Bulgarian tense system in comparison to other languages

Discussion in 'Other Slavic Languages' started by mungu, Jan 19, 2010.

  1. mungu Senior Member

    Split from here.

    Well, to start with: I never meant to vouch that Bulgarian is much easier than the others. I don't know that, as I have never experienced learning Bulgarian as a foreign language - obviously, because I'm a native speaker of it! I just wanted to object to specific claims about its supposed difficulty that had been made and that I felt were a long way off the mark - scaremongering with the Definite Article of Doom and what not. Bulgarian is not hyper-easy, no Slavic language is, and while native command of Bulgarian helps with Russian a lot, I don't know just how useful a beginner's Bulgarian would be. Good luck to JFman00 in any case! The strategy that he has chosen certainly sounds exciting.

    Disagree. French is the one I know best, so here goes:

    Imperfect: J'écrivais = Bul. аз пишех (= Rus. я писал)
    Preterite: J'écrivis = (usually) Bul. аз написах (= Rus. я написал)

    Aspect is, of course, also relevant for these examples - coming shortly.

    It's good you pointed out the aspect issue, I was wrong not to mention it in my previous post. I still maintain I was right to say that the use of the tenses shouldn't be a problem, it's largely the same as in Romance. But the way they are formed morphologically is indeed messier than in Romance.

    Basically, to translate the West European imperfect into Bulgarian, you need to use the imperfect tense and you must pick the imperfective aspect version of the verb (pres. пиша - imperf. пишех). To translate the West European preterite, you need to use the Bulgarian preterite/aorist and you must pick the perfective version of the verb (pres. напиша - aor. написах). So while most Slavic languages only force you to choose between the perfective and the imperfective aspect version of the verb in order to express the imperfect/preterite difference (Rus. писал - написал), but at least the tense morphology is the same (originally a participle), in Bulgarian you have this and you also have to use the correct tense. This means that in Bulgarian both ways of signalling the contrast - aspect and tense - are used redundantly: imperfect tense + imperfective aspect; preterite tense + perfective aspect.

    Morphologically, this may be disconcerting, but I'm not sure it's much worse than the other Slavic languages. In Bulgarian, you need to memorize the aspect versions of the verb (пиша vs напиша), just like in the other Slavic languages, and in addition you need to remember how the aorist stem is formed (писа-х). But in the other Slavic languages, you also need to memorize the ancient aorist stem to build the participle-turned-past-tense (писа-л). It should also be noted that while the aspect expression in the past is messy, the same distinction in the future is formed in a more consistent way than in most other Slavic languages (compare Bul. ще пиша - ще напиша vs Rus. буду писать - напишу).

    Of course I'm oversimplifying things when I say that the ancient tense and the new aspect double up completely redundantly in Bulgarian (imperfect tense + imperfective aspect пишех and aorist tense + perfective aspect написах). Still, I think that this is actually true about 90 % of the time. The remaining two logical possibilities (imperfect tense + perfective aspect писах and aorist tense + imperfective aspect напишех) are rare, seldom obligatory, express pretty fine nuances and a foreigner won't need to use them until a very advanced stage of learning. The first one has a meaning that is hard to describe (вчера писах писмо, kinda "I did some letter-writing yesterday"), but it is vague, it's used in relatively few situations and can be replaced with the imperfect or something else without too much harm being done. Also, it tends to coincide completely with other forms, so even native speakers confuse it occasionally without fatal consequences (I regularly confuse aorist говорих and imperfect говорех). As for the other remaining possibility, it can be used as a kind of conjunctive in some subordinate clauses (ако напишех "if I were to write"), but you can always replace it with more ordinary forms such as the present (ако напиша) and the real conjunctive constructions, corresponding to the Czech and Russian ones (ако бих написал).
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 19, 2010
  2. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    Mungu, sorry if I sounded like I was trying to put the Bulgarian language down. I know a guy who chose to learn a Slavic language (Polish) based on another language aspect - script and word stress. He thought Cyrillic was too hard to master! Plus the obvious obstacle - random word stress - this problem doesn't exist in Polish, Czech and Slovak. I guess some people choose languages based on their apparent easy aspect, not on the pragmatic need. I for one, like languages, which are difficult - complex scripts and grammar but what really puts me off is lack of good textbooks, readers, listening resource and other things. My long time hobby is Japanese, Chinese (both intermediate) and partially Arabic (upper beginner. I am learning some very basics of Thai, Hindi and Vietnamese - just dabbling (script, accent, basic phrases and words). It's quite different from my previous studies of German, English and French (lower intermediate), Polish (intermediate) but I am having fun. The degree of difficulty of Italian, Spanish or Swedish are not challenging enough for me, I have familiarised enough. Does anyone else learn a language based on degree of difficulty? Do you choose easy or difficult?
  3. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    (Creating a new topic as this goes beyond the topic of the original thread. :))
    Well, French has the same number of tenses - but their use still differs significantly from Bulgarian.
    Also I'd say that the Spanish tense system definitely is closer to the Bulgarian one than the French one - because in French imparfait and passé simple aren't used consistantly anymore, especially in spoken language they're rare and even in written language one can easily avoid passé simple, and it is hardly spoken anymore (or so you learn in school so probably that's only true for the north or Paris region - it could be different in the south for all I know).

    Spanish indefinido (which equals French passé simple) and Spanish imperfecto (more or less French imparfait) still is used in both spoken an d written language - but nevertheless the meanings of those tenses in Spanish are not equal to Bulgarian imperfect and aorist.
    It is the Slavic aspect system which makes Bulgarian tenses so much more complex than the tense systems of Romance languages: if you translate Spanish imperfecto/French imparfait with Bulgarian imperfect, and Spanish indefinido/French passé simple with aorist, then what you get are simply wrong translations.

    And please note, I do not intend to say that the Bulgarian system or the Romance system were "better": that's not the point. What is important here is that you should see that they're different. :)

    This will work as a rule of thumb for a number of sentences but will lead to wrong translations for others.
    In French it is clear that the use of passé simple in spoken language just sounds archaic; you cannot translate aorist with passé simple.
    And while it may work in many cases if you translate perfective aorist to Spanish indefinido the latter is defined as a tense of a time-frame which is past - if you use indefinido in Spanish you are indicating with this that the things you tell in past tense are of no immediate relevance to the present; or to use the rule of thumb you'll learn in school: things that happened yesterday, or last week, or last year, demand indefinido - but things which happened today, or this week, or this year, demand pretérito perfecto = French passé composé = Bulgarian perfect tense (съм учил, to leave no doubt :)).

    PS: We already had some discussions about Bulgarian tenses (and they all gave me nightmares, no offense meant :D), e. g.:
    Past perfect and aspect
    Past tense
    aorist ... not!
    Non-witness mood (Bulgarian+Macedonian)

    Imperfect and aorist in all Slavic languages
  4. mungu Senior Member

    Sure, there are no two languages that are exactly alike. Spanish use of tenses is slightly different from Portuguese is slightly different from French is slightly different from Bulgarian. But there are enough similarities to ease learning and the differences are certainly not as enormous as the difference between the presence of these tenses and their complete absence in Russian, and between the absence of case and its presence in Russian.

    About French:

    Yes, modern spoken French tends to use passé composé instead of passé simple. But as should have been clear, I was referring to classical, literary ("archaic", as you say) French, which uses passé simple, and which most Frenchmen understand at least passively. And even if you insist on using modern spoken French, imparfait is still used in the same way as before to the best of my knowledge, so all you need to do is restate my wording to the effect that passé composé equals the aorist (except those few cases in which passé composé preserves its perfect tense function). You're saying that if you translate French imparfait with Bulgarian imperfect and French passé simple with Bulgarian preterite, "what you get are simply wrong translations". I challenge you to prove this with specific examples. This is the way I've always translated from and to French (replacing passé simple with passé composé, of course), so it's quite a news for me that my translations were "simply wrong" all this time.

    About Spanish:

    Now you're mixing in the present perfect here - that's a separate issue. I was talking about the imperfect/preterite contrast, not about the present perfect. The imperfect is the same as in Bulgarian, but the present perfect is used in Spanish and in English in more situations than in Bulgarian; in those cases, Bulgarian uses the aorist instead. Nothing dramatic about that. All it means is that most of the few time one can ignore the existence of the present perfect in Bulgarian without going wrong.

    About Bulgarian:

    A general reference to discussions of obscure points in grammar by amateurs such as ourselves should not be cited as evidence that the language is complicated and difficult. I took a look at them and saw nothing remarkable in them, and they don't really contradict what I've said. If you understand Bulgarian grammar sufficiently well to prove its difficulty, then go ahead, but for the time being I stand by what I've explained above. Sure, Bulgarian tense use differs from the other languages, but not more than those languages differ between each other. The aspects are there, but they are present in all Slavic languages, and their interaction with tense is, again, nothing dramatic.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2010
  5. Christo Tamarin

    Christo Tamarin Senior Member

    I agree.

