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Department History

English Studies in Bulgaria[1]

Alexander Shurbanov and Christo Stamenov

This material was originally published as Alexander Shurbanov and Christo Stamenov, English Studies in Bulgaria. (eds.) B. Engler & R. Haas, European English Studies: Contributions towards the History of a Discipline, published for the European Society for the Study of English by the English Association, 2000, 267-292. It has been reproduced by permission of the authors.

1. Historical Overview

1.1. The Pioneers

In the last phase of the nearly five-century long Ottoman domination up to its Liberation in 1878 Bulgaria lived through an intensive economic, social and cultural development known as the Age of National Revival. It was marked by a growing interest in European civilisation as the natural context of the country’s progress. European culture started filtering in mainly through the mediation of the French, Russian and Greek languages. The two foreign languages included in the national school curriculum after the Liberation were French and Russian. With the establishment of Sofia University in 1888 French and German became the first West-European languages to be offered as elective subjects to students in the humanities. French had the aura of the traditional language of culture and diplomacy, while German acquired a particular prominence due to Bulgaria’s close links with Austria-Hungary and, later, Germany. England was generally seen as a far-off exotic country without any immediate relevance to the Bulgarian fortunes in spite of some sporadic contacts in trade, education and culture.

It was only in 1906 that the first lector in English was appointed at Sofia University. That was KONSTANTIN STEFANOV /Constantine Stephanov/ (1879-1940),[2] who was later to become the founder of English Philology as a degree subject (1928). Stefanov had gone to school in Plovdiv and the American College at Samokov, Bulgaria, and completed his secondary education at the Monson Academy, USA. He went on to study at Yale University, USA, (1896-1901) where he obtained his BA and MA degrees before reading philosophy for a year at the University of Berlin (1902/3).

In addition to being lector in English, in 1923 Stefanov was also appointed Privatdozent to teach English language and literature at Sofia University. In 1928 he became regular Docent (Associate Professor) in charge of the newly established university subject and was promoted to full professorship in 1935 retiring two years later. He introduced the courses in Early English, Middle English, Anglo-Saxon, Middle English Grammar, Modern English Grammar, English Phonetics, the History of the English Language and the History of English Literature.

Stefanov is the author of the earliest Anglo-Bulgarian comparative and reception studies in a number of different areas. Some of these were motivated by a patriotic desire to help his country overcome the isolation after the national catastrophe of the First World War. In 1919 he published in Berne a large volume entitled The Bulgarians and Anglo-Saxondom (Stefanov 1919a)and the shorter studies The Question of Thrace (Stefanov 1919b) and We the Macedonians (Stefanov 1919c), all of these covering a broad spectrum of economic, political and cultural interest. The publication of his inaugural lecture ‘A Turning Point in the History of the English Language – an Anglo-Bulgarian Parallel’ (Stefanov 1924a) was followed by ‘English Cultural Influences in Bulgaria’ (Stefanov 1931a). Byron’s reception in Bulgaria and parallels between his work and the writings of Bulgarian poets were treated in a few later articles. A number of other publications, such as ‘Educational Developments in Bulgaria’ (Stefanov 1924b) and Apotheosis of Labour in Bulgarian Folklore and Folk-Song (Stefanov 1932), offer international readership information about traditional and contemporary Bulgarian culture.

Stefanov studied and popularised the work of important English and American authors, among them Tennyson, Browning, Keats, Hardy, Wilde and Poe. He wrote an article about Shakespeare’s Hamlet and translated The Merry Wives of Windsor (1925).

As a linguist Stefanov contributed to the study of contemporary English and the history of the language. He examined the Anglo-Saxon and Latin components of English (Stefanov 1921). Using more up-to-date terminology, one could say that Stefanov had interests in language contacts and sociolinguistics, especially the socio-stylistic and the national-geographic variation of the language (Stefanov 1927, 1931b). He tackles his topics diachronically, with an emphasis on the external history, makes parallels with Bulgarian and offers some typological remarks.

