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Number of Speakers: 2 million

Key Dialects: Eastern, Western, Northern

Geographical Center: Republic of Macedonia

Macedonian is the official language of the Republic of Macedonia, formerly the Yugoslavian Socialist Republic of Macedonia; it has a total of 2 million speakers including 1.4 million in Macedonia and about 200,000 in Greece. There are also speakers in Yugoslavia ( Republic of Serbia), Albania, and Bulgaria. Outside of Europe there are speakers in the USA, Canada, and Australia. Numbers of speakers are not available for Bulgaria or Albania because of those countries' language policies. Total speakers may number 2.5 million (Friedman 1985).

Macedonian is a Slavic language belonging to a group of South Slavic languages that includes Old Church Slavonic (a liturgical language), Slovene, Serbian/Croatian, and Bulgarian. The modern South Slavic languages form a continuum of a series of mutually intelligible dialects. The two end points, Slovene and Bulgarian, are not mutually intelligible, but the transition between Serbian/Croatian and Macedonian, and Bulgarian and Macedonian is gradual and mutual intelligibility is high. It is most closely related to Bulgarian. Some consider Macedonian a dialect of Bulgarian, but this is a highly charged issue hotly disputed by others. For example, Henniger (1992) discusses the matter from a Bulgarian point of view; Friedman (1987) from a Macedonian perspective.

Slavic languages (with the Baltic languages--Latvian and Lithuanian) form a branch of the Indo-European language family. Other Slavic subgroups are West Slavic (Czech, Slovak, Polish, etc.) and East Slavic (Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian).

Although Macedonian is fairly homogeneous, several dialect areas can be distinguished (Friedman 1987): a major division of East and West, then a subsidiary division into Northern which cuts across the major east-west distinction. The dialect of the capital, Skopje, is located within the Northern area. The Western area consists of a large Central area, and a Peripheral one, the latter located in Macedonia along the Albanian and southwestern Serbian borders. The East comprises a relatively undifferentiated area which includes the Macedonian dialects of Bulgaria (Pirin Macedonian) and those of northern Greece (Aegean Macedonian). The dialects of the West Central area, largest in size and population and most distinct from both Serbian/Croatian and Bulgarian, with elements from the dialect of Skopje, the Macedonian capital, are the basis of the literary standard.

A modified Cyrillic alphabet, more similar to that used for Serbian than for Russian or Bulgarian, is the official orthography; it was codified in the late 1940s and adopted in final form in the early 1950s.

Macedonian, like other Slavic languages, is a highly inflected language with an rich morphological system that distinguishes various grammatical functions and relationships. Nouns are marked for three genders, masculine, feminine, and neuter. However, unlike other Slavic languages, the case system has been almost entirely lost; traces exist in nouns referring to male kin. Instead of case markers, syntactic distinctions are indicated by prepositions. The numbers, singular and plural, are distinguished for most nouns. Definite nouns are indicated by a set of three suffixal articles, a proximate, distal, and neuter. Adjectives indicate gender only in the singular but share a common plural. Adjectives are compared by using separate prefixes for the comparative and superlative. Like nouns, neither adjectives nor numerals are declined for case. Pronouns preserve some aspects of the system of inflection and distinguish nominative, direct, and indirect objective cases.

Macedonian is conservative relative to other Slavic languages in preserving the Common Slavic verbal system. Verbs are marked for person and number; the oppositions for present, imperfect, and aorist (a kind of past tense that expresses completed action) are present; as are the mood distinctions for indicative and imperative. The perfect is expressed, however, by the use of an auxiliary and a past participle. The future is marked by a particle prefixed to the present. In addition to verb conjugation, there are periphrastic verb constructions (sentence-like constructions) for talking about events that the speaker has not witnessed.

The neutral order of sentential constituents is Subject-Verb-Object. Other orders are determined by discourse context and pragmatics.

Macedonian has only five short vowel phonemes, but a fairly rich consonantal system of 28 phonemes; stress is placed on the fist syllable of bi-syllabic words and on the antepenult in words of three or more syllables.

Macedonian has borrowed heavily from both Greek and Turkish; influence from Serbian is also strong. Turkish loans and expressions are mainly found in colloquial and humorous speech; they have been consciously replaced in written Macedonian or been naturalized. English is a dominant source of loans today.