    Bulgarian has the most complicated verbal system of all European languages except Basque. This sentence could be disproved only if another European language is specified as having more complicated verbal system than Bulgarian.
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2010
  6. Duya Senior Member

    Not in WR world
    I'm not familiar enough with either to judge, but Basque certainly seems like a good candidate. :)
  7. mungu Senior Member

    I find it both hard and pointless to measure "complexity" (number of distinct forms; synthetic vs analytic formation and regularity of morphology?). My point was that it is not that hard to master the necessary basics of the system, and that the features aren't that different from what is found in the West European languages (Slavic aspect being the exception, although I'd argue that even it has parallels in those languages). Unlike Basque, we are nothing really exotic (the renarrative verges on being exotic, but even it isn't so alien IMO). It's another matter that learning to use all the forms like a native will always be a challenging task, and that's normal: hell, in this very thread, I don't use the perfect tenses precisely like an English native speaker would!
  8. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Hello Mungu,

    you grew up with Slavic aspect - for you aspect is dead easy.
    Let me tell you that for those who do not know something like Slavic aspect the use of aspect (not its formation, that's easily enough learned) are very hard to learn indeed.

    It is already bad with those Slavic languages which only have a much reduced set of tenses.
    But in Bulgarian it is even much more different (and in Macedonian for that matter, while in BCS aorist and imperfect aren't as fully functional anymore, similar - to give an analogy - to French where for spoken purposes it is mainly passé composé).

    Aspect and tenses intertwine to complex meanings and constructions, you need to be very careful about aspect but also about tenses.
    I am not mixing them up. :)

    What you call present perfect in Bulgarian (съм учил) is more or less equivalent to Spanish pretérito perfecto (he aprendido), further Spanish indefinido is more or less equivalent to Bulgarian aorist, and Spanish imperfecto more or less equals Bulgarian imperfect.

    We should better avoid French (as the tense system isn't really preserved in the "traditional" sense) - it's more useful to use Spanish for comparison. But if you refer to the style of older literature in French then probably the French tenses more or less were used similarly to the Spanish ones; but note, even use of tenses in Spain and America differs:
    For example, in Mexico (my first Spanish teacher was Mexican so I'll refer to Mexican use :)) indefinido = a tense of the past with no relation to the present in Spain also may be used when Spaniards would prefer pretérito perfecto (or even would say that use of indefinido is wrong).
    I think this different use also exists in southern Spanish dialects (that is, on the Iberian peninsula) but of that I'm not sure.

    Anyway - the point being is: while you use imperfect tense mainly with imperfective aspect and perfect tense mainly with perfective aspect*) there is still the tense with "bil" participle (съм учил) which one can use with perfective and imperfective verbs.
    And even though it seems this tense is called "present perfect" in Bulgarian (or so say English grammars) it is still a tense of the past.

    *) You wrote that imperfect+perfective and aorist+imperfective are rare and have special meaning; I couldn't say anything about that as I never learned Bulgarian - but it is interesting that those special uses exist, uses which no Romance language could express quite like Bulgarian can.

    I guess only Bulgarian present perfect with imperfective verbs may be more or less equivalent to Spanish pretérito perfecto, while present perfect with perfective verbs probably do not have a "direct" translation to Spanish but you need to use other means to express the same in Spanish.

    The problem is that I don't know how Bulgarian tenses are exactly used - in all combinations with aspect, and that my knowledge of Spanish use of tenses is far from perfect.
    So let's give an example: in Spanish, if you tell a story with no immediate relevance to the present you'd use indefinido and imperfecto: indefinido whenever something happens, and imperfecto do describe landscapes or persons or make statements which are of general relevance.
    But the rules are of course more complex.

    So for example, if you tell a fairy tale then the description of the castle, and the princess, will be in imperfecto while the action the princess takes (fishing the golden ball out of the water, kissing the frog) will be in indefinido.
    However, when describing how the princess was playing with the ball when suddenly the frog jumps out of the water the verb for playing with the ball should be in imperfecto and the action interrupting this - the jumping of the frog - in indefinido.

    What tenses would you use for this in Bulgarian, and what aspects?
    I guess that in the cases above probably all uses of indefinido could go with aorist-perfective, and imperfecto with imperfect-imperfective.

    But even if this were so problems are bound to arise as soon as pretérito perfecto = present perfect is involved. And even more so of course if you compare Spanish tenses according to American use.
  9. phosphore Senior Member

    Could someone list all Bulgarian moods and tenses?
  10. mungu Senior Member

    I'll use мисля ("think") a verb with an imperfective aspect.

    Moods: indicative (мисля), imperative (мисли!), conditional (бих мислил), renarrative (мислел съм).

    Tenses: present (мисля), aorist (мислих), future simple (ще мисля), present perfect / "past indefinite" (мислил съм), imperfect (мислех), past perfect (бях мислил), future perfect (ще съм мислил), future in the past (щях да мисля), future perfect in the past (щях да съм мислил).
  11. phosphore Senior Member

    This renarrative has all these tenses?

    Thank you.
  12. mungu Senior Member

    Hi Sokol!

    You keep repeating this, but to the best of my knowledge, imparfait is very much alive in French and only passé simple is dead. I checked several grammars on that and none mentions that imparfait is dead.

    Very general, already discussed.

    You're quite right. Thanks for the fun challenge: Замъкът се извисяваше (the castle stood high, imperfect imperfective), принцесата се любуваше на пейзажа (the princess was enjoying the landscape, imperfect imperfective). Принцесата извади златното кълбо от водата (the princess fished the golden ball out of the water, aorist perfective). Принцесата си играеше с кълбото (the princess was playing with the ball, imperfect imperfective), когато внезапно от водата изскочи една жаба (when suddenly a frog jumped out of the water, aorist perfective).

    Sure, the perfect is somewhat different. I think the rule of thumb for the Western European should be not to use it. I find it very difficult to generalize on when the Bulgarian perfect is used and when it isn't, I'd have to check some good grammar. The only cases I can think of right away where you really must use it are: 1. if you are establishing that the action is "on your list of things you've done": "I have studied Japanese [at some unspecified point in my life, for some unspecified period]". 2. If you didn't witness the action, don't really know for sure that it happened and are just guessing or inferring: "He has [probably] packed his luggage by now, so his luggage is ready.". Now that I think of it, this is separate from the renarrative mood - even though morphologically it's almost the same as the perfect - which actively emphasizes that that someone told you that.

    No, there is no such connection. I just found the example Elena ha ganado el premio, and it is a single completed action, so we may use the perfect perfective Елена е спечелила наградата if we want to emphasize that we didn't personally witness her winning and just learned it from somewhere. But if we did see it personally, I think we can't use the present perfect and must use the aorist instead: Елена спечели наградата.
  13. mungu Senior Member

    Yes and no - several tenses share the same form. That's because the renarrative form is formally more or less a perfect tense form of the corresponding finite verb of the indicative, and that is true regardless of whether that finite verb is in the present or in the past tense (both съм and бях become бил съм, both ще and щях become щял съм). The last few forms aren't used very often at all (and the last pair sounds more like a joke), although they are constructed according to the same analytic logic as all the rest, so they are available "on demand".

    present and imperfect: мисля -> мислел съм; мислех -> мислел съм
    aorist: мислих -> мислил съм
    future simple and future in the past: ще мисля -> щял съм да мисля; щях да мисля -> щял съм да мисля
    present perfect and past perfect: мислил съм -> бил съм мислил; бях мислил -> бил съм мислил
    future perfect and future perfect in the past: ще съм мислил -> щял съм да съм мислил; щях да съм мислил -> щял съм да съм мислил

    The finite verb "to be" is dropped in the 3rd singular, so you get той мислел ... and so on until той щял да е мислил.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2010
  14. mungu Senior Member

    Now some tense correspondences with French and English:

    Tenses: present (мисля) = je pense, I think or I'm thinking
    aorist (мислих) ≈ je pensai, I thought
    imperfect (мислех) = je pensais, I was thinking or I thought
    future simple (ще мисля) = je penserai, I will be thinking or I will think
    present perfect / "past indefinite" (мислил съм) ≈ j'ai pensé, I have thought
    past perfect (бях мислил) = j'avais pensé/j'eus pensé, I had thought
    future perfect (ще съм мислил) = j'aurai pensé, I will have thought
    future in the past (щях да мисля) ≈ je penserais, I would think or I was going to think
    future perfect in the past (щях да съм мислил) ≈ *j'aurais pensé, I would have thought
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2010
  15. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Concerning French tenses:
    I know that imparfait is much more alive in modern French (especially in written language, in spoken language my French teacher claimed that you wouldn't stick out if you never use it - but I only have her word for that, and she wasn't a French native speaker).
    But passé simple is pretty much dead.

