Macedonian 101

The region of Macedonia and the Republic of Macedonia 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 Greek Byzantine 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 Thessaloniki.

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. Only very slight traces of written Macedonian survive from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

During the increase of national consciousness in the Balkans, standards for the languages of Slovenian, 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 a Bulgarian population. (see Demographic History of Macedonia)

In 1845 the Russian 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 separate Bulgarian dialects: Eastern and Western. According to his findings, 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 Pella in Greek Macedonia. 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 Kingdom of 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 Macedonia, the local dialects were described as dialects of Bulgarian.

During the second World War, Yugoslav Macedonia was occupied by the Bulgarians, who were allied with the Axis. The 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.

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 Yugoslavia 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 Bla┼że 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.

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