This is an ode to er maluk (ь), the most beautifully subtle and rare letter — at least in Bulgarian — of the Cyrillic script. As your perception of its beauty is highly dependent on your operating system, web browser, and available fonts, I’ve prepared a pre-rendered sample so that you may gawk at its understated glory:
When I was learning to read and write Cyrillic a few years ago I thought this character looked simple and unique. To my dismay, it was explained as “having no sound” and “not being used very often.” Coming from a linguistic background of English, Spanish, and Swahili, I was thinking, “What the hell does that mean?”
Bulgarian Words That Use Er Maluk
Now that I’m living in Bulgaria and learning Bulgarian I understand this better — the character is indeed silent and rare, but nevertheless alive and well in the language. The role of er maluk in a word is to palatize the preceding consonant, softening the bridge to the following vowel (in Bulgarian this is only before an “o”).
Every once in awhile I’ll see it printed on a sign, shop window, sticker, etc, and take a mental note. For posterity I decided to start a list of words that use it:
- Aктьор (actior, actor)
- Асансьор (asansior, elevator)
- Бельо (belo, underwear)
- Синьо (sinio, as in синьо сирене, blue cheese)
- Сьомга (siomga, salmon)
- Сoвиньон (as in Cabernet Sauvignon)
- Гьоте (Giote, as in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
- Фьодор (Fyodor, as in Fyodor Dostoevsky)
- Фотьойл (fotoil, as in arm chair)
- Фризьор (frizior, hairdresser)
- Кьопоолу (kyopolou, roasted eggplant salad/relish)
- Кьоше (kioshe, corner)
- Ликьор (likior, liqueur)
- Миньор (minior, miner)
- Партньор (partnior, partner)
- Шофьор (shofior, driver)
Perhaps one day this will be the canonical list of “Bulgarian words that use er maluk.” 🙂
Update (January 26, 2016): add фотьойл.
Update (January 29, 2016): add актьор.
Update (January 30, 2016): add Фьодор and кьопоолу.
Update (February 7, 2016): add бельо.
Update (February 9, 2016): add миньор and кьоше.
Update (February 14, 2016): add сoвиньон.
Update (February 17, 2016): add ликьор and партньор.
Update (March 10, 2016): add синьо.
Update (March 16, 2016): add сьомга.