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Torlakian dialect
Native to Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Romania
Native speakers unknown (undated figure of ca. 1.5 million)Template:Infobox language/ref
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Linguist List Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
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Areas where Torlakian dialects are spoken.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Torlakian or Torlak (Serbo-Croatian pronunciation: [tɔ̌rlaːk]) is a group of South Slavic dialects of southeastern Serbia (southern KosovoPrizren), northeastern Republic of Macedonia (Kumanovo, Kratovo and Kriva Palanka dialects), western Bulgaria (BelogradchikGodechTran-Breznik), which is intermediate between Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian and Macedonian. According to UNESCO's list of endangered languages, the Torlak dialect is classified as a vulnerable language.[1]

Some linguists classify it as an Old Shtokavian dialect or as a fourth dialect of Serbo-Croatian along with Shtokavian, Chakavian, and Kajkavian. Others classify it as a western Bulgarian dialect, in which case it is referred to as a transitional dialect. Torlakian is not standardized, and its subdialects vary significantly in some features.

Speakers of the dialectal group are primarily ethnic Serbs, Bulgarians, and Macedonians.[2] There are also smaller ethnic communities of Croats (the Krashovani) in Romania and Slavic Muslims (the Gorani) in southern Kosovo.


The Torlakian dialects are intermediate between the Eastern and Western branches of South Slavic, and have been variously described, in whole or in parts, as belonging to either group. In the 19th century, their classification was hotly contested between Serbian and Bulgarian writers.[3] In addition, there have been disputes regarding whether the Torlak dialects in Macedonia, like with all dialects in Macedonia, belonged to Bulgarian or were a separate language.

Most Serbian linguists (like Pavle Ivić and Asim Peco) classify Torlakian as an Old-Shtokavian dialect, referring to it as Prizren-Timok dialect.[4][5]

All old Bulgarian scientists as Benyo Tsonev, Gavril Zanetov and Krste Misirkov [6][7] classified Torlakian as dialect of Bulgarian language. They noted the manner of the articles, the loss of most of the cases, etc. Today Bulgarian linguists (Stoyko Stoykov, Rangel Bozhkov) also classify Torlakian as a "Belogradchik-Tran" dialect of Bulgarian, and claim that it should be classified outside the Shtokavian area. Stoykov further argued that the Torlak dialects having a grammar that is closer to Bulgarian was indicative of them being originally Bulgarian.[8]

The Croatian linguist Milan Rešetar classified the Torlak dialects (which he called Svrlijg) as a different group from Shtokavian.[9]

In Macedonian dialectology, the Torlakian varieties spoken on Macedonian territory (Kumanovo, Kratovo and Kriva Palanka dialects) are classified as part of a North-Eastern group of Macedonian dialects.[10]

The Torlakian dialects, together with Bulgarian and Macedonian, display many properties of the Balkan linguistic area, a set of structural convergence features shared also with other languages of the Balkans such as Albanian and Aromanian. In terms of areal linguistics, they have therefore been described as part of a prototypical "Balkan Slavic" area, as opposed to other parts of Serbo-Croatian, which are only peripherally involved in the convergence area.[3][11][12][13]



Basic Torlakian vocabulary shares most of its Slavic roots with Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, and Macedonian, but also over time it borrowed a number of words from Aromanian, Greek, Turkish, and Albanian in the Gora region of the Šar mountains. Also, it preserved many words which in the "major" languages became archaisms or changed meaning. Like other features, vocabulary is inconsistent across subdialects: for example, a Krashovan need not necessarily understand a Goranac.

The varieties spoken in the Slavic countries have been heavily influenced by the standardized national languages, particularly when a new word or concept was introduced. The only exception is a form of Torlakian spoken in Romania, which escaped the influence of a standardized language which has existed in Serbia since a state was created after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. The Slavs indigenous to the region are called Krašovani (Krashovans) and are a mixture of original settler Slavs and later settlers from Timočka Krajina (eastern Serbia).

Cases lacking inflections

Macedonian and Bulgarian are the only two modern Slavic languages that lost virtually the entire noun case system, with nearly all nouns now in the surviving nominative case. This is also true of the Torlakian dialect. In the northwest, the instrumental case merges with the genitive case, and the locative and genitive cases merge with the nominative case. Further south, all inflections disappear and meaning is determined solely by prepositions.