    And this is the reason why French tenses never could compare perfectly to Bulgarian: there's only imparfait equaling approx. Bulgarian imperfect; but the difference between passé simple and passé composé in modern French rather is stylistic than anything else.
    For this reason it is much easier to compare Spanish tenses with Bulgarian (and you also have a great deal more similarities, as the short fairy tale test showed :)).
    Still, the use of indefinido and imperfecto in Spanish is quite a complicated topic - and I'm sure there are plenty of uses when they do not compare to imperfect-imperfective and aorist-perfective of Bulgarian: the problem is that I only know Spanish tenses.

    And about perfect tense (pretérito perfecto - present perfect):
    Here we are then: in Spanish you couldn't express through use of a specific tense whether you witnessed an action or not. Of course there are means to express the same meaning if needed - but Bulgarian sticks out with using tense and aspect combined to do so.

    Well not quite, or more precisely: only present-imperfective equals present tense of FR and EN.
    Present-perfective I guess will have some specialised meanings as it has in other South Slavic languages - still more or less means "present" but either pointing to the near future, or habitual actions, or those rare instances when your words actually are an action (e. g. baptising).
    Again, instead of "je pensai" you will hear "j'ai pensé"
    And English progressive tenses one could compare with iterative Slavic verbs (so definitely imperfective aspect - but not any kind of imperfective aspect :)); they don't relate directly to Bulgarian tenses, as I'm sure you're aware. ;)

    Of course I don't have an understanding of how aspect works in Bulgarian - even though all Slavic languages make use of it aspect still is used differently in different Slavic languages (especially but not only about aspect in present tense); thus it is perfectly possible that I'm mistaken here concerning some fine details.
  16. phosphore Senior Member


    You are wrong here. The imparfait is pretty much alive. However, I don't see how we could draw parallels between the imparfait and the passé composé on one side and the aorist, the perfect and the imperfect on the other.
  17. mungu Senior Member

    Imparfait is imperfect, no difference here at all. Passé composé used to be a typical West European perfect, both in form and in function, in classical literary French. However, in modern spoken use it has overtaken the meaning of passé simple as well, so its original "perfect" nature hardly ever surfaces.
  18. phosphore Senior Member

    I don't know what's a typical Western European past perfect tense, nor do I know what's classical literary French supposed to be, but the passé composé is used in contemporary French for both Bulgarian perfect and Bulgarian aorist. You were claiming that a Frenchman (among other Western Europeans) would easily learn Bulgarian tenses because they are same as in French. But how could he know whether the aorist or the perfect should be used in a phrase where he uses the passé composé? That was my point.
  19. mungu Senior Member

    We've been through this already. Nothing in this world could compare perfectly to anything, otherwise it would be the same thing. Yes, the modern spoken French tense system is a worse parallel than the classical literary French tense system, and that's why I'm using the latter in my examples, just like "thou" is used to express the meaning of "2nd person singular" in foreign languages for English speakers. Literate Francophones will get the idea, as would literate Anglophones in the case of "thou". So please stop bugging me about that.

    I wouldn't be so sure if I were you.
    Yes, the Bulgarian perfect is used - or rather restricted - in a somewhat untypical way, it is perhaps the most untypically used tense in the language. That said, I don't know about Spanish, but the use of the perfect to indicate guessing or inferring an event does have some parallels in German and in Norwegian, as I remember from reading grammars of those languages years ago. But of course, the uses are not precisely identical - and I never said everything was precisely identical. If the purpose of this thread is for me to confess that Bulgarian is not identical to Spanish, I confess right away. In fact, you can tell already by the alphabet, some of the letters look kinda different.

    Aspect has got nothing to do with this at all, don't mix it in to make things look more complicated than they are. You can say "Елена е спечелила наградата" perfectively, or "Елена е печелила наградата" imperfectively. The difference in meaning is only the one you would expect from an aspect, and is in no way connected to the choice of tense.

    Well, the present tense of perfective verbs doesn't normally occur as an independent form at all and that's why I didn't mention it and picked an imperfective verb for my examples. The "present tense" of perfective verbs as a morphological form is only necessary to construct the future of perfective verbs (ще помисля "I'll think [perfective]") and is also preferred in certain subordinate clauses ("когато помисля" "when I think [perfective]"). It was interesting to learn about the other South Slavic uses you mentioned, I'm only familiar with the second one of the three, and that only from pretty old folksy literature.
    Nothing relates directly to anything, except God. Sometimes there is a correspondence between English past-simple/past-progressive contrast and the French/Bulgarian preterite/imperfect contrast and the Slavic perfective/imperfective contrast, sometimes there isn't. That's why I put "or" there. For paedagogical and informative reasons it is better to point out a correspondence that works sometimes than not to mention the correspondence at all - unless one's purpose is not to help understanding, but to confuse and put off. That said, I've no idea what you mean with "iterative Slavic verbs" being comparable to English progressive tenses. I'd say iterative use of Slavic imperfective aspect, and of Bulgarian and French imperfect tense, is the most common case of them not corresponding to English progressive tenses. Please elaborate.
    We ain't got no fine details ,we only got coarse and rough details, 'cause we is a coarse and rough, and vulgar Balkan people. :)
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2010
  20. mungu Senior Member

    Fair enough. But: 1. A Frenchman is likely to be familiar with the original use from literature. 2. Anyway, I argued above that specifically the Bulgarian present perfect is one (possibly the one) tense for which a West European shouldn't rely on his habits in his mother tongue very much. And that its use is very restricted, so that the simplest strategy at the early stages of learning is to avoid it altogether. Which shouldn't be that hard to do.

    BTW, other Slavs learning Bulgarian usually do the reverse. They usually learn the perfect first and use only the perfect to express past actions, because the perfect is formally identical or near-identical to the default preterite in their own languages. You can often hear a Russian say things like "Вчера в кино бил интересен филм и аз го гледал" or, perhaps, a Pole say "Вчера в кино е бил интересен филм и аз съм го гледал" ("yesterday there has been interesting film at cinema and I have watched it"). It does work perfectly well for practical communication, funny as it sounds to a native.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2010
  21. phosphore Senior Member

    I seriously doubt that. :)

    Anyway, let's go back to cases for a moment. The use of cases in Latin is very similar to their use in Serbian, but the uses are still different. Different enough so that we often have to learn by heart which case should be used. I believe that's true for tenses too. Even if similar to their use in his native language (which may be the case with Spanish, but is not the case with French), their use in Bulgarian is nevertheless different enough so the learner has to spend a lot of time in order to master it.
  22. zdravkoskalarov New Member

    I agree! :)
    I have friends studying Spanish and they tell me stories of all the freaky tenses in that language but if sokol is right it's not that far from Bulgarian. From my expirience I could say that learning a foreign language requires more talking with natives than making exercises from the textbooks! If you could get used to writing things that you don't say (pronounce) the same e.g. English and French or keep track of the cases (Dat Gen Akk Nom etc) than you could learn Bulgarian tenses aswell! About the cyrilic alphabet I think that most of the characters are completely identical to those of the latin alphabet (try looking at chinese and latin! they have nothing in common). As far as the fact that you pronounce them differently it's the same as explaining the combination of c and h in German, English and French:
    EN ch = [tJ] = ч
    DE ch = [h] = х
    FR ch = [ʃ] = ш
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2010
  23. mungu Senior Member

    You mean that French people don't read? I'm pretty sure that at least 90% if not 100& of all books that I've read used passé simple. In any case, the perfect may be problematic, but the other tenses correspond more closely to the French tenses (or in some cases moods).

    I think you've got to the heart of the discussion here:

    Yes, there are many new details you have to learn each time, with each new language. In many cases there may be grammatical "false friends". Yet my underlying premise is that it's easier to learn a system that is typologically similar - albeit different in the specific details - to what you have in your native language, than one that is totally, principally different. There may be many fine differences between the target language and the native language - and Sokol has worked to prove that - but when the basic similarity exists, this is an advantage. This applies to case, tense, definiteness and everything else.

    Whether the language you're learning uses cases or prepositions only, whether it has 3 or 7 tenses, in both cases you have to learn the specific ways these are used. But this factor is always present, so it can be ignored in comparisons. Now a separate factor that contributes to the difficulty is whether you are used to cases as such, or to tenses as such.

