A Surprisingly Familiar Country ―My Findings on Bulgaria’s Language and Culture

A Surprisingly Familiar Country―My Findings on Bulgaria's Language and Culture

March 6, 2017

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Bulgarian translation

Hello, I'm Yosshi. I entered the translation business two years ago, dreaming of an international career. Since then, every day I keep discovering more about the ever-fascinating world of translation.

Arc Communications provides translation services in 44 different languages, including Bulgarian.

I'm ashamed to admit that the only things that came to mind when I thought about the country of Bulgaria was the Japanese yogurt brand and the famous sumo wrestler from this country, Koto-ohshu-zeki. Realizing how little I knew about Bulgaria, I decided to do some research on this country and its language. According to the Bulgarian Tourist Board, the number of Japanese companies expanding business to Bulgaria has been increasing in recent years in fields as varied as the environment-related sectors, automotive parts manufacturing and tourism.

The Past and Present of Bulgaria

Bulgaria and Japan have overall maintained a favorable relationship through the years. Even during times of conflict such as international wars and Bulgaria's breakup of diplomatic relations due to a national coup, Japan and Bulgaria have never been in direct confrontation with each other. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, during the Japan World Exposition, Osaka 1970 (Expo '70), the Chairman of the State Council (Head of State) Todor Zhivkov, came to Japan and was astounded by Japan's rapid development. Zhivkov was so inspired that, in the following years, he sent many leading figures of his country to Japan to learn from the successful nation. Also, the now well-known "Meiji Bulgaria Yogurt" product line was created as the result of a chance encounter at the Expo '70. When employees at Meiji Dairies Corporation tasted the yogurt samples at the Bulgaria pavilion, they were impressed by the delicious taste and decided to create a product just like it. In 1973, Meiji Dairies Corporation received an official permit from the Bulgarian government to use the name of their country as part of the new product's name. This product is now what is widely known as "Meiji Bulgaria Yogurt" in Japan.

On the Bulgarian Tourist Board Website, I also found some examples of Japanese companies which had actually expanded business to Bulgaria. The information tells us that an automotive parts manufacturer called Yazaki-sōgyō started business in Bulgaria in 2006 and, in the same year, another Japanese company built a general hospital there with latest medical facilities. Bulgaria is also making a great effort to promote tourism, so they are hoping that more Japanese companies will extend business to further enhance the quality of tourist facilities. According to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, more and more Bulgarian people are becoming enthralled by Japanese pop culture, as is the trend in many other counties as well.

Useful Facts about Bulgaria

Facts about the Bulgarian language

Information from the "Chikyu Kotoba-Mura" (The Archives of The World Languages) website tells us that Bulgarian is categorized as a South Slavic Language among the Indo-European Language Family and is the common language of Bulgaria. Bulgarian is written in the Cyrillic alphabet, which is an unfamiliar writing system to us Japanese. When I come upon a document written in the Cyrillic alphabet, I often tend to think that it is Russian, but I found out that it could also be Bulgarian, Ukrainian or even Macedonian. Like Bulgarian, Thai and Arabian, languages written in unfamiliar letters always seem too challenging to learn or comprehend. However, we mustn't forget that Japanese is also one of such languages since we use unique characters unrecognizable to people from other countries. I will list a few examples below of Cyrillic alphabet letters used in Bulgarian (information from the website "Chikyu Kotoba-Mura").

  • Ъъ:Although it may look like the letter "b" in the Roman alphabet, "Ъъ" is actually one of the vowels in Bulgarian. Its pronunciation is similar to that of the letter "a" in English and is best represented by the phonetic symbols [ə] and [ʌ].
  • Рр:This character is pronounced just as the letter "r" in English. It may seem quite confusing since this letter takes the same form as the letter "p" in the Roman alphabet.

Aside from the use of the Cyrillic alphabet, another factor which makes Bulgarian difficult is the fact that articles are placed behind the words they correspond to instead of being in front of them. For example, "uchenik" (student) would be written as "uchenik-t" to mean "the student." In English, this would be like writing "student-the" instead of "the student." Although Bulgarian may seem like an extremely difficult language, nouns and adjectives do not decline, making it perhaps a little less challenging in this sense. A Bulgarian specialist at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that Bulgarian is easily translatable into English. Despite this, I feel that the further I look into the language, the more complex it seems.

Business & Communication

Here, I would like to share with you some interesting information that might come in handy if you ever have the chance to work with someone from Bulgaria. "Travel Latte―Bulgaria Vacation and Tourism Guide" informs us that, in Bulgaria, you shake your head when you mean "Yes" and nod when you mean "No". In many countries, including Japan, these body gestures actually have the opposite meanings. When you can't speak the language in a foreign country, you tend to rely more on gestures to communicate. Therefore, you ought to be careful and aware of the fact that the same body gesture can sometimes have completely different meanings.

Can we Expect a Closer Relationship between Japan and Bulgaria in the Years to Come?

Although the name of the country was quite familiar to me, I hardly knewanything about Bulgaria-(other than the fact that they had delicious yogurt). I am glad that I did some research on Bulgaria, because now I know that it is a country whose relationship with Japan is expected to develop in the upcoming years. I will be sure to keep up with any news about Bulgaria that might help me if I ever work on a Bulgaria-related project.

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