Lack of phoneme /x/

Macedonian, Torlakian and a number of Serbian and Bulgarian dialects, unlike all other Slavic languages, technically have no phoneme like ], ] or ]. In other Slavic languages, ] or ] (from Proto-Slavic *g in "H-Slavic languages") is common.

The appearance of the letter h in the alphabet is reserved mostly for loanwords and toponyms within the Republic of Macedonia but outside of the standard language region. In Macedonian, this is the case with eastern towns such as Pehčevo. In fact, the Macedonian language is based in Prilep, Pelagonia and words such as thousand and urgent are iljada and itno in standard Macedonian but hiljada and hitno in Serbo-Croatian (also, Macedonian oro, ubav vs Bulgarian horo, hubav (folk dance, beautiful)). This is actually a part of an isogloss, a dividing line separating Prilep from Pehčevo in the Republic of Macedonia at the southern extreme, and reaching central Serbia (Šumadija) at a northern extreme. In Šumadija, local folk songs may still use the traditional form of I want being oću (оћу) compared with hoću (хоћу) as spoken in Standard Serbian.

Syllabic /l/

Torlakian has generally retained the syllabic /l/, which, like /r/, can serve the nucleus of a syllable. This is still the case in some West Slavic languages. In most of the Shtokavian dialects, the syllabic /l/ eventually became /u/ or /o/. In standard Bulgarian, it is preceded by the vowel represented by ъ (]) to separate consonant clusters. Not all Torlakian subdialects retained the syllabic /l/ to the full extent, but it is reflected either as full syllabic or in various combinations with [ə], [u], [ɔ] or [a]. Naturally, the /l/ becomes velarized in most such positions, giving ].[14]

Torlakian Krašovan (Karas) влк /vɫk/ пекъл /pɛkəl/ сълза /səɫza/ жлт /ʒɫt/
Northern (Svrljig) вук /vuk/ пекал /pɛkəɫ/ суза /suza/ жлът /ʒlət/
Central (Lužnica) vuk /vuk/ pekl /pɛkəɫ/ slza /sləza/ žlt /ʒlət/
Southern (Vranje) vlk /vəlk/ pekal /pɛkal/ solza /sɔɫza/ žlt /ʒəɫt/
Western (Prizren) vuk /vuk/ pekl /pɛkɫ/ suza /sluza/ žlt /ʒlt/
Eastern (Tran) вук /vuk/ пекл /pɛkɫ/ слза /slza/ жлт /ʒlt/
North-Eastern (Belogradchik) влк /vlk/ пекл /pɛkɫ/ слза /slza/ жлт /ʒlt/
South-Eastern (Kumanovo) влк /vlk/ пекъл /pɛkəɫ/ слъза /sləza/ жут /ʒut/
Standard Serbo-Croatian vȗk /ʋûːk/ pȅkao /pêkao/ sȕza /sûza/ žȗt /ʒûːt/
Standard Bulgarian вълк /vɤɫk/ пекъл /pɛkɐɫ/ сълза /sɐɫza/ жълт /ʒɤɫt/
Standard Macedonian волк /vɔlk/ печел /pɛtʃɛl/ солза /sɔlza/ жолт /ʒɔlt/
English wolf (have) baked tear yellow

Features shared with Eastern South Slavic

  • Loss of grammatical case as in Bulgarian and Macedonian
  • Loss of infinitive as in Bulgarian and Macedonian, present in Serbo-Croatian
  • Full retention of the aorist and the imperfect, as in Bulgarian
  • Use of a definite article as in Bulgarian and Macedonian, lacking in Serbo-Croatian
  • ə for Old Slavic ь and ъ in all positions (Bulgarian sən, Serbo-Croatian san, Macedonian son)
  • Lack of phonetic pitch and length as in Bulgarian and Macedonian, present in Serbo-Croatian
  • Frequent stress on the final syllable in polysyllabic words, impossible in Serbo-Croatian and Macedonian (Bulgarian že'na, Serbo-Croatian 'žena)
  • Preservation of final l, which in Serbo-Croatian developed to o (Bulgarian and Macedonian bil, Serbo-Croatian bio)
  • Comparative degree of adjectives formed with the particle po as in Eastern South Slavic ubav, poubav, Serbo-Croatian lep, lepši.
  • Lack of epenthetic l, as in Eastern South Slavic zdravje/zdrave, Serbo-Croatian zdravlje

Features shared with Western South Slavic

In all Torlakian dialects:

