A correspondent sent me an International Herald Tribune article by Matthew Brunwasser about various linguistic issues that will arise when Bulgaria joins the EU:
With Bulgaria scheduled to enter the European Union along with Romania on Jan. 1, Cyrillic is becoming the bloc’s third official alphabet, after Latin and Greek; by the end of the decade, if Bulgaria succeeds in joining the euro zone, it may even appear on euro banknotes.
Although Bulgaria has no commitment to reciprocate by displaying signs in the Latin alphabet, “We are doing it,” says Nikolay Vassilev, minister for state administration and administrative reform. “More slowly than I would like.”…
Rusana Bardarska, a Bulgarian translator, said the hardest part of introducing Bulgarian was EU terminology, for which Bulgarian words may not exist. “Should we translate ‘communitarization,’ ‘convergence,’ ‘flexsecurity’ and ‘cohesion,’ or rather introduce them as new words in Bulgarian?” she asked….
Back in Bulgaria, however, spelling is a major problem, according to Vassilev, the government minister. Many Cyrillic letters have no Latin equivalent, or several possibilities. The result, he says, is that some Bulgarian cities are spelled seven different ways in Latin – even on signs within the same city.
“There is no other country in the world with a problem of this magnitude,” Vassilev said.
To address this, Vassilev developed “Comprehensible Bulgaria,” a transliteration system created by linguists so that all Bulgarian proper names would be rendered the same way in the Latin alphabet. The transliteration software is available for free on the ministry’s Web page.
The new spellings are now obligatory for state institutions, but people are free to continue transliterating their names as they like, and Vassilev expects it to take years for the public to adopt the new system…
The “no other country” thing is silly, of course (everybody always thinks their own language is uniquely unique), but I’d be curious to know which cities are spelled seven different ways. And I love “the Day of Bulgarian Enlightenment and Culture and of the Slavonic Alphabet”; I’ll have to remember to celebrate it next May 24.