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1. General Outline

The founders of the Bulgarian state frequently used the Greek language at their court. Most of the inscriptions from the VIII and IX centuries found on Bulgarian territory were written in Greek. Numerous inscriptions of this type were discovered in the last century during archaeological investigations and excavations and were systematized, translated and published by the Bulgarian palaeographer and Byzantologist Prof. V. Beschevliev.

The inscriptions in the Greek language will be intentionally omitted and we will focus on the collection and translation of inscriptions written in the Proto-Bulgarian language. During the systematization of the material we selected a homogeneous set of purely Proto-Bulgarian inscriptions from the multiplicity of linguistic monuments of the VII-IX cc. written in Greek. Such a specialized selection devoted to the Bulgars of Asparuh has been published so far neither in Bulgaria nor abroad. This is the first attempt to collect and translate into the modern Bulgarian language these particularly valuable inscriptions.

Altogether fifteen inscriptions and fragments of inscriptions in the Proto-Bulgarian language with Greek letters have been discovered (see Supplement 1). Fourteen come from the territory of Bulgaria and one - from Hungary, written on a gold cup of the treasure from Nagy Saint Miklos.

So far the following Proto-Bulgarian inscriptions with Greek letters are known to the science:
1. The inscription of Preslav - the largest inscription of this type.
2. The inscription of Nagy Saint Miklos - the second largest and the second most important inscription.
3. Four short inscriptions from Silistra.
4. A short inscription from Pliska, consisting of two sections.
5. Seven partly preserved inscriptions, which were discovered in the villages of Chatalar and Popina, and in Pliska, only four of them being suitable for interpretation.

All Proto-Bulgarian inscriptions with Greek letters come from a clearly outlined area - North Eastern Bulgaria (and whole of Dobrudja). Outside this area no such inscriptions have been discovered, with the exception of the inscription from Nagy Saint Miklos. This type of inscription is therefore peculiar to the Proto-Bulgarians, the settlers of the central part (the capital) of the first Bulgarian Empire. The language of these inscriptions is the language once spoken at the Proto-Bulgarian court. It is the language of Krum and Omurtag, preserved until the days of Simeon. The largest inscription of this type comes from Preslav, the capital at the time of Simeon. It is written in the Proto-Bulgarian language and describes the armaments of the garrison of the capital.

Of course, the surviving inscriptions and fragments of inscriptions are only a small part of what was once written on stone in this area, but they are sufficient to give us an idea of the language spoken by the founders of the Bulgarian state.

Palaeolinguistics has at its disposal a number of reliable methods which permit the determination of the nature of a certain language on the basis of relatively few texts and fragments. The nature of the language can be decoded without direct translations of the individual words but by the analysis of repeating morphologic items alone. Later with the help of the morphologic model of the studied language similarities with another language or a group of languages can be established.

In order to facilitate our work is it appropriate to list the inscriptions in a table and then look for frequently repeating and typical morphologic items.

All inscriptions in Proto-Bulgarian language and Greek letters
Figure 1.

Figure 1 shows all known inscriptions of this type. The first section contains complete inscriptions, the most valuable type for the study of the Proto-Bulgarian language, while the second section contains only fragments. Repetition of some words or endings is seen - for example, in the second and the third inscription the word ASO, in the fourth inscription and in the third fragment - the word OLH, in the second and seventh inscription - ITZI (or ITZIGI), in the seventh and eighth - the title ZHOPAN (ZHUPAN) written as soapan, sopan. These repeating words bind all finds collected here and prove that they are an accumulation sufficiently homogeneous in linguistic regard.

It must be added that almost all inscriptions of this collection begin with a word with the ending -I - the first and fourth inscription (OHSI), the second (ANSI), the third (ZENTI), the sixth (EPI) and the eighth (ZITKOI). The same ending is found also in two of the fragments: the second one begins with the word KALI, and the fifth - with TUKLI. This termination in I of the first words is a special feature, it shows that all of these inscriptions, found at various places in North Eastern Bulgaria, belong to the same people - the Proto-Bulgarians of Asparuh.

Over many years palaeolinguistics, relying on Greek and Slavic texts and calendars, attempted to determine what kind of people the Proto-Bulgarians were. Now, finally, there is a much solid linguistic material at hand. This material no longer consists only of individual words and terms, which frequently misled the scientific analysis, but includes complete inscriptions from which one can draw conclusions about the most important special feature the language of the Proto-Bulgarians, its grammar.

As discussed above, linguistic features of Proto-Bulgarian inscriptions are the word ending -I and the starting of most inscriptions with a word ending in -I. This is not the only repeating  feature. Besides the ending I (as in the first word ZITKOI), the endings SI and SHI also appear in the inscription of Preslav. In the inscription from Hungary besides the ending -I (in the word TEZI) we meet also the ending -GI, in words such as TAGROGI and ITZIGI. The fact that here the ending is -GI, is shown by the word ITZI from inscription No 2, which obviously served as basis for the formation of ITZIGI. A further characteristic seen in two of the inscriptions (Nos. 3 and 4) is an isolated final word E, as a part of the expression ASO E. This is found twice.

After collectin, for the first time, all inscriptions in the Proto-Bulgarian language with Greek letters, one of my first ideas was to check whether these two peculiarities - the -I ending of initial words, and the final expressions ASO, ASO E and OSO E - are found among the Turkic peoples. At the time when I started my work, the conception that the Proto-Bulgarians belonged to the group of Turkic peoples dominated the science. Despite numerous studies, these linguistic peculiarities did not appear in any Turkic language (and I had examined not only the Turkish and Tatarian language, but also a multiplicity of smaller Turkic languages from Central Asia).

None of the old Turkic inscriptions from Orchon and Enissei, corresponds to the Proto-Bulgarian ones, explaining why all attempts to translate these inscriptions from Turkic were far from successful. In none of the old Turkic inscriptions does one meet the two most important morphologic features of the Proto-Bulgarian inscriptions. The studies of J. Denis and of A. Sterbak, on the inscriptions from Preslav of Nagy Saint Miklos respectively, determined quite correctly that these inscriptions "do not sound Turkic at all" and are probably are in "an unknown language, decorated here and there with Turkic terms ".

The efforts to decipher these inscriptions led gradually away from the Turkic peoples. The constantly repeated grammatical item -I (in the initial word) proved quite unexpectedly a characteristic feature of Celtic inscriptions. For example:

The Sagrami - son of the Kunotami.

The descendant of Deces from the clan Toran.
(see An Etymological Dictionary of Gaelic Language, Glasgow, 1982, p. 5)

The same feature is also characteristic for a series of other Indo European peoples - for example, for some Iranian languages, in which the ending -I fulfils various grammatical functions.

Something similar resulted also from an investigation of the final word E, as well as of the expression ASO E of the Proto-Bulgarian inscriptions. The parallels discovered are also exclusive to the Indo European languages - from Celtic and from Iranian, while Turkic cannot help. With the assistance of the Celtic language the independent word E (in inscriptions such as ZENTI ASO E) can be translated as THAT or THAT IS. One also finds a similar word in some eastern Iranian languages, in which the word ASO exists, meaning "ash, mortal remains". As we will see further, there is a whole series of other features showing that the language of the Asparuh Proto-Bulgarians was not a Turkic language but a language of a quite different type.

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