  • ǫ gave labials u like Shtokavian Serbo-Croatian, unlike unlabialized ъ in literary Bulgarian and a in Macedonian)
  • vь- gave u in Western, v- in Eastern
  • *čr gave cr in Western, but was preserved in Eastern
  • Distinction between Proto-Slavic /ɲ/ and /n/ is lost in Eastern (S.-C. njega, Bulgarian nego).
  • Consonants in final position preserve their leniency (Serbo-Croatian grad (written and pronounced), Bulgarian/Macedonian pronounced /grat/ though of course written with a -d)
  • *vs stays preserved without metathesis in Eastern (S.-C. sve, Bulgarian vse)
  • Genitive njega as in Serbo-Croatian, unlike old genitive on O in Eastern (nego)
  • Nominative plural of nomina on -a is on -e in Western, -i in Eastern
  • Ja 'I, ego' in Western, (j)as in Eastern
  • Mi 'we' in Western, nie in Eastern
  • First person singular of verbs is -m in Western, and the old reflex of *ǫ in Eastern
  • suffixes *-itjь (-ić) and *-atja (-ača) are common in Western, not known in Eastern

In some Torlakian dialects:

  • Distinction between the plural of masculine, feminine and neuter adjectives is preserved only in Western (S.C. beli, bele, bela), not in Eastern (beli for masc., fem. and neutr.), does not occur in Belogradchik area; in some eastern regions there is just a masculine and feminine form.
  • The proto-Slavic *tj, *dj which gave respectively ć, đ in Serbo-Croatian, št, žd in Bulgarian and ќ, ѓ in Macedonian, is represented by the Serbian form in the west and northwest and by the hybrid č, in the east: Belogradchik and Tran, as well as Pirot, Gora, northern Macedonia. The Macedonian form occurs around Kumanovo.


Literature written in Torlakian is rather sparse as the dialect has never been an official state language, and literacy in the region was limited to Eastern Orthodox clergy, who chiefly used Old Church Slavonic in writing. The first known literary document influenced by Torlakian[15] dialects is the Manuscript from Temska Monastery from 1762, in which its author, the Monk Kiril Zhivkovich from Pirot, considered his language as: "simple Bulgarian".[16]


According to one theory, the name Torlak derived from the South Slavic word "tor" ("sheepfold" in English), referring to the fact that Torlaks in the past were mainly shepherds by occupation. Some scientists describe the Torlaks as a distinct ethnographic group.[17][18] The Torlaks are also sometimes classified as part of the Shopi population and vice versa. In the 19th century, there was no exact border between Torlak and Shopi settlements. According to some authors during the Ottoman rule, the majority of native the Torlakian Slavic population did not have national consciousness in ethnic sense.

Therefore, both Serbs and Bulgarians considered local Slavs as part of their own people, while the local population was also divided between sympathy for Bulgarians and Serbs. Other authors from the epoch take a different view and maintain that the inhabitants of the Torlakian area had begun to develop predominantly Bulgarian national consciousness.[19][20] With Ottoman influence ever weakening, the increase of nationalist sentiment in the Balkans in late 19th and early 20th century, and the redrawing of national boundaries after the Treaty of Berlin (1878), the Balkan wars and World War I, the borders in the Torlakian-speaking region changed several times between Serbia and Bulgaria, and later Republic of Macedonia.

See also



  • A Handbook of Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian (by Wayles Brown and Theresa Alt)
  • Стойков, Стойко: Българска диалектология, Акад. изд. "Проф. Марин Дринов", 2006.
  • Dijalekti istočne i južne Srbije, Aleksandar Belić, Srpski dijalektološki zbornik, 1, 1905.
  • Sprachatlas Ostserbiens und Westbulgariens, Andrej N. Sobolev. Vol. I-III. Biblion Verlag, Marburg, 1998.
  • Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe, Glanville Price, Blackwell Publishing, p. 423.
  • Language and Conflict: A Neglected Relationship, Dan Smith, Paul A Chilton - Language Arts & Disciplines, 1998, Page 59
  • South Slavic and Balkan Linguistics, A. Barentsen, Rodopi, 1982
  • Hrvatska dijalektologija 1, Josip Lisac, Golden marketing – Tehnička knjiga, Zagreb, 2003.
  • The Slavonic Languages, Bernard Comrie, Greville G Corbett - Foreign Language Study, 2002, pp 382–384.
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