek Macedoniamarker. 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 phonemic orthography.

After the first two Balkan wars, the region of Macedonia was split among Greece, Bulgaria, and the Serbia (Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenesmarker, Yugoslavia). Yugoslavia occupied the area that is currently the Republic of Macedonia incorporating it into the Kingdom as "Southern Serbia". During this time, Yugoslav Macedonia became known as Vardar Banovina (Vardar province) and the language of public life, education and the church was Serbo-Croatian. In the other two parts of Macedonia, the respective national languages, Greek and Bulgarian, were made official. In Bulgarian (Pirin) Macedonia, the local dialects continued to be described as dialects of Bulgarian.

During the second World War, a part of Yugoslav Macedonia was occupied by the Bulgarian army, who were allied with the Axis. The standard Bulgarian language was reintroduced in schools and liturgies. The Bulgarians were initially welcomed as liberators from Serbian domination until connections were made between the imposition of the Bulgarian language and unpopular Serbian assimilation policies; the Bulgarians were quickly seen as conquerors by communist movement.

There were a number of groups fighting the Bulgarian occupying force, some advocating independence and others union with Bulgaria. The eventual outcome was that almost all of Vardar Banovina (i.e. the areas which geographically became known as Vardar Macedonia) was incorporated into the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslaviamarker as a constituent Socialist Republic with the Macedonian language holding official status within both the Federation and Republic. The Macedonian language was proclaimed the official language of the Republic of Macedonia at the First Session of the Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia, held on August 2, 1944. The first official Macedonian grammar was developed by Krume Kepeski. One of the most important contributors in the standardisation of the Macedonian literary language was Blaže Koneski. The first document written in the literary standard Macedonian language is the first issue of the Nova Makedonija newspaper in 1944. Makedonska Iskra (Macedonian Spark) was the first Macedonian newspaper to be published in Australia, from 1946 to 1957. A monthly with national distribution, it commenced in Perth and later moved to Melbourne and Sydney.

Political views on the language

As with the issue of Macedonian ethnicity, the politicians, linguists and common people from Macedonia and neighbouring countries have opposing views about the existence and distinctiveness of the Macedonian language.

In the ninth century AD, saints Cyril and Methodius introduced Old Church Slavonic, the first Slavic language of literacy. Written with their newly invented Glagolitic script, this language was based largely on the dialect of Slavs spoken in Thessalonikimarker; this dialect is closest to present day Bulgarian and Macedonian.

Although described as being dialects of Bulgarian prior to the establishment of the standard, the current academic consensus (outside the Balkans) is that Macedonian is an autonomous language within the South Slavic dialect continuum.

Bulgarian view

In most sources in and out of Bulgaria before the Second World War, the southern Slavonic dialect continuum covering the area of today's Republic of Macedoniamarker and Northern Greece was referred to as group of Bulgarian dialects. The local variants of the name of the language were also balgàrtzki, bùgarski or bugàrski; i.e. Bulgarian. Although Bulgaria was the first country to recognize the independence of the Republic of Macedonia, most of its academics, as well as the general public, regard the language spoken there as a form of Bulgarian. However after years of diplomatic impasse caused by an academic dispute, in 1999 the government in Sofia solved the problem with the Macedonian Language under the euphemistic formula: "the official language of the country (Republic of Macedonia) in accordance with its constitution".

Greek view

Greeks object to the use of the "Macedonian" name in reference to the modern Slavic language, calling it "Slavomacedonian" (Macedonian: славомакедонски јазик, ), a term coined by some members of the Slavic-speaking community of northern Greece itself.Although acceptable in the past, current use of this name in reference to both the ethnic group and the language can be considered pejorative and offensive by ethnic Macedonians. In the past, the Macedonian Slavs in Greece seemed relieved to be acknowledged as "Slavomacedonians". Pavlos Koufis, a native of Greek Macedonia, pioneer of ethnic Macedonian schools in the region and local historian, says in Laografika Florinas kai Kastorias (Folklore of Florina and Kastoria), Athens 1996:
"[During its Panhellenic Meeting in September 1942, the KKE mentioned that it recognises the equality of the ethnic minorities in Greece] the KKE recognised that the Slavophone population was ethnic minority of Slavomacedonians].
This was a term, which the inhabitants of the region accepted with relief.
[Because] Slavomacedonians = Slavs+Macedonians.
The first section of the term determined their origin and classified them in the great family of the Slav peoples."
The Greek Helsinki Monitor reports:
"... the term Slavomacedonian was introduced and was accepted by the community itself, which at the time had a much more widespread non-Greek Macedonian ethnic consciousness.
Unfortunately, according to members of the community, this term was later used by the Greek authorities in a pejorative, discriminatory way; hence the reluctance if not hostility of modern-day Macedonians of Greece (i.e. people with a Macedonian national identity) to accept it."