    Another example - the definite article. Both Bulgarian and English have a definite article, and they are similar, but there are differences in use. For example in general statements such as "Oxygen is an important element", Bulgarians would say "the oxygen is important element". Despite these differences, Bulgarians are overall at an advantage when learning to use the English definite article in comparison to Russians and, I assume, Serbians, who don't have a definite article in their native language at all. I'm pretty sure about that, because I have often witnessed how even Russians who have otherwise studied and practiced English a lot still make definite-article mistakes that a Bulgarian kid wouldn't do after the first months of study. Perhaps in the long run we are disadvantaged as regards the final stages of refinement, because we are inclined to just rely on our habits from our mother tongue instead of grasping all the fine details of English usage; yet for the starting level it's an enormous boost to have this basic correspondence. I assume the same applies to case - it is a boost to have an at least partly similar case system in Serbian when you learn Latin. And I assume that the same applies to tense - the, say, Danish perfect tenses are sometimes used somewhat differently and sometimes constructed somewhat differently from the English ones, but someone who knows the English system is more prepared to learn them than someone who only has past, present and future in his mother tongue. Even if we were talking about discretely different things, which we really aren't - a parallel is that someone used to distinguishing 10 species of flowers or 10 individual goats is presumably more prepared to learn to distinguish 10 other species of flowers or 10 other individual goats than someone who isn't used to looking closely at flowers or goats at all.

    So, if you have a different premise, namely that it is easier to learn principally different and unfamiliar things where false friends are impossible, then I can't argue with that.
  24. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Hello Mungu,

    some of your answers to objections against your original suggestion sound quite defensive. Please note, I am sure all other posters (as well as me of course) have no intention of disqualifying the general analogy between Romance tenses of the past: the intention is rather to point out where this analogy fails.

    So please allow for discussion, there's no need for defensiveness. :)

    About Bulgarian present tense perfective: it is interesting that in Bulgarian present-perfective acts as future tense (as is the case in Western and Eastern Slavic languages); while in Slovene and BCS present-perfective too isn't "quite" present tense its use still differs from that.

    And another thing about aspect: of course aspect is not a tense - we all know that :) -, but it still interferes with the meaning of tenses.
    This by the way also is shown by the fact that imperfect mainly is used with imperfective aspect while aorist mainly is used with perfective aspect (and that imperfect-perfective as well as aorist-imperfective are rarely used and have specialised meanings, if I understood you correctly).

    In Slavic languages the meaning of a verb changes significantly if you change aspect - and it changes in a way which may demand you also change the time you use the verb in the other aspect form.

    Just try and think "outside" aspect - try and see it from the point of view of a language which doesn't have aspect.
  25. mungu Senior Member

    I'm "defensive" in that I'm defending my point, which all of you are disputing, and that's what this thread is all about. I'm also getting more and more impatient, because it seems to me that the objections are repetitive and annoying; admittedly, I'm also at fault to some extent, because I tend to get unnerved by long discussions per se. Your pointing out where analogies fail is, of course, informative and interesting in principle, but I don't appreciate its use to disqualify the original argument. The original argument was that there is a grammatical similarity between "Standard Average Western European" and Bulgarian and that Bulgarian may - I repeat "may", it hasn't been tested - be easier to learn for a Westerner than other Slavic languages. This argument was originally suggested at least twice by other users, citing specifically grammatical case, and each time unanimously rejected by people on grounds that I found poor. Basically, I'm saying: there's a Western/Bulgarian analogy here, here, and here. The objections I meet are either that it's not quite a perfect analogy in this, this and this respect, or that analogies don't matter anyway. Don't take it personally, but it just exhausts me.

    No, the Bulgarian present perfective doesn't really act as a future tense - unlike West and East Slavic. The future meaning is expressed only by the preposited particle ще, and the following verb's inherent aspect expresses just that, aspect: мисля (I think - imperfective) - ще мисля (I'll think - imperfective); помисля (I think - perfective, almost never used alone) - ще помисля (I'll think - perfective). The reason why the present perfective occurs mostly in the future is not that it signals the future, but that a perfective usually just doesn't make sense in the present, for semantic reasons. So the Bulgarian future tense formation is simple like the West and East Slavic past tense formation: tense and aspect are morphologically quite distinct.

    The system corresponds to the BCS Future I, specifically the infinitive-less version occurring in Serbia: ја ћу да идем; tи ћеш да идеш; except that the present tense form of the auxiliary verb has been reduced to an unchanging particle аз ще ида, ти ще идеш. In Macedonian, the past tense form has also been reduced to a particle: ти ḱе идеше or something like that, as opposed to Bulgarian ти щеше да идеш.

    Yeah, we sort of know it :); though it's a terrible mess really. One could say that there's a difference between aspectual meaning and grammatical marking of aspect, a difference that we really haven't paid attention to in this discussion until now. Aspectual meaning is expressed in all sorts of ways, and it is arguably inherent in many "tense" forms. The English continuous/progressive tenses are really about aspect, and so is the imperfect/preterite tense contrast that we've been discussing. So what are the real differences between Slavic and "Westernish"? One thing is the way it's expressed morphologically: in Slavic, aspect is expressed independently of tense (though it may be sort of "duplicated" by the older mixed tense-aspect expression as in Bulgarian), and what's worse, it is expressed not so much grammatically as lexically - meaning that the different aspect "versions" of the verb are more like distinct words, morphologically connected to each other in a rather unpredictable way, which is intertwined with other changes of meaning: e.g. Rus. играть - сыграть/проиграть/ - сыгрывать/проигрывать. Another thing is which aspectual meanings are expressed and just how they are grouped together: for example, English groups the habitual with the perfective (I helped him yesterday; I often helped him; I was helping him at that moment), while Slavic and Romance group the habitual with the progressive (я помог ему вчера; я часто помагал ему; я помагал ему в тот момент).

    Concerning the already-discussed marginal aorist of imperfective verbs in Bulgarian (вчера той чЕте книги цял ден *"yesterday he read books the whole day"), one could say that it is not illogical: the verb has formally imperfective aspect and consequently has a kind of imperfective aspectual meaning (a long or iterative process is expressed, no inherently expected completion is implied), but at the same time the aorist serves to stress that the action is over and lies back in the past from a purely temporal, tense point of view. One could also use the imperfective, вчера той четеше книги цял ден "yesterday he was reading books the whole day", in which case there is no sense of completion and instead a past situation is "painted" as it was. And in case someone again exclaims "Aha! This sounds terribly complicated!", I reiterate that the second phrase may always be used instead of the first, even by native speakers, although arguably the first one is better Bulgarian in some situations.

    OK, I'm sorry folks, but as you can see, I find myself writing longer and longer posts and they are taking more and more time. This is getting out of control, so I'll just have to call it a quit. I hope the discussion has been productive.
  26. phosphore Senior Member

    I mean that the French don't know the original use of the passé simple.

    Anyway, your remark about goats and flowers is totally misplaced here. Remember, we were not talking about Russians learning French and Bulgarian, we were talking about Americans (among others) learning Russian and Bulgarian. In order to master the Russian verbal system, an American would have to master the verbal aspect. In order to master the Bulgarian verbal system, he would have to master both the verbal aspect and a compex system of tenses. Your claim is that he would master these tenses more easily than a Russian, which is possibly true, but which is completely irrelevant here.

    Additionaly, understanding the aorist and the imperfect for a speaker of Russian or Serbian should not be a big problem, because the aorist is generally used with perfective verbs and the imperfect with imperfective verbs and the notions of perfective and imperfective are crystally clear to all native speakers of Russian and Serbian. That would be much more difficult for a speaker of English, because the notions of simple and continuous actions are completely different from the notions of perfective and imperfective verbs. On the other hand, understand the perfect is not a problem, it is the problem (trust me) for a speaker of language where there is no such tense, for instance French, Russian and Serbian. Long story short, an Englishman would have to understand the aspects and the uses of the aorist and the imperfect, a Frenchman would have to understand the aspects and the use of perfect. I'd say that a Russian or a Serbian would have to understand the use of perfect.
  27. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Some time ago, in another thread, I was presented with an intriguing example where the Romance imperfect and the Slavic perfective are at odds with each other. Click here to read it.
  28. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    No it isn't - this thread is just about how Bulgarian tenses compare to tenses in Romance languages. :)
    And nobody is contesting that there is some relationship between them; also we both know that they definitely aren't equivalent, so all this thread should be about where use is similar or even identical and where use differs.
    We have both established with the fairy tale example that at least Spanish and Bulgarian tenses of the "distant past" are equivalent to a degree.

    But this thread is not about whether Bulgarian is easier to learn than other Slavic languages: that was the topic from which this one was split: this topic was split off so that the original question of the other thread does not interfere with the tense question. :)

    So we know that there is some analogy between those tenses, but the analogy is not perfect.
    This just to summarise the point where we're standing - and let's just concentrate on the comparison of tense systems, and nothing else. :)

    So please keep in mind that what here is important is only how Romance tenses translate to Bulgarian tenses, and not whether this sustains any other kind of argument (the latter being the topic of another thread). :)

    The same is true for other South Slavic languages, so Bulgarian future tense indeed its use corresponds to "standard" South Slavic, vs. Western and East Slavic languages where present-perfective is future tense. Thanks for confirming this. :)

    As for aspect, the main difference between Slavic languages and Romance languages is that in Slavic languages aspect is not optional - each verb is either perfective or imperfective (and imperfective verbs may be iterative or not).
    (Yes I know, there are of course a few verbs which have the same verb for both aspects - and then there are also verbs of movements with two imperfective forms, one which is directed towards a goal and "non-directional" ones, in Slovene "iti" for "directional" and "hoditi" for "non-directional". But this doesn't change the fact that aspect isn't optional.)

