The Macedonian language is controversial in many aspects, from its actual name to its linguistic classification.
An official language in the country of Macedonia, formally known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Macedonian is not even recognized as an autonomous language by some academics within the Balkans region. A number of other disputes surrounding Macedonian make it an interesting language to study.
Disputed Classification of the Macedonian Language
Macedonian is part of the South Slavic branch of the Slavic language family, along with the closely-related Bulgarian language. However, due to the similarities between the Bulgarian and Macedonian languages, the country of Bulgaria classifies Macedonian not as a language, but as a southwest Bulgarian dialect.
In the past, many Serbs have also refused to acknowledge Macedonian as an autonomous language, referring to it as a south Serbian dialect until 1945. Many linguists in Macedonia, on the other hand, consider the Serbian and Bulgarian languages to be dialects of the Macedonian language.
These disputes have arisen largely due to the similarities found between these languages and because of the complicating fact that in the South Slavic language area, linguistic divisions do not correspond to geopolitical divisions. Despite these varying theories, most academics outside of the Balkans region classify Macedonian as a fully autonomous language separate from Bulgarian or Serbian.
Early History of the Macedonian Language
As a Slavic language, Macedonian traces its origins back to the language of the Slav people, who migrated from Old Poland and settled throughout Eastern Europe in the 6th century AD. Three primary Slavic language groups emerged as the Slav peoples resettled: Eastern, Western, and Southern.
Macedonian originated from this last group. The first Slavic language of literacy was one developed by the missionaries Cyril and Methodius around the 9th century AD, who hoped to bring their religion to the Slavic-speaking peoples of the Eastern European regions.
Macedonia in World War II
During World War II, Germany and the Axis allies, including Bulgaria, conquered and divided the union of Yugoslavia, which included present-day Macedonia. Resistance against the Bulgarian occupation that ensued quickly grew under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito. In 1943 Tito proclaimed that the Macedonians made up a distinct nation and were entitled to their own republic in postwar Yugoslavia.
By 1945, Tito had reestablished Yugoslavia as a federal state comprised of six republics, among them Yugoslav Macedonia. Tito maintained control until his death in 1980, a time when Yugoslav Macedonia was being hit by a difficult economic crisis.
Standardization of the Macedonian Language After World War II
Despite the fact that a Macedonian literary culture can be dated back to the 18th century, Macedonian as a standardized official language dates only from 1944, the year Macedonian was declared the official language of Yugoslav Macedonia. In the years that followed, the Macedonian language was quickly standardized.
The first official Macedonian grammar text was designed by Krume Kepeski. In 1944, the first document written in the newly standardized literary Macedonian appeared: an issue of the Macedonian language newspaper Nova Makedonija.
Purifying the Macedonian Language
Due to a close relationship, Bulgarian, Serbian, and Macedonian all share a significant amount of vocabulary. In the Macedonian language, a standardization process following World War II put forth efforts to purify the Macedonian language from any “Serbisms” or “Bulgarisms.”
Archaic terms and words from various native dialects were introduced to replace such words. While various loan words from the Serbian, Bulgarian, and Russian languages do still exist in the Macedonian language, efforts are still made to promote a purely Macedonian language free of these outside linguistic influences.
Macedonia After the Collapse of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
In 1991, Macedonian Slavs voted for independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, following similar actions by Slovenia and Croatia. Negotiations with the Yugoslav army resulted in a peaceful withdrawal of troops, making Yugoslav Macedonia the only former Yugoslav republic to gain its independence without entering warfare.
Contemporary Macedonian Language and Dialects
Today Macedonian serves as the official language of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where it is spoken by approximately 2 million people. Macedonian is a native language to the majority of Macedonia’s inhabitants, and is also a second language for many minority groups in the country. Macedonian is also spoken and taught in schools in Romania, due to the fact that Macedonians are an officially recognized minority group.
The Macedonian language is divided into two primary dialects: eastern and western. Differences between the two are small, however, and in general Macedonian dialects are less distinct than those of other Slavic languages such as Slovenian, Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, or Bulgarian.
Controversy Concerning the Term “Macedonia”
The terms “Macedonia” and “Macedonian” have been criticized by the Greek peoples, who have vociferously opposed the use of these terms in reference to the former Yugoslav republic, its language, and people.
Many Greeks believe that the ancient Macedonian language, which they view as a dialect of ancient Greek, is the “only” Macedonian language. They therefore object to it being used in reference to a Slavic language, and even find its use in reference to Slavic Macedonian to be offensive. Most Greeks associate the term “Macedonian” with the dialect of Modern Greek spoken in the north of the country.
The Greek assertion that “Macedonia” is historically a Greek name and should remain exclusively a Greek term has caused considerable problems for Macedonia. For example, Greece imposed an economic blockade against the country in 1994, and Greece’s opposition to Macedonia joining the European Union made Macedonia’s struggle to join the EU significantly more difficult.
Macedonian Quick Facts
Alternate Names & Spellings: Makedonski, Slavic, Macedonian Slavic
Language Family: Indo-European, Slavic, South, Eastern.
Official Language of: Macedonia
Spoken by Approximately 1,300,000 people
Also Spoken In: United States
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