The language of the Asparukh and Kuber Bulgars, Vocabulary and grammar

A phonetic model of the language of the Asparukh and Kuber Bulgars

One of the most characteristic features of the old Bulgar language is the high frequency of the sound KH, occurring in specific combinations – in words such as ALKHASI, EALKH, OLKH, ALKH, KHUMSKHI, KHONSA, DOKHS, SHEKHTEM, KAVKHAN, etc. Of the total number of 53 words from the stone inscriptions and the Nominalia, 15 of them, or nearly 30%, contain the sound of KH. This is characteristic neither for the Slavic nor for the Thracian languages. The same peculiarity is seen and in the names of the Bulgar khans and boljars: AVITOKHOL, ASPARUKH, VINEKH, ESKHACH, OKHSUN, SANDILKH, KHINIALON, and also in the names of the Bulgar clans and towns – IRTKHITUIN, TUTKHON, BIKHARJA. 6 out of 12 words known from the language of the Volga Bulgars also contain KH – the words KHALANDZH, KHADANK, KHALICHE, KHVILI, SAKHRADZH and KHUT. Similar is the situation and in the lands populated by the Kuber Bulgars, where three of the most populous towns were called OKHRID, KHIMAR and KHTETOVO.

There are not too many languages in the world with such high frequency of KH. It occurs mainly in the Pamirian languages, for example – in the Ishkashimi and Jazguljami, in which KH frequently substitutes the K or G sounds of other Indo-European languages. Even more – most of the Bulgar words containing KH are Pamirian in origin or were remodelled under a Pamirian influence. Such are the words ALKHA (from which was derived ALKHASI), KHLOBRIN, DOKHS (compare also to the Persian TOKHS), KHONSA, SHEKHTEM, KAVKHAN, as well as the personal names ASPARUKH, AVITOKHOL, SANDILKH, VINEKH, etc.

Most of the Volga Bulgar words are also found in the Pamirian languages – such as KHALICHE (‘a lake’), KHADANG (‘a white poplar’), KHALANDZH (‘a type of oak’), SAKHRADZH (‘an earthen pot’). The combinations KHS, TKH, LKH are mostly found around the Pamirs (for example the name of the town of Balkh, the mountain Balkhan, also words such as TALKH – bitter, KLF – key, CHAKHS – a blanket, PETKH – a meat, etc. in the Ishkashimi. The name of Balkh, containing the combination LKH is attested as early as in the V c. BC, while in the III-IV c. AD in that region were mentioned the names of the peoples ALKHON and VALKHON, containing the same combination of sounds.

These old Bulgar–Eastern correspondences are summarized in the table below:
Old Bulgar word Eastern analogy
ALKH ALGKH – to help (Sarikoli)
ALKHASI ALKHA – a ring (Sarikoli)
BEKHTI – senior, responsible BEKHT – responsible (Khufi)
DOKHS – a wild boar  TOKHS – dirty (Persian)
TOKH – a cock TUKH – a hen (Sarikoli)
TOKHOL – a son, a child TEKHEL – a child (Sarikoli)
KHONSA – a thief KHOS – a thief (Kashm.)

The sound DZH as well as CH, SH and S were also very frequent in old Bulgar:





Of the 37 words in the stone inscriptions (leaving aside the Nominalia), 18, or nearly 50%, contain consonants of this type. This peculiarity – the wide use of the affricates and the spirantes is one of the most characteristic features of the Pamirian languages.
Sound Old Bulgar word Eastern analogy
DZH DZHENTU – a personal name DZHENDO – violent, unruly (Talish)
  SUDZHUV – a mead, a hydromel SIDZHU – a sweet drink (Ishkashimi)
  KHALANDZH – a type of tree KHALANDZH – a type of oak (Pashto)
DZ DZERA – a messenger DZJRAJ – a messenger (Pashto)
Z ZABERGAN – a personal name ZABER – a power, a strength (Talish)
  ANZI – a personal name ANZA – a personal name (Persian)
C COK – a personal name COK – a dew (Sarikoli)
CH CHIGOT – a swordsman CHIKO – a sword (Sarikoli)
  CHDAR-Bolkar (a Bulgar tribe in Caucasus) CHIDAR – separated (Dardic)
  KHALICHE – a lake KHALICHA – a lake (Pashto)
SH SHEGOR – a bull SHEG – a calf (Khufi)
  SHEKHTEM – sixth SHETTEM – sixth (Sak.)
  ESTROGIN ESTRIKA – a knitting (Mundzhani)