    So if you translate from a Romance language (or English or whatever) to Slavic you have to choose an aspect. And if you choose wrong you distort meaning - even serious misunderstandings can arise if you choose the wrong verb: and this is so because aspect and tense are closely intertwined in Slavic languages, they influence each other in meaning.

    This is not so in Romance languages, or English for that matter.
    With "I am going to school" - Spanish "voy a la escuela" you needn't worry about aspect, but in Slovene you must choose imperfective "grem v šolu", and I guess in Bulgarian you also will have to choose imperfective.

    Aspectual meaning of course also is expressed in Non-Slavic languages - but it is expressed in different ways, and it isn't linked closely to tense like is the case in Slavic languages.
    Also it is clear that Romance tenses which are more or less comparable to "imperfectiveness" respectively "perfectiveness" in Slavic languages may in some cases express meanings which are different from the Slavic ones.

    Take the example Outsider has linked to, I'm quoting here so that it is easier to discuss this:
    Would you also use imperfect-imperfective here, in past tense, or would you use aorist-perfective here, in Bulgarian?
  29. Christo Tamarin

    Christo Tamarin Senior Member

    In order to make the comparison of Bulgarian (or any Slavic) verb tenses vs. the verb tenses in Romance (or Germanic) languages, the term aspect should be resolved first. This is because just common notions (terms) can be compared. These are moods and tenses.

    Let me skip the Conditional mood first as it does not fit into the Bulgarian verbal system. It seems to be redundant.

    Similarly, remnants of the Infinitive mood will also be skipped as archaic and redundant to the system. There are no actual remnants of Old Slavonic Supine mood.

    The Imperative mood has special forms for the 2nd person Singular and Plural only.

    So far, so easy. However, the moods listed above (Imperative, Conditional and Infinitive) have actually parallel forms for Imperfective and Perfective verbs. Thus, in Bulgarian, we have Imperfective Imperative, Perfective Imperative, Imperfective Conditional, Perfective Conditional, Imperfective Infinitive and Perfective Infinitive. In the terms accepted, i.e. mood and tense, we may say that there are two tenses (Imperfective and Perfective) in each of the three Bulgarian moods listed above (Imperative, Conditional and Infinitive).

    Let's go on. There are two additional moods in Bulgarian, Indicative and Renarrative, with many tenses in each. There is no Subjunctive mood in Bulgarian - Indicative or Renarrative is used instead.

    For each Indicative tense, there is a corresponding Renarrative tense which a non-witness must use instead.

    The actual list of Bulgarian tenses in the Indicative mood will be provided in another post. (To be continued..)
  30. Christo Tamarin

    Christo Tamarin Senior Member

    This is the continuation.

    I am providing the list of Indicative tenses in Russian and Greek first so that the complexity of the Bulgarian verbal system can be better evaluated.

    As it has been already mentioned in this thread, the Russian verbal system (especially the aspects) is the hardest language feature for everyone non-Slav learning Russian. And still, the Russian verbal system is the least complex among the other Slavic languages, the Bulgarian one being the most complex.
    • Russian Imperfective Present. {пишу: I write}
    • Russian Imperfective Past. {писал} (origin: OldSlavic Imperfective Perfect)
    • Russian Perfective Past. {написал} (origin: OldSlavic Perfective Perfect)
    • Russian Perfective Future. {напишу}
    • Russian Imperfective Future {буду писать} (an innovation).
    Please note the importance of Slavic Perfective Perfect and Imperfective Perfect - they actually replaced the other Past tenses (Aorist and Imperfect) in most Slavic languages except SlavoBalkanic (Bulgarian&Macedonian).

    The Greek system of tenses is also listed since it is the most close to the Bulgarian one.
    • Greek Imperfective Present. {γράφω: I write}
    • Greek Perfective Present. {γράψω}
    • Greek Imperfect (Imperfective Past). {έγραφα}
    • Greek Aorist (Perfective Past). {έγραψα}
    • Greek Perfective Perfect. {έχω γράψει}
    • Greek Imperfective Perfect. {έχω γράφει} (hypothetical)
    • Greek Perfective Past Perfect. {είχα γράψει}
    • Greek Imperfective Past Perfect. {είχα γράφει} (hypothetical)
    • Greek Perfective Future. {θα γράψω}
    • Greek Imperfective Future. {θα γράφω}
    • Greek Perfective Future-in-the-Past. {θα έγραψα}
    • Greek Imperfective Future-in-the-Past. {θα έγραφα}
    • Greek Perfective Future-Perfect. {θα έχω γράψει}
    • Greek Imperfective Future-Perfect. {θα έχω γράφει} (hypothetical)
      [*]Greek Perfective Future-Perfect-in-the-Past. {θα είχα γράψει}
      [*]Greek Imperfective Future-Perfect-in-the-Past. {θα είχα γράφει} (hypothetical)
    Note_1: Imperfective Perfect tenses are hypothetical. In this wikipedia article, they are not specified. On the other hand, Google finds such forms. Native Greeks are kindly asked to clarify the Imperfective Perfect tenses.

    Note_2: The Greek verbal system is less complex than the Bulgarian one since there is no Renarrative mood in Greek and there is no Imperfective Aorist, no Perfective Imperfect, and Imperfective Perfect tenses are hypothetical.

    Note_3: In the Standard Macedonian, the Imperfective Aorist and the Perfective Imperfect are excluded. Thus the Macedonian verbal system is closer to Greek. However, as a Slavic language, Standard Macedonian still has Imperfective Perfect tenses. So, the above list of Greek tenses is the list of Indicative tenses of verbs in Slavo-Macedonian as well.

    And finally, the list of tenses in Bulgarian. I do not try any mapping to any Romance or Germanic language. Rather, I am trying to map Bulgarian tenses to Russian and Greek.
    • Imperfective Present. {Indicative: пишѫ; Renarrative: пишел съм; I write} Easily mapped to both Russian and Greek.
    • Perfective Present. {Indicative: напишѫ; Renarrative: напишел съм} Maps to Greek Perfective Present.
    • Imperfective Imperfect. {Indicative: пишех; Renarrative: пишел съм} Maps to Greek Imperfect and Russian Imperfective Past.
    • Perfective Imperfect. {Indicative: напишех; Renarrative: напишел съм} No mapping.
    • Perfective Aorist. {Indicative: написах; Renarrative: написал съм} Maps to Greek Aorist and Russian Perfective Past.
    • Imperfective Aorist. {Indicative: писах; Renarrative: писал съм} No mapping.
    • Perfective Perfect. {Indicative: написал съм; Renarrative: написал съм бил} Maps to Greek Perfective Perfect.
    • Imperfective Perfect. {Indicative: писал съм; Renarrative: писал съм бил} No mapping.
    • Perfective Past Perfect. {Indicative: написал бѣх; Renarrative: написал съм бил}
    • Imperfective Past Perfect. {Indicative: писал бѣх; Renarrative: писал съм бил} No mapping.
    • Perfective Future. {Indicative: ще напишѫ; Renarrative: щѣл съм да напишѫ} Easily mapped to both Russian and Greek.
    • Imperfective Future. {Indicative: ще пишѫ; Renarrative: щѣл съм да пишѫ} Easily mapped to both Russian and Greek.
    • Perfective Future-in-the-Past. {Indicative: щѣх да напишѫ; Renarrative: щѣл съм да напишѫ}
    • Imperfective Future-in-the-Past. {Indicative: щѣх да пишѫ; Renarrative: щѣл съм да пишѫ}
    • Perfective Future-Perfect. {Indicative: ще съм написал; Renarrative: щѣл съм да съм написал}
    • Imperfective Future-Perfect. {Indicative: ще съм писал; Renarrative: щѣл съм да съм писал} No mapping.
    • Perfective Future-Perfect-in-the-Past. {Indicative: щѣх да съм написал; Renarrative: щѣл съм бил да съм написал}
    • Imperfective Future-Perfect-in-the-Past. {Indicative: щѣх да съм писал; Renarrative: щѣл съм бил да съм писал} No mapping.
    Note_1: The system seems more complex than usually described. However, this description resolves (replaces, avoids) the term aspect. In this way, the number of tenses is 18. Usually, 9 tenses are listed in both Imperfective and Perfective aspect. There is one Present tense, four Past tenses (Aorist, Imperfect, Perfect and Past_Perfect) and four Future tenses (Future, Future-in-the-Past, Future-Perfect and Future-Perfect-in-the-Past).