The standard dialect of Macedonian was recognized in 1944. It is the official language. While it is the norm in all areas of public life, Serbian/Croatian (often a second language for many Macedonians) and local dialect forms continue to exert an influence on the language, especially those in the Western dialect area, which is the basis for the standard. Texts are a problem for university classes and texts in Serbian/Croatian are often used in many subjects.

In areas outside the republic, Macedonian is not recognized and in some cases linguistic independence for the language and its dialects is repressed. In Bulgaria, Macedonian is viewed as a dialect of Bulgarian. Macedonian and publications in Macedonian are not permitted. The Greek government has actively pursued a policy of hellenizing Macedonian culture and language. It is not permitted in the media, education, or public life, and the official attitude is that Macedonian is a dialect of Greek rather than a Slavic language. In Albania, neither the language nor the people have status or recognition.

Other languages spoken in Macedonia include Albanian--which is spoken throughout Western Macedonia and which is the majority language in the cities of that region--and Turkish, the main language of the Muslim minority. Two others are Rom and Aromanian. Most speakers of minority languages, especially in the urban areas, are bilingual in Macedonian.

Numerous publications and newspapers exist. Macedonian is used in the media. There is a substantial amount of literature and translations of Western authors.

In the sixth and seventh centuries, the Slavs settled the following areas of Macedonia: Vardar Macedonia, or the Republic of Macedonia; Pirin Macedonia in the southwestern corner of Bulgaria; and Makedonia Province in northern Greece, also known as Aegean Macedonia. Cyril and Methodius, ninth century Greek missionaries to the Slavs, based their translations of Christian writings on the Macedonian dialect of the Thessalonika area. These formed the basis of the literary standard known as Old Church Slavonic which is still used as a liturgical language in some Slavic Orthodox Christian services. A rich literature developed early, but when Macedonia came under Turkish control at the end of the fourteenth century, literacy declined until the nineteenth century when revival efforts were undertaken. Today Macedonian is used at the University of Skopje. Numerous translations of international authors are made and the language is used in broadcasts.

The history of modern literary Macedonian begins near the end of the eighteenth century with the rebirth of South Slavic nationalism. Initially Bulgarians and Macedonians worked together in creating a modern literary standard, both at this time writing in their own local dialects. The issue of a "base dialect" for the standard was not an issue. But by the mid-nineteenth century this became a problem and the two groups strongly disagreed; a Macedo-Bulgarian compromise was rejected and Macedonians called for national and linguistic separatism. Bulgarians, for their part, moved in their own direction rejecting any notion that Macedonian dialects had any value. In fact, they considered them degenerate and argued that Macedonians should learn literary Bulgarian. This led to a split and the recognition of the two as separate languages.

Between the world wars Macedonian was treated as a Serbian dialect. Literary Serbo-Croatian was the language of education, media, and public life; even so Macedonian literature was tolerated as a local dialectal folkloristic form. During WWII Macedonia was occupied by Bulgarian fascists who set up Bulgarian medium schools, but under Tito's policy of cultural autonomy, Macedonia was formally established as the official and literary language confirming a de facto situation.

Bright, W., ed. 1992. International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Campbell, G. L. 1991. Compendium of the World's Languages, Vol. 1 -2. London and New York: Routledge.

Comrie, B. 1987. "Slavonic Languages." In B. Comrie, ed. The World's Major Languages, pp. 322-328. New York: Oxford University Press.

Friedman, V. A. 1977. The Grammatical Categories of the Macedonian Indicative. Columbus, Ohio: Slavica Publishers.

Friedman, Victor A. 1985. "The Sociolinguistics of Literary Macedonian." In Thomas F. Magner, ed. Yugoslavia in Sociolingusitic Perspective. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 52:31-57.

Grimes, B. F., ed. 1992. Ethnologue, Languages of the World. Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Henniger, J. 1994. "Bulgarian and Macedonian." In R. E. Asher, ed. The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, Vol. 1:429-430. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Linguistic Society of America. 1992. Directory of Programs in Linguistics in the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Linguistic Society of America.

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