See also


  1. Language profile Macedonian, UCLA International Institute
  2. Mazon, Andre. Contes Slaves de la Macédoine Sud-Occidentale: Etude linguistique; textes et traduction; Notes de Folklore, Paris 1923, p. 4.
  3. Селищев, Афанасий. Избранные труды, Москва 1968.
  4. K. Sandfeld, Balkanfilologien (København, 1926, MCMXXVI).
  5. Who are the Macedonians?, Hugh Poulton, C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 2000, ISBN 1850655340,p. 116.
  6. When languages collide: perspectives on language conflict, language competition, and language coexistence, Brian D. Joseph, Ohio State University Press, 2003, p. 281, ISBN 0814209130.
  7. Popis na Naselenie, Domaćinstva i Stanovi vo Republika Makedonija, 2002 - Vkupno naselenie na Republika Makedonija spored majčin jazik.
  8. Schmieger, R. 1998. "The situation of the Macedonian language in Greece: sociolinguistic analysis", International Journal of the Sociology of Language 131, 125–55.; Friedman (2001).
  9. ;
  10. Шклифов, Благой. Проблеми на българската диалектна и историческа фонетика с оглед на македонските говори, София 1995, с. 14.; Шклифов, Благой. Речник на костурския говор, Българска диалектология, София 1977, с. кн. VІІІ, с. 201–205,
  11. Trudgill P. (2000), "Greece and European Turkey: From Religious to Linguistic Identity". In: Stephen Barbour and Cathie Carmichael (eds.), Language and Nationalism in Europe, Oxford : Oxford University Press, p.259.
  12. Greek Helsinki Monitor - Report about Compliance with the Principles of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities
  13. , See Page 90, (Full Document)
  14. , > , abstract from page 125
  15. ethnologue
  16. Jacques Bacid, Ph.D. Macedonia Through the Ages. Columbia University, 1983.
  17. GeoNative - Macedonia
  18. L. M. Danforth, The Macedonian Conflict: Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World 1995, Princeton University Press
  19. Hill, P. (1999) "Macedonians in Greece and Albania: A Comparative study of recent developments". Nationalities Papers Volume 27, 1 March 1999, page 44(14)
  21. UCLA Language Materials Project: Language Profile
  22. UCLA Language Materials Project: Language Profile
  23. Eletherotipia article
  24. Macedonian census
  25. 2002 census
  26. 1989 census
  27. Albania : 4.2.2 Language issues and policies : Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe
  28. This people speak predominantly Bulgarian. See 2001 census data by mother tongue: [1]
  29. Serbian census
  30. A combination of Balkan Censuses: [2], [3], 2005 census, 2003 Census and [
  31. Estimate from the MFA
  32. Australian government statistics
  33. 2006 figures
  34. Estimate from the Macedonian MFA
  35. Italian government statistics
  36. American FactFinder
  37. Swiss government statistics
  38. Swiss government statistics
  39. 2001 census, 2001 census, 2001 census , Population Estimate from the MFA, OECD Statistics, 2002 census, 2002 census, 2006 census, 2008 census, 2008 census, 2003 census, 2005 census, Statistics New Zealand:Language spoken (total responses) for the 1996-2006 censuses (Table 16), 2003 Census and 2002 census
  40. After Z. Topolińska and B. Vidoeski (1984), Polski-macedonski gramatyka konfrontatiwna, z.1, PAN.
  41. In his most famous work "On the Macedonian Matters" (available online), Misirkov uses the word собитие (a Russian loan taken from Bulgarian) where настан is used today.
  42. Т. Димитровски. Литературната лексика на македонскиот писмен јазик во XIX в. и нашиот однос кон неа: Реферати на македонските слависти за VI Меѓународен славистички конгрес во Прага, Скопје, 1968 (T. Dimitrovski. The literary vocabulary of the Macedonian written language in the 19th century and our attitude to it. Abstracts of Macedonian slavists for the 6th International Slavistic Congress in Prague. Skopje, 1968)
  43. F. A. K. Yasamee "NATIONALITY IN THE BALKANS: THE CASE OF THE MACEDONIANS" in Balkans: A Mirror of the New World Order, Istanbul: EREN, 1995; pp. 121–132.
  44. 'Un Lexique Macedonien Du XVIe Siecle', Giannelli, Ciro. Avec la collaboration de Andre Vaillant, 1958
  45. Шклифов, Благой and Екатерина Шклифова, Български деалектни текстове от Егейска Македония, София 2003, с. 28–33 (Shklifov, Blagoy and Ekaterina Shklifova. Bulgarian dialect texts from Aegean Macedonia Sofia 2003, p. 28–36)
  46. 1999/02/22 23:50 Bulgaria Recognises Macedonian Language


Further reading

External links


Macedonian language

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