    Note_2: The system of Future tenses is a Balkansprachbund innovation common to Bulgarian and Greek.

    Note_3: The particle ще used to form the Future tense is actually a form of the auxiliary verb щѫ (I want). In Greek, it (i.e. the particle θα from the verb θέλω) is never declined. In Bulgarian, it is declined unless in Present Indicative, i.e. when used to form Future Indicative and Future-Perfect Indicative. Unlike Greek, Future-in-the-Past and Future-Perfect-in-the-Past use the Imperfect of the verb щѫ (I want) which is declined. So do all Future Renarrative tenses.

    Note_4: Perfect tenses and the Renarrative mood use the auxiliary Imperfective verb съм (to be). Its Imperfect is used for Past Perfect.

    Note_5: Renarrative Present actually uses the Imperfect Renarrative.

    Note_6: Tenses using auxiliary verbs (съм or щѫ) in Indicative actually just use the Renarrative forms of the auxiliary verb in Renarrative. Thus, Future Renarrative tenses just use the Renarrative forms of the auxiliary verb щѫ.

    Note_7: A comparative analysis of the verbal system in all the Balkansprachbund members (Greek, Bulgarian, Romanian, Albanian) would be well-come.

    Note_8: Unlike the ancient Greek, the term aspect is used in modern Greek for an easier description. Is this an influence from SlavoBalkanic (Bulgarian)?
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2010
  31. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Thank you for your excellent summary, Christo! Of course I'm far from understanding all of it but I'll give it a try and compare to some other languages:
    (PS: Thread title changed to allow for comparisons to other than Romance languages. :))


    Presente (yo) hablo = BG Imperfective Present; but in specific contexts and some uses (e. g. verb "ir a" = going to do; verb "soler" used for expressing what you're used to) also near future which probably could map to BG Perfective Present in some cases or to other BG moods or tenses.
    Of course, when translating from Bulgarian to Spanish different tenses and moods might translate to presente - so it should be easier to translate from Bulgarian to Spanish than the other way round.

    Pretérito perfecto (compuesto) (yo) he hablado = must have some relevance to the present, is not set apart from the present; I'm not at all sure if this equals more or less BG Imperfective Perfect but that's probably the nearest you get.

    Indefinido (pretérito perfecto simple) (yo) hablé = should map to BG Aorist Perfective in the context of a story; however indefinido only means that an action took place (somebody walked by) but doesn't necessarily indicate that an action was completed: there might be cases when a BG perfective verb wouldn't be the correct translation for a Spanish verb in indefinido.

    Imperfecto (pretérito imperfecto) (yo) hablaba = (I think) easily mapped to BG Imperfective Imperfect: that's probably the easiest one.

    Pretérito pluscuamperfecto (yo) había hablado = probably could map to both BG Imperfective & Perfective Past Perfect.

    Pretérito anterior (yo) hube hablado = more or less written use (in spoken language indefinido is used instead), marks actions which happened shortly before another action, typically used in subordinate clauses: to me it seems BG probably doesn't differentiate this one from pluscuamperfecto.

    Futuro (yo) hablaré = simple future, and should map to BG Imperfective Future, possibly Perfective Future in special contexts.

    Futuro perfecto (yo) habré hablado = actions which in the future will be already "past": thus actions which in the frame of reference (= simple future tense) already have happened. Possibly BG Imperfective (& Perfective?) Future-in-the-Past?

    Condicional (yo) hablaría & Condicional compuesto (yo) habría hablado: even though the name is identical to BG Conditional I have no idea if they're really equivalent in use.

    I'm not able to map Spanish Subjunctive mood to any of the BG moods: probably there is an equivalent one, probably not; that's also partly because I never mastered the use of subjunctive - and I couldn't possibly compare what I don't understand. :)


    Präsens ich gehe = in theory BG Imperfective Present, but German present tense also may refer to near future (BG Perfective Present?!) or near past (BG Imperfective Perfect? or any of the moods?).

    Perfekt ich bin gegangen = supposed to be used alongside with Präsens and Futur but not with Präteritum if you're following textbook grammar rules (that'd be BG Imperfective and possibly Perfective Perfect?!). However, many German native speakers do not clearly differentiate between Perfekt and Präteritum (and Präsens, to a degree) in use. Southerners, especially the Swiss and Austrians, use Perfekt exclusively in spoken language (and Präteritum only in formal language or written).

    Präteritum ich ging = equivalent to both BG Imperfective Imperfect and Perfective Aorist, and probably yet other tenses and moods of Bulgarian; you're supposed to use Präteritum (according to textbook grammars) only alongside Plusquamperfekt and Konjunktiv II.

    Plusquamperfect ich war gegangen = BG Imperfective (& Perfective?) Past Perfect; however, there are some tendencies in Northern and/or Eastern Germany (not sure about that) to use this tense when technically Präteritum or Perfekt is required.

    Futur I ich werde gehen = simple future tense = BG Imperfective Future; however, it is very common to use Präsens instead of Futur I.

    Futur II ich werde (morgen) gegangen sein = probably equivalent to BG Imperfective (& Perfective?) Future-in-the-Past, but sounds very bookish in German and hardly ever is used in spoken language.

    Konjunktiv I+II ich gehe; ich ginge/würde gehen = apart from specialised uses (like Konjunktiv I in indirect speech, Konjunktiv II as politeness formula) means in the textbook grammar sense something which won't happen; again, I couldn't say if this is equal to BG Conditional.
    In Austria Konjunktiv II is widely used as optative mood.

    As you can see, the use of tenses in German is quite "inexact" as compared to Spanish and "extremely inexact" compared to Bulgarian: cases like this make it especially difficult to translate from one language into the other.

    If you have to translate from German to Bulgarian you have to include meanings which aren't intended at all in German because you need to choose a quite specific tense in Bulgarian - while the German tense (or mood) is rather unspecific.
    And the other way round you will find it difficult to express the nuances of Bulgarian tenses and moods in German - you need to find other means (other than tenses and moods) to express the same.
  32. TriglavNationalPark

    TriglavNationalPark Senior Member

    Chicago, IL, U.S.A.
    Slovenian (a.k.a. Slovene)
    This makes me wonder, where does the Slovenian future (future of to be + past participle; bom pisal, bom napisal) come from?
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2010
  33. Christo Tamarin

    Christo Tamarin Senior Member

    In principle, Future tenses are innovations all over the Slavophonia as well as in the Balkansprachbund (modern Greek, ...). Future tenses as we can see them now developed after the modern Slavic languages split. Obviously, different patterns have been developed. E.g. BCS followed the Balkansprachbund to develop its Future tenses.



    Hence, concerning the Imperfective Future tense, Polish is in the middle between Russian and Slovene. Polish has both forms: będę pisać and będę pisał, Russian has only the first form: буду писать, and Slovene has the second form only: bom pisal.

    Concerning the Perfective Future tense, according to en/wiki/Slovene_verbs#Verb_mood_and_tense, Slovene has two forms:
    Please confirm.

    Otherwise, ignoring the above translations, I would suppose the following for Slovene:
    I am right to be sceptic about what is written in en/wiki, because bg/wiki/Глагол_(словенски_език) writes something else:
    So, what is the sense of Perfective Present in Slovene? Perfective Optative Future according to en/wiki? Or, not Future at all, according to bg/wiki?

    Remark: At fr/wiki/Grammaire_polonaise#Aspects, a very good description of Slavic verbal aspectology can be found:
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2010
  34. TriglavNationalPark

    TriglavNationalPark Senior Member

    Chicago, IL, U.S.A.
    Slovenian (a.k.a. Slovene)
    Thank you, Christo!

    I would say that "To kravo prodam," is still considered the perfective present, just with an optative future meaning in this particular case. It's still the same grammatical tense as "Vsako leto prodam kravo" (= "I sell a cow every year")

    There is no future perfect in Slovenian."To kravo bom prodal" is considered the only true future tense (perfective future in this case), but I'm not sure where it comes from. I belive it's similar to future perfect in BCS. Do I understand you correctly that it doesn't have an analog in proto-Slavic?
  35. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Hopefully someone knowledgeable in Old Church Slavonic could provide all OCS tenses - that'd be very useful indeed as OCS also had both aorist and imperfect (intertwined with aspect just as Bulgarian).

    As for future tense, of course Christo Tamarin is right: all Slavic future tense are rather recent innovations.
    "Simple" tenses of OCS were present (imperfective = "true" present and perfective = future present), imperfect, aorist.
    And tenses formed with auxiliary were perfect tense (biti + l-participle), pluperfect and future (forms of "biti" in future tense = "bodo" + l-participle), the latter being formed like its Slovene equivalent, according to my OCS textbook (in German: Hartmut Trunte, Ein praktisches Lehrbuch des Kirchenslavischen in 30 Lektionen, München 1990, p. 92f) - however, this was not regularly used for future tense and future tenses developed on individual language levels after Slavic unity was lost.