Thus the old Bulgar words containing the sounds of DZH, DZ, Z, C, CH, SH, S, have a number of Pamirian counterparts. The same is also true for the specific sound SHT. In Bulgaria it is attested as early as in the X c. AD in the word KSHTA (‘a house’), as well as in the old word KAPISHTE (‘[heathen] shrine’). The Pamirian and Dardic analogies of KSHTA sound as KSHTAJ (in Pashto) and GKHOSHT in the Dardic languages. There are more correspondences: to the Bulgar PUSHT (‘an offshoot, an offspring’) corresponds the Pamirian PUSHT (‘an offspring, a clan’); to the Bulgarian STUD (‘cold [noun]’) – the Pamirian SHTUD (in Ishkashimi); to the Bulgarian words SHTUREC (‘cricket [an insect]’) and SHTERICA (‘a barren sheep’) – the Pamirian SHTUR (‘long-legged’) and SHTERAJ (‘barren’).

More correspondences are listed in the table below:
Sound Old Bulgar word   Eastern analogy
B BOILA BOIL – a name of a village (Wakhi)
V VER – a dragon WARAN – a dragon (Tadzhik)
DV DVAN – a hare DVAK – a type of hare (Ishkashimi)
STR ESTROGIN ESTRIKA – a knitting (Mundzhani)
ND VANAND – a personal name WANANDO – a victor (Kushan)

Another table lists the vowel correspondences:
 Sound Old Bulgar word Eastern analogy
  ASO – mortal remains ASO – dust, ash (noun)
  TEKU – a horse TEKU – a donkey (Sarikoli)
I BIRI-BAGAIN BIR – (cavalry) squadron (Pashto)
  CHIT – to honour CHIT – to honour (Wakhi)
  GILS – a urn GILOS – a urn
U BORU – a stronghold BORU (Persian)
  KHUMSHI – a cast armour KHUNCHA – a cast tray
JU JUK BOILA JUG – a team (of horses, oxen) (Mundzhani)

One of the most characteristic features here is the high frequency of the sound I – it occurs 21 times in the 37 words from the inscriptions. Next to it according to their frequency come A and O, while E and U are least frequent – they appear in only a quarter of all words. A similar frequency picture is characteristic for the Pamirian languages – in them I is the most frequent vowel, while E and U are the rarest. The reason for that is the frequent use in the Pamirian languages of the suffixes -I and -GI. Similar is the situation in the old Bulgar – BIRI BAGAIN, TAGROGI ITSIGI TAISI, etc. The low frequency of the sound E is a general feature of the languages of the Iranian plateau and the Hindu-Kush. In the easternmost languages of that group, such as the Sogdian and the Saka languages, E appeared only around the I c. BC – I c. AD from the transformation of the combinations AKHI and AI.

The most interesting and most important feature of old Bulgar was, however, the sound . It appears even in the name of the Asparukh Bulgars (BLGAR), but as the Greek alphabet lacks a letter for this sound, it was represented by U. For sure, the Bulgarian  is of old origin. It is present in many words which are distinctively Bulgarian and occur in non-Slavic words: KSHTA (‘a house’), KT (‘a nook, a corner’), KS (‘short’) KHSH (‘an outcast, a [former] hero’), TRS (‘trot’), etc., some of them (KSHTA) attested as early as the X c. AD. Even more interesting is that these special words are found in almost the same form in the Pamirs and the Hindu-Kush mountains:
Modern Bulgarian word Pamirian word
TNK – thin TNK
BDNE – a urn BDNAJ – a urn

Even more – the inhabitants of the Pamirs in their everyday life use a number of interjections containing the sound , which are also similar to the Bulgarian ones:
Bulgarian interjection Pamirian interjection Cluster_user's ottoman parallels
RJ-RJ – a call to sheep RJ-RJ  
KT-KT – a call to hens KT-KT  
PCI-PCI – a call to goats PC-PC (Wakhi)  
KCI-KCI – a call to dogs KUCHA, KCO cognate with (?) turk. kuc,u kuc,u 
DRN (‘blah-blah’) DRN (Talish)  
PRC (from PRCKAM – to fart) PRC  
CR-CR CR-CR (Talish)  

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