Stefanov is also the author of the first English-Bulgarian (1908) and Bulgarian-English (1914) dictionaries, an English-Bulgarian phrase-book (1908), and a teach-yourself English pocket-book (1921).

As soon as English became a degree subject at the University of Sofia another lecturer was appointed to help Konstantin Stefanov teach the basic courses. This was ROUSSI ROUSSEV (1900-1988)[3] who was to work for the next nearly forty years at the Department of English. He had studied the classics at school in Sofia and then majored in Classical Languages and English at Victoria University, Manchester. Shortly after that he specialised in education at Columbia University, New York.

At Sofia University Roussev taught English, Anglo-Saxon and Middle and Modern English Grammar as well as English and American literature. He was a prolific writer and his numerous publications include articles on a large variety of topics. Many of these deal with some of the greatest English and American writers and works: Beowulf, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dickens, Pepys, Fielding, Defoe, Coleridge, Poe, Whitman. They are among the first truly professional critical studies of the respective literatures by a Bulgarian scholar. Roussev was also very sensitive to new significant developments in them. He ventured to recommend to the Bulgarian readers the recent achievements of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, T. S. Eliot before they had firmly established their names on the literary scene. Like Stefanov, Roussev dedicated some time to comparative studies of English and Bulgarian authors, mainly in typological terms. He channelled a lot of his critical energy into the interpretation of the work of important Bulgarian writers from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. Many of these publications deal with the language and style of individual authors.

His linguistic studies include contrastive analyses(a couple of articles on English-Bulgarian parallels, a book of English proverbs with their Bulgarian equivalents, and parts of the first English-Bulgarian contrastive grammar (Atanasova 1956) and articles on the transcription of names, orthography, English borrowings, the linguistic situation in Ireland and some problems of the Bulgarian language.

Roussev will remain one of the most active and authoritative Bulgarian lexicographers: he is co-author, compiler or editor of most of the English-Bulgarian and Bulgarian-English dictionaries published and re-published from the 1940s on. His contribution to the translation of English literature is also considerable. Roussev produced very precise but somewhat heavy-handed renditions of the four great tragedies of Shakespeare. His are also the Bulgarian versions of some of the major writings of English philosophers such as Bacon, Hobbes and Locke.

1.2. The Patriarch

The attainment of a truly international standard in the research and teaching of English at Sofia University, however, is associated with the name of MARCO MINCOFF (1909-1987).[4] His development as an all-round philologist can be traced back to the year of Classical Languages he did at Sofia University before going to Berlin where as an Alexander von Humboldt scholar of English he obtained a doctoral degree in 1933.

Mincoff was first appointed at the University of Sofia in 1939 as an Associate Professor of English in the composite Department of Germanic Studies. Only a few years later he was to become the founder of the new Department of English Philology and its incontestable Head for the better part of the next three decades. During this time Mincoff taught all the core language and literature courses and raised them to a level comparable to any respectable European University. For all of them he produced the necessary textbooks, which have not lost their usefulness to this day. His main efforts, however, were soon focused on the study of English Renaissance drama and, more precisely, on Shakespeare’s part in it.

Mincoff’s solid philological background led him naturally to a minute exploration of the linguistic texture of the plays. Thus the bulk of his research was to be devoted to stylistic studies illuminating the vexed problems of authorship, collaboration and chronology. Some of their findings have acquired an important place in Shakespearean scholarship world-wide. The articles of this group include “The Chronology of Shakespeare’s Early Works” (Mincoff 1964a), “The Dating of The Taming of the Shrew” (Mincoff 1973), “Henry VIII and Fletcher(Mincoff 1961)and, especially, “The Authorship of The Two Noble Kinsmen” (Mincoff 1952). Another, adjacent research area is the contrastive analysis of the plays vis-à-vis their sources, revealing some of the dramatist’s characteristic predilections. Here one should mention “Henry VI Part III and The True Tragedy” (Mincoff 1961), “The Source of Titus Andronicus” (Mincoff 1971) and, in particular, “What Shakespeare did to Rosalinde” (Mincoff 1960). The slant of these studies is as much stylistic as it is structural and compositional. The latter two are the central preoccupations of yet another group, comprising the early “Plot Construction in Shakespeare” (Mincoff 1940) and “The Structural Pattern of Shakespeare’s Tragedies” (Mincoff 1950), to whose topics Mincoff kept returning until the end of his life, hoping to transform them into a larger systematic study, as well as the later “Shakespeare’s Comedies and the Five-Act Structure” (Mincoff 1965a), “The Composition of Henry VI Part I” (Mincoff 1965b), etc.

