Offering a general theoretical background on nationalism, this article provides a survey of the evolution of Bulgarian nationalism and its dominant tropes in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Against this background, it traces the place and role of language as a unifying or disuniting factor. Two separate approaches to language are employed: one, following the traditional treatment of language as ethnically defined speech; the other, analyzing language as the discourse of ethnicity/nationalism. The article looks at the formation of the Bulgarian literary language during the nineteenth century, and explores the parallel fate of bi- and multi-lingualism among the Bulgarian population. The language problem in the Bulgarian case has, to a great extent, been overlooked. There are two main reasons for this. One is that, compared to Serbia, Romania and especially to Greece, the language discussion, although considered pivotal, never acquired the centrality in the public debate as it did in the other Balkan countries. The other reason is that, in the context of the Bulgarian revival itself, the language question was overshadowed by the more vigorous and intensive struggles for a national church and political emancipation, because it coincided with them in time. Still, language was perceived by national and cultural leaders as the mightiest agent of unification. While it is one of the most important components of the ethnic cluster, the record shows that common language was neither absolutely necessary nor sufficient to distinguish ethnicity.
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