    The forms of "biti" in future - OCS (without writing nasals) bodo, bodeši etc., Slovene bom, boš (older: bodem, bodeš), etc. - are present tense forms of a perfective verb (says Trunte), so it seems "bodo" is the "perfective" present tense of "biti".

    But if you'd like to explore the development of Slavic future tense further we'd probably better split this particular question to a new thread - else this thread will become awfully complicated and difficult to follow.
  36. Christo Tamarin

    Christo Tamarin Senior Member

    Thank you.

    Thus, To kravo prodam is Perfective Present in Slovene, and To kravo bom prodal is Perfective Future.

    Obviously, the Slovene Perfective Future (bom napisal) follows the pattern of the Slovene Imperfective Future (bom pisal). That is, there are just three patterns for the three tenses (Present, Past and Future) in Slovene, and both aspects (Imperfective and Perfective) use the same pattern for a specific tense. Note that the same is true for Bulgarian: both aspects (Imperfective and Perfective) use the same pattern for a specific tense. Also, note that the same is true for the Past (new-Perfect) tense in all Slavic languages: both aspects (Imperfective and Perfective) use the same pattern to form the Past (new-Perfect) tense.
  37. Arath Senior Member

    I completely disagree.

    This sentence is ambiguous to a native speaker of Bulgarian.

    Let's see how a Bulgarian would interpret it. First, since the action happened at a definite time in the past ("Вчера" - Yesterday), a native speaker would take that particular past verb form ("е бил") to be a renarrative form (past aorist renarrative), not an indicative form (present perfect indicative, a.k.a. past indefinite indicative), because one does not use the present perfect with specific time references. Since it is a renarrative form, the person who uses this sentence (the non-native speaker) can't have witnessed the action (in other words "can't have watched the film"), so the first part of the sentence means: "Yesterday there was an interesting film in the cinema but I didn't know it, somebody told me about that".

    Having all that in mind, the second part ("аз съм го гледал") must be an indicative present perfect/past indefinite verb form ("I have watched it"), because if the non-native speaker didn't watch it yesterday, he/she must have watched some other (indefinite) time. Thus a reasonable (and most probable) interpretation of this ungrammatical sentence is: "Вчера в киното е имало интересен филм, ама аз съм го гледал." ("I was told that yesterday there was an interesting film at the cinema, but it doesn't matter because I have/had already watched it anyway." In other words "I don't regret not watching it yesterday at the cinema because I have/had already watched it some other time").

    The only situation in which a native Bulgarian speaker would translate this bad sentence into "Вчера в киното даваха интересен филм и аз го гледах" (Yesterday there was an interesting film at the cinema and I watched it then), would be if the native Bulgarian is interested in Linguistics (knows that the renarrative mood is a rear phenomenon cross-linguistically) and has had some previous experience with the non-native speaker and is aware that he/she has considerable problems with the ranarrative and indicative moods. But an average Bulgarian doesn't fulfill these requirements (you can go out in the streets and check if you disagree).

    In summary, the ungrammatical sentence "Вчера в кино е бил интересен филм и аз съм го гледал" can both translate into "Вчера в киното е имало интересен филм, ама аз съм го гледал (преди). (I was told that yesterday there was an interesting film at the cinema but I have/had already watched it (before)" and "Вчера в кинто имаше интересен филм и аз го гледах (тогава). (Yesterday there was an interesting film at the cinema and I watched it (then)". And I think that the former translation is a more natural and direct one, because the verbs are already in the same form, you don't have to change them.

    So in your attempt to prove that one does not need to learn the intricacies of the Bulgarian verb system in order to communicate successfully, you have given us an excellent example to the contrary.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2010
  38. Christo Tamarin

    Christo Tamarin Senior Member

    I agree with mungu who means practical communication, not exact translation.

    Yes, when non-native Bulgarian Slavs speak Bulgarian, they may avoid Aorist and Imperfect and use the Perfect tense only. Yes, a native Bulgarian would capture this as Renarrative. It could be funny: the speaker is somewhy shy to declare his point of witness, but the sentense is not ambiguous otherwise. The listener would understand very soon that the speaker just does not recognize the need to express his point of witness and does not know how to do that.

    Moreover, I would recommend this: non-native Bulgarian Slavs speaking Bulgarian should not use Aorist and Imperfect in Indicative unless they know to distinguish Indicative and Renarrative moods. Otherwise, if the speaker is not a witness and the Indicative mood is used, the sentence would be a lie.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2010
  39. Arath Senior Member

    The difference between the two interpretations is not a minor one.

    The first interpretation basically means "I didn't watch it yesterday because I wasn't at the cinema", and the second - "I watched it yesterday when I was at the cinema". That's a sharp contrast, not just some fine nuance. How does this serve for successful practical communication?

    The opposite is also true: If the speaker is a witness and the Renarrative mood is used, the sentence would be a lie.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2010
  40. mungu Senior Member

    Thought I'd drop by and see how it's going.
    Re Arath:
    I can only say the same as Christo. In practice, the misunderstanding you're imagining simply does not occur, because people intuitively understand the peculiar mode the person is speaking in (it's also stereotypical "savage talk" or "Tarzan speak" - "Голямата мечка взел назаем малка лодка", "Аз видял това, но боцман не повярвал" - now that I think of it, Karl May Indians' broken Bulgarian is similar to Russian in other ways too - "той каже къде Корнъл" is their future tense :)). That's my experience from communicating with East and West Slavic speakers residing in Bulgaria, and I think everybody knows this, unless they've never met a Slav learning Bulgarian.
    Re Phosphore:
    I never denied that there is more material to learn in the Bulgarian verbal system than in Russian, also for a Westerner. I stressed that unlike aspect, which is a major difficulty in both Russian and Bulgarian, the "extra" part in Bulgarian shouldn't be too much of a problem for a Westerner. Which is "totally" and "completely" relevant, of course.
    Re Christo:
    As you said yourself, it looks more complicated when you count aspect as a tense; in fact, it's inappropriate to some extent, since these are separate dictionary entries. If you count пиша and напиша, you might as well count написвам. Admittedly one does have to know forms for both aspects for practical purposes. The comparison with Greek was a great idea; it seems like a Balkan Sprachbund thing. Using pre-1944 spelling isn't helpful to anyone, though.
    Re Sokol future:
    You're welcome. I would have thought that "confirming" suggests someone said it before, but never mind; I suppose my English comprehension is failing me. :)
    Re Sokol Spanish & German list:
    I don't have active command of either language, and reading texts in them only gives me a very approximate idea of the various meanings of the forms, but having given your correspondences a cursory glance, they do seem reasonable. I'm probably missing some issues, though - I just didn't focus very much this time. My only remark for the time being is that most of the time aspect is irrelevant; apart from the present and the imperfect which are both normally imperfective, all the Spanish and German verb forms can be translated with both aspects depending on context. This is also apparent in Christo's Greek translations, where you have the same Greek form for both Bulgarian aspects.
    Re Sokol & Outsider:
    The Bulgarian version is "Chel li ste D.Zh.?", corresponding to the Russian "Vy chitali D.Zh.?" that originally surprised Outsider. In Bulgarian, like Romance, the tense is present perfect (cuz we have that tense), and like Russian, the aspect is imperfective (cuz we have grammatical aspect). This is one of those few situations in which the Bulgarian perfect acts just like a West European perfect tense. Outsider thought it weird that Russian uses the past tense of the imperfective aspect while Romance uses the perfect tense (he wrote "perfective", by mistake I presume), but the example of Bulgarian shows that tense and aspect are separate here: the reason Russian doesn't use the perfect tense like Romance here is that it just doesn't have it.

    As for the question why the Slavic languages choose the imperfective aspect in this specific situation, I admit it can be puzzling. You'd expect a perfective, because the idea is you've completed the reading of the book; and you'd expect the imperfective to suggest that the reading was never completed, which is indeed a grammatically possible interpretation. Similarly, you say imperfectively "Hodil li si do Turciya?" "Have you ever been/travelled (lit.walked) to Turkey" rather than perfectively "Otishql li si do Turciya?" My interpretation is that in this case, the Slavic imperfective sort of has its secondary function of expressing iterativity, a function one is otherwise familiar with from other situations. The question is whether you have done the whole action at least once in your life/this week, that is once or more, and the speaker doesn't care if it was once or more.

    I guess I'm going to drop by here in another month or so. Cheers!
  41. Christo Tamarin

    Christo Tamarin Senior Member

    I have described the system of Bulgarian verbs here and here.

    The aspect is not counted as a tense. Rather, each tense should be counted for both aspects if we have to describe the Bulgarian verbal tenses in the same way as this is done for the non-Slavic languages, e.g. Greek, French or Spanish. Note that the term "aspect" is used in modern Greek as well; however it just makes the desription easier but does not reduce the list of the tenses.