In spite of his preference for a close textual analysis, Mincoff was not averse to the search for some useful generalisation about Shakespeare’s dramatic vision and his overall aesthetic principles, as long as they were well-grounded in provable facts. “The Problem of the Tragic in the Work of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries” (Mincoff 1964b) and “Shakespeare and Hamartia” (Mincoff 1964c) are good examples of this thematic circle, but its more important component is perhaps formed by a series of studies starting with the early yet fundamental “Baroque Literature in England” (Mincoff 1946), going through an article called “Shakespeare, Fletcher and Baroque Tragedy” (Mincoff 1967) and permeating most of the critic’s larger works, including his highly original History of English Literature (Mincoff 1970a). These are the writings testifying to Mincoff’s unflagging interest in interpreting Shakespeare’s as well as his contemporaries’ dramatic endeavours as part of a great Wolfflinian transition in sensibility and artistic expression that took place in England during the Bard’s creative years and divided his career into recognisable periods. Mincoff was particularly careful to differentiate the specific principles of artistic form operating in literature from those operating in the other arts. Even in the most daring flights of system-building generalisation, he always managed to preserve his cool-headed empiricism and inductivism.

Shortly before he retired from the University, in the mid-seventies, Mincoff wrote his first large-scale critical book entitled Shakespeare: The First Steps (Mincoff 1976) and attempting, on the basis of earlier in-depth explorations of individual plays, to sketch out the evolution of the dramatist’s professional craftsmanship as well as the process of his poetic maturing from the late 1580s until the mid-1590s. A second book of a similar range, Things Supernatural and Causeless: Shakespearean Romance (Mincoff 1987), came out when its author was already on his deathbed. This is a thoughtful study of the poet’s last dramatic ventures examined against the background of their sources and in the context of contemporary trends in the Jacobean theatre.

Mincoff became well-known and respected among Shakespeareans abroad on the strength of his many scholarly articles published in the most prestigious international literary journals. His reviews of major new publications in the field were solicited by English Studies and Notes and Queries on a fairly regular basis throughout the sixties and the seventies. His findings are frequently quoted and discussed. It is to be regretted that his books did not reach the same specialised audience when they first came out, because, although written in English, they were published in Bulgaria and had no easy access to the network of international distribution. Things Supernatural and Causeless was actually fortunate enough to appear in an edited version produced by a US academic publisher (Mincoff 1992) and thus became Mincoff’s only full-scale Shakespearean opus to be catalogued and stocked by libraries abroad.

Of Shakespeare’s contemporaries Mincoff singled out for separate or comparative studies, either within the circle of his tracing the transition from Renaissance to Baroque aesthetics or without any direct reference to it, Christopher Marlowe, John Lyly, Beaumont and Fletcher. He also published occasionally articles focusing on other periods in the history of English literature, such as the insightful short study of Keats’s poetry “Beauty Is Truth – Once More” (Mincoff 1970b)

