Editor's Note: The below review appears in Balkanistica14 (2001), pp. 180-182. Internet readers are free to cite this work to the original, which is why page breaks are provided.

A Short Grammar of Contemporary Bulgarian

Kjetil Rå Hauge

1999. Bloomington, Indiana: Slavica, x, 262 pp.
Selected Annotated Bibliography, ISBN 0-89357-276-4

Reviewed by Katia McClain
University of California, Santa Barbara

Winner of the 2000 John D. Bell Book Prize awarded by the Bulgarian Studies Association for most outstanding recent scholarly book within an area of Bulgarian studies, Kjetil Rå Hauge's A Short Grammar of Contemporary Bulgarian is a welcome addition to the field of Bulgarian language study and linguistics. Rå Hauge, Senior Lecturer of Bulgarian at the University of Oslo, has not only provided the field with a well done reference grammar of Bulgarian, but with a grammar which tries to capture the current state of the spoken and written language through copious examples from recent texts. Although oriented toward learners of Bulgarian, the work also provides an excellent resource for Bulgarian and Slavic linguists. Rå Hauge has clearly tried to provide enough of a linguistic framework to satisfy linguists, while not overwhelming a non-linguist learner. The work may also be of interest to general linguists working on comparative grammar, providing that they read Cyrillic. (With rare exception, the Bulgarian examples are translated, but not transliterated.)

The book is organized into fifteen chapters covering the grammar and includes a short preface, a bibliography of selected works (most accompanied by a short description), an index of terms and an index of Bulgarian words. There are seven page-length tables summarizing various grammatical sections (e.g., p. 27, Table 4, Overview of Plural Endings), as well as numerous smaller charts, tables and diagrams illustrating various points covered in the text. Each grammatical point is well supported by the numerous examples that Rå Hauge has taken or adapted from the Bulgarian press, textbooks and works of literature. The examples, classified by Rå Hauge as being "recent," are wonderfully varied. For example, on page 179 we have both "The giant Haemus threw enormous stones after the fleeing god," and "Bulgaria is right behind Greece and Italy in the number of historical monuments of global importance." All examples are translated into idiomatic English with the word or phrase relevant to the grammatical point in italics in the Bulgarian original.

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The preface gives a brief introduction to the history of the Bulgarian language and its geographic location. This is followed by a description of the goals of the book and his notational system. The fifteen chapters (divided into many subsections) cover most of synchronic Bulgarian grammar. Rå Hauge has divided the grammar into phonetics/phonology, orthography, nouns (gender/number/definiteness), adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, numerals, verbs (aspect/tense/status), prepositions (40 prepositions arranged alphabetically), other word-classes, sentence structure/informational flow, negation, sentence types, syntactic definiteness, and complex sentences. They range from extremely brief (negation -- three pages) to very detailed (verbs -- 64 pages). The discussions use both highly technical linguistic terminology -- "The voiceless dorso-velar stop /k/ is always unaspirated" (p. 6), and more accessible terms, sure to engage the student learner. For example, section 6.11 in the pronouns chapter is titled "Whatchemacallit-Forms."

The book is set in a very readable typeface with very few typos or other errors. (There is one factual problem in the preface. Rå Hauge mentions that Bulgarian has a set of features -- loss of the infinitive, definite article, loss of the case system -- that make it different from other Slavic languages. This should be modified to include the fact that Macedonian also has these features.)

The book succeeds admirably in its goal of giving the language learner a clear and comprehensive description of most of the major aspects of contemporary Bulgarian. Three highlights include the section on phonetics, which includes many details on pronunciation, transcriptions in IPA, and useful drawings of cut-out heads showing tongue placement for all consonants palatalized or plain; the discussion of the verbal system, which explores much of the complexity of the tense/aspect/status system, while still trying not to overwhelm the learner; and the section on the preposition, which provides detailed descriptions of usage, useful examples from real texts and examples of idiomatic expressions using the preposition. (Rå Hauge calls these phraseologisms.)

The only part of the synchronic contemporary language which is not examined as a separate topic, although it is referred to indirectly various times in the text, is the area of sociolinguistics or language variation, especially spoken vs. written styles, regional dialects vs. the "standard language," and stylistic registers. Rå Hauge notes on occasion that certain items are colloquial or informal or more common of the spoken language, but tracking this in a more systematic way would certainly add to the work¹s richness.

There are a few changes that would make the work of even more use to the linguist. For the book to be more accessible to the general linguist the examples need to be transliterated (and ideally grammatical forms need to be notated in the transliterated text). For all linguists, it would be of great help to have the original source and date given for all examples. This has been done only once or twice in the book, usually referring to an example taken from a literary work. It is also curious, especially given that Rå Hauge is one of the pioneers in the creating of spoken language corpora for Bulgarian, and that one of his goals is to describe both the written and spoken language, that he does not mention in his preface whether any examples are taken from these corpora. If they are, this should be made clear to the reader.

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For the general linguist, who may not know the field as well, it would be helpful to at least mention, perhaps in a footnote, which areas of grammar are relatively non-controversial and which are the subject of varying interpretations among Bulgarian linguists (the relationship between tense, aspect and status comes to mind). Finally, although the bibliography of selected grammars is very useful, the inclusion of a short list of more specialized books for some of the major topics (for example, Catherine Rudin's work on complementizers, Don Dyer's work on word order and Grace Fielder's work on verbal categories) would be useful.

In sum, A Short Grammar of Contemporary Bulgarian is an important contribution to the resources available to learners of Bulgarian and to Bulgarian linguists.