    The separate dictionary entries for perfective and imperfective verbs actually demonstrates the infinite complexity of the verbal systems in every Slavic language. Compared to English, French, or Spanish, we are to say that all verbs are practically irregular as their forms in the opposite aspect should be found in another dictionary entry (and therefore memorized).

    Future tenses are a BalkanSprachbund feature.

    Please see the Note_8 in my previous post about some influence from Slavic/Bulgarian to Greek: perhaps that is the reason why it is easier now to describe the verbal tenses in modern Greek using the "Slavic" notion of aspect.

    However, I do not know if aspects can be found in Albanian or Romanian which are situated in the center of the BalkanSprachbund. Hence, I cannot say that verbal aspect is a BalkanSprachbund feature. It is just a Slavic feature which has probably influenced modern Greek.

    Actually, I did not use the pre-1944 spelling. Rather, I used a spelling which allows to trace the endings to Old-Slavonic.

    I cannot agree. In the modern Greek translations given by me, aspects are distinguished for all the tenses. I marked some translations as hypothetical: the list of the modern Greek tenses at the link I provided does not include Imperfective Perfect tenses.

    Actually, the aspect is as relevant as the tense in every Slavic language including Bulgarian. Perhaps, the aspect is more relevant than the tense: one have to select the proper verbal lexem for the proper aspect first and just then one have to think about the tense.

    If all the Spanish and German verb forms can be translated with both aspects depending on the context, then this is actually a demonstration of the complexity of the Slavic verbal aspectology from the point of view of a native Spanish and German.

    In Slavic languages (Bulgarian, Russian, ..), you cannot simply ask "Have you read D-r Zhivago?". You have to select the aspect:
    • "Have you read some pages of that book?": "Vy chitali D.Zh.?" (Russian: "Вы читали Д-р Живаго?"); "Cheli li ste D.Zh.?" (Bulgarian: "Чели ли сте Д-р Живаго?") - Imperfective aspect.
    • "Have you read the whole book (D.Zh.)?": "Vy prochitali D.Zh.?" (Russian: "Вы прочитали Д-р Живаго?"); "Procheli li ste D.Zh.?" (Bulgarian: "Прочели ли сте Д-р Живаго?") - Perfective aspect.

    Bulgarian has preserved Aorist, Imperfect and Perfect from OldSlavonic.

    Russian has preserved Perfect tense from OldSlavonic. That's why this tense is used in Russian: it is actually the OldSlavonic Perfect tense. Russian has also the Slavic aspect as described above. Thus, the Perfect tense in English or French is translated with Perfect tense in Russian with the additional selection of the Slavic aspect.

    Russian has preserved Perfect tense from OldSlavonic but has lost Aorist and Imperfect. The lost Aorist and Imperfect were replaced by Perfect tense, the only Past tense in Russian. Aspect is always preserved.

    This makes the mapping from French Past tenses, Perfect (j'ai lu) and Imperfect (je lisais), e.g., into Russian more difficult than expected. The Imperfect is usually mapped to Imperfective Perfect as the aspect is usually Imperfective for that French tense, however mapping the Perfect tense can be ambiguous: you have to select the relevant aspect depending on the context.

    This is thread about the aspects of verbs.
  42. indiegrl Member

    Romanian & Russian

    I don't know about Bulgarian but in Russian if you want to emphasize ''whole book'' one can also say <<Вы дочитали книгу?>> - Have you read the whole book /have you read the book till the end?

    In some context,the use of perfective in Russian is not totally compulsory(in some cases it does not matter whether you use it or not) for example here:
    Я к нему пришел, прежде чем он почитал( или прочитал или читал - не важно) эту книгу
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2010
  43. mungu Senior Member

    "Infinite complexity" sounds too flattering: it's not complex or intricate, it's just irregular. Perhaps you meant "infinite difficulty", but this is an exaggeration, too. Most languages have irregular verbs, English has lots of them, as does, say, Sanskrit. Also, being a separate dictionary entry does not always imply irregularity - in the case of Slavic aspects, there are a number of systematic patterns that can ease the task of learning the forms.

    My mistake; I didn't notice the difference between the forms (γράφει vs γράψει), because I expected Greek to be less Bulgarian-like :). Still what I said holds true of the correspondences listed by Sokol.

    I just meant Sokol didn't need to list the aspect versions in (most of) the tense correspondences, not that they are irrelevant for the speaker.

    As was already mentioned, "Vy chitali D.Zh.?" and "Cheli li ste D.Zh.?" means not only "Have you read some pages of that book?" - though this is the literal meaning that one would have expected based on the aspect - but also, and much more frequently, "Have you ever read the (whole) book (at any point in your life)?". This was the meaning that Sokol's question was about, and that Outsider and I were commenting on.

    Apart from that, it's true the English question "Have you read D.Zh.?" does not always mean "have you ever done it?" When it doesn't, the Slavic version will usually be in the perfective (вы прочитали?, прочели ли сте?).
  44. MA SCHOLAR New Member

    English - England
    Hi everyone! Im a newbie trying to learn Bulgarian - I live here! After asking numerous people about aspect and not getting any answer that doesnt resemble some kind of spaghetti logic loop that doesnt answer the question at all I define it myself. IT IS EASY!

    To find the aspect of any tense (Russian or Bulgarian) simply use the verb TO BE! That will give you the imperfective aspect. Thats it!

    I AM doing sth
    I will BE doing sth
    I WAS doing sth
    I have BEEN doing sth
    I could have BEEN doing sth

    not sure on other tenses but to me this is crystal clear. When I told a teacher this she said that it is different for other langauges. I dont agree at all. I know spanish and some French (about the same grammatically).

    What I have seen is the IMPERFECT tense being mentioned on the same page as IMPERFECTIVE aspect in a bulgarian bookshop. Ouch! no wonder there is so much confusion.

    Anyway, I really need to learn the basics before i start sprouting off on here! I dont even have any fluency and just wave/point and say mola at the end of it
  45. Sobakus Senior Member

    Are you sure you've thought this through? How does one find an aspect of a tense (and what does this mean) of a Russian or Bulgarian verb by using the English verb to be? There's not a single phrase in this sentence that I can assign any kind of logic whatsoever, I'm afraid. Besides, neither Spanish nor French have grammatical aspect. I'm not sure you understand what aspect is in principle and how it's different from tense (despite your "aspect of any tense").

    The English "be + Gerund" construction is often described as progressive aspect, but that progressive aspect is neither tied (as aspects of Slavic) to the verb nor does it correspond to any Slavic aspect, even though being translated with the imperfective aspect as a rule.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2016
  46. Karton Realista

    Karton Realista Senior Member

    Polish - Poland
    This rule doesn't apply to present, which is always imperfective.
  47. MA SCHOLAR New Member

    English - England
    I never said it did! Logic dictates that you can't complete something whilst doing something...

    To expand on that in a useful manner there may be 1 or 2 other tenses that can only use certain aspects. In addition some verbs only have 1 aspect - a small respite.

    And finally, I assume you agree with my view of the aspects. Let's focus on the positive.
  48. Karton Realista

    Karton Realista Senior Member

    Polish - Poland
    The continouous and simple tenses don't mirror imperfective and perfective 100%. There are verbs that in Slavic are never perfective - some of the movement verbs. Whilst in English you can say "swam" or "was swimming", I'm pretty sure that in most Slavic languages you would translate them both as imperfective.
    There's also imperfective iterative, but that's whole another story (Bulgarian may not even have them).
  49. Kartof Senior Member

    Bulgarian & English
    Let me examine your claim with a few examples. I will choose a verb which has a perfective-imperfective pair.

    I am buying - Купувам
    I buy - Купувам
    I will be buying - Ще купувам
    I will buy - Ще купя
    I was buying - Купувах
    I bought - Купих
    I have been buying - Купувал съм (?)
    I have bought - Купил съм
    I could have been buying - Можех да купувам(?)

    Looks like there's a decent match. I think if it works for a mnemonic device for you, there's no harm in thinking like this. However, there's clearly cases where this doesn't work like in commands:

    Don't buy this - Не купувай това
    Buy this - Купи това

    Or for example in:

    I was going to buy this - Щях да купя/купувам това (Here "щях" means "was going" and the aspect is really more subtle)

    Just be careful not to completely rely on this too much as a rule because the structure is a bit subtle.
  50. MA SCHOLAR New Member

    English - England
    We do say in English 'don't be doing this' which borders on the imperative....also was is part of TO BE. I am well aware of semantic differences between one language and the next but this IS the absolute closest you can get without embroiling oneself in mindless grammatical twaddle. Do it this way and tweak here and there afterwards. Goodness me,..I might finally have gotten through...

Share This Page