Although Mincoff’s reputation rests primarily on his literary scholarship and criticism, his considerable contribution to linguistics should also be mentioned. Mincoff’s doctoral dissertation dealt with the semantic development of Anglo-Saxon expressions of power and might (Mincoff 1933). His earliest publications are again linguistic: a paper on the Gothic word-stock in the Germanic languages (Mincoff ?) and an article on the dating of the Lindisfarne gloss (Mincoff 1938) Had he lived in another part of Europe Mincoff might have developed as a first-class linguist. The lack of adequate libraries and resources in Bulgaria must have made him turn his attention to Shakespeare and his contemporaries as a more feasible research task under the circumstances. Only once did he return to a linguistic topic with a diachronic study of the analytical trends in English and Bulgarian (Mincoff 1957). As an author of university textbooks, however, Mincoff worked systematically in the field of English linguistics. Besides his fundamental History of English Literature, part of which had appeared in a mimeograph edition as early as 1947, he managed to produce in the short period 1950-55 English Phonetics (Mincoff 1950), An English Grammar (Mincoff 1953) and English Historical Grammar (Mincoff 1955). In the next decade he added to these yet another textbook, The Study of Style (Mincoff 1966). All these are highly original writings based on the author’s own research, observation and interpretation of an impressive volume of empirical data and they have not lost their relevance and pedagogical usefulness to this day. The same holds true for some of the most authoritative English-Bulgarian and Bulgarian-English dictionaries which Mincoff edited in the fifties and sixties.

At home Mincoff’s reputation as a first-rate scholar and critic during his lifetime did not spread much further than the walls of the University where he taught. An anecdote from those days may be quite revealing in this respect. When, in the early seventies, a Bulgarian theorist of drama, during a visit to Moscow, called on the renowned Soviet Shakespearean Alexander Anikst, he was surprised to hear from his host that the foremost authority on Shakespeare in Eastern Europe at present was not so much the famous Pole Jan Kott as Marco Mincoff, a name that the puzzled traveller had never come upon yet.

It is not true, of course, that Mincoff was completely unknown to the wider reading public in his country. As early as 1946 he had published a popular introduction to Shakespeare viewed within the social and artistic context of the time. The book, entitled Shakespeare: His Age and His Work (Mincoff 1946), was written in Bulgarian and almost half a century later it was sufficiently well remembered to be produced in a new edition. A number of Shakespearean articles and reviews, as well as introductions and commentaries written by this cogent author for the most important translations of the poet’s legacy, captured the attention of the lovers of literature from time to time though, obviously, not often enough. What deserves a special mention is Mincoff’s editorship of the translation of Shakespeare’s complete plays by the well-known poet Valery Petrov in the 1970s. It is widely acknowledged that the high quality of this rendition is to a great extent due to the close co-operation of translator and editor.

By nature, Mincoff was a recluse, content with the company of his books rather than striving to reach a broader audience. And, then, he chanced to live at a time when things English were not politically desirable in Bulgaria and, if you were eager to speak of Western artists, Shakespeare included, in front of the larger public, you had to treat them in the manner prescribed by official ideology. Mincoff was not ready to compromise. He was too much in earnest about his work to leave the quiet of his study and join the noisy chorus of the marketplace. His Shakespeare was largely unaffected by current political expediency and was never petrified into a classical idol but remained an object of dispassionate though always appreciative investigation.

It can perhaps be held against Mincoff that, while preserving his personal integrity and intellectual honesty, by virtue of his isolation he failed to become a more central presence in the nation’s culture and as an author remained more important abroad than at home. Yet, he did leave an example to follow, the example of the true intellectual dedicated to his work and capable of sacrificing all else for its sake. For he had his own well-charted course to steer amid the many whirlpools and rifts of the day. This heroic dimension in the life of a retiring scholar can, of course, become noticeable only in an oppressive political set-up and is bound to remain somewhat incomprehensible to his brethren accustomed to gentler climes.

1.3. The Specialists

With the upgrading of the English Philology Programme at Sofia University to a Department in 1946 Professor Mincoff started recruiting new staff. The first to join was VICTOR SHARENKOV (1892 – 1962), a graduate of Columbia University who had spent more than a quarter of a century in the USA as an immigrant. In 1949 he was appointed Associate Professor at the new Department and introduced the first course in the history of American literature there. He also taught English literature and compiled university textbooks in both subjects.

The next appointments came in the early fifties and those were the first graduates of the Sofia Department, which thus began to reproduce itself. With the new generation of lecturers a process of specialisation began which resulted in the division of integral philology into linguistics and literary studies.

Professor JANA MOLHOVA (1922 -),[5] who joined the staff of the Department in 1951, became the first specialist in English theoretical linguistics. She showed keen interest in new developments in the field and combined the European with the Anglo-American trends as the basis of her research and teaching. She took over the courses of Modern English morphology and syntax and introduced the course in lexicology, for which she wrote a textbook (Molhova 1959) in use to this day.

With about eighty publications, J. Molhova is one of the most prolific Bulgarian authors in the domain of English linguistics. Her scholarly interests are very wide, ranging from problems of the philosophy of language to applied linguistics and including areas such as grammar, word-formation, contrastive analysis and typology, semantics and lexicology, phraseology, stylistics, language contacts and pragmatics. In most of these her work has been pioneering for English studies in the country. J. Molhova’s publications have had a considerable impact on national language studies at large.

A group of articles published between the late fifties and the mid-eighties deals with the relationship between language and thinking, linguistic relativity, the sign character of language, the definition and the motivation of the word. Another series comprises critical introductions to the theories of L. Bloomfield and N. Chomsky and their followers. Her major publications centre on the grammatical categories of the noun in English, definiteness/ indefiniteness and transitivity of the verb. Special mention is due to her books on the article (Molhova 1970) and on the grammatical categories and the word-formative patterns of the noun (Molhova 1986).

Prof. Molhova has always been interested in the practical teaching of English and has maintained professional contacts with teachers at all levels of education, helping to bridge the gap between theory and practice. An example of this approach is her book on foreign-language teaching from the point of view of a theoretical linguist (Molhova 1975). In the sixties she became the founder of a system of intensive language training which has won recognition and a permanent presence in Bulgaria.

A lively and probing intellect, Prof. Molhova exerted and important formative influence on generations of students and younger scholars, whom she encouraged to dedicate themselves to serious research in an open-minded and enthusiastic way. Her inexhaustible energy led her, especially in the early stages of her career, to widen her pursuits into adjacent areas including literary topics, lexicography and translation.

Having retired from the University of Sofia as Professor and Head of the English Department in 1988, J. Molhova has continued to teach at other institutions. She helped establish the new English Department at the University of Shoumen becoming its first chair in 1991 and in 1996 moved on to the University of Blagoevgrad where she is still teaching full time.

Associate Professor MARIA RANKOVA (1914-89)[6] joined the Department in the same year as Prof. Molhova. She had graduated the American High School in Simeonovo and German Philology at Sofia University. Subsequently she taught German in secondary schools and got a second university degree in English. M. Rankova soon became a key figure in the teaching of the practical course and authored about twenty textbooks. Her English Grammar (1959), written in collaboration, has proved indispensable for any serious study of the language. Another fruit of her collaboration is the only English-Bulgarian Contrastive Grammar (1956). M. Rankova’s participation in the first English by Television programme(1966-68) and its several sequels in the following years was seen as a guarantee of its high quality. As a lexicographer she showed the solid philological background, precision and thoroughness characteristic of all her work. M. Rankova was also a gifted and conscientious translator of English literature into Bulgarian and Bulgarian literature into English.

Her preoccupation with activities connected with the practical language prevented her from devoting enough time to theoretical pursuits, but when she turned to the study of the history of English in the sixties she made a noticeable contribution to the subject through a monograph devoted to the development of the periphrastic auxiliary do (Rankova 1964, 1966). Her studies of the adverbial positions in English and Bulgarian (Rankova 1967) and on the word-order of interrogative sentences in the two languages (Rankova 1976) were also significant achievements in the field of contrastive linguistics. In the early sixties M. Rankova taught the theoretical course in phonetics and from 1965 was entrusted with the lectures in historical grammar, which she continued giving until her retirement in 1974, having been promoted to Associate Professor in 1969.

Professor VLADIMIR FILIPOV /Philipov/(1925 -) came into the Department in 1952 and at first taught all the components of the practical course in the language as well as conducting seminars in English and American literature.

Over the years he has published a number of studies devoted to these two literatures, among which his articles on the early works of Charles Dickens (Filipov 1981a) and Mark Twain (Filipov 1964) deserve mention. A longer essay of his offers an original comparative view of Shakespeare’s chronicle play Richard III and the tragedy of Macbeth (Filipov 1974).

A particularly valuable part of Prof. Filipov’s contribution to the field of literary studies is a series of publications dealing with the history of reception of English and American literature in Bulgaria (Filipov 1981b, 1993, 1996).[7] The scope of these studies is unprecedented. They aim to create a chronology and an evaluative hierarchy of achievements and have been used extensively by subsequent researchers.

Prof. Filipov has worked successfully as lexicographer, taking an important part in the compilation of the major English-Bulgarian and Bulgarian-English dictionaries. He has also written a number of textbooks at the tertiary level of education and has done a lot to popularise English and American literature in Bulgaria. He is a prolific translator of poetry and prose, compiler of representative anthologies, author of introductions to books and of articles in the press as well as educational talks on the national radio. His is probably the largest single-handed effort to make contemporary Bulgarian poetry better known to the English-speaking world through translating and editing eight collections of verse published in USA, Greece and Bulgaria.

Prof. Filipov has left a memorable trace in the history of the Department as a teacher of English literature, the study of style, translation, etc. As Head of the Department he showed understanding of its long-term objectives and care for the academic advancement of its staff. His championship of the traditionally high standards of English language training at Sofia University is hard to overestimate. Since his retirement in 1990 Prof. Filipov has continued to teach occasional courses at Sofia University and elsewhere.

Two other literary scholars, LYUBKA SARIEVA (1919 – 1985) and TODOR KIROV (1931 – 1992) taught at the Sofia English Department during the 1960s and the 1970s. L. Sarieva produced a number of publications discussing topics as wide apart as the imagery of the English Romantics (Sarieva 1965, 1966), the relation between background and character in Walter Scott’s novels (Sarieva 1971), John Lyly’s dramatic techniques (Sarieva 1967) and Shakespeare’s dramatic legacy (unpublished). She is also the author of textbooks for the teaching of English in the secondary schools. T. Kirov, who was himself a playwright, devoted all his critical acumen to the study of English and American drama, focusing his interest on Bernard Shaw, Eugene O’Neill and, especially, Shakespeare, whose early work he examined in an extensive essay, “The First Step of a Giant”, published in Shakespeare Jahrbuch, Weimar (1968).

After V. Sharenkov the study of American literature at Sofia University was developed by PAULINE PIRINSKA (1914 – 1994) and GRIGOR PAVLOV (1930 – 1988) who produced textbooks and articles mainly about twentieth-century writers discussed primarily from an ideological point of view. NATALIYA KLISOURSKA (1937 -) took over from them developing an interest in ethnic and racial identity and introducing a course in American civilisation. At present several young scholars are working systematically in the field, keeping abreast of the new trends in literary theory and criticism. Dr. Yonka Krasteva, Associate Professor at the University of Veliko Turnovo, has succeeded in developing American Studies outside Sofia. The mounting interest in all things American in the post-totalitarian era makes the expansion of this outgrowth of English Philology inescapable.

1.4. The Practitioners

The impressive development of the curriculum’s theoretical component went hand in hand with the continuing care for the students’ practical language skills. This was motivated by the fact that most of them were to become teachers and translators. All courses from the very beginning to this day have been taught in English and every participant in the teaching-learning process is expected to be fluent in it as an instrument of academic discourse. Due to this orientation, the Sofia University English Department has become internationally known for the high level of its graduates’ linguistic competence. The credit for this achievement goes mainly to several generations of devoted and highly qualified teachers of the language, whose main task has been to develop teaching methods and produce all the materials needed in the classroom. Many of the pioneers of this tradition had acquired proficiency in the language at such specialised secondary schools as the American College in Simeonovo (near Sofia) before continuing their studies at the University.

An outstanding figure in the practical language teaching is Associate Professor DIMITER SPASOV (1923-83).[8] He is the author of an excellent book on English Phrasal Verbs (Spasov 1966) which went through a number of revised and enlarged editions and is arguably the first dictionary of such verbs world-wide. The publication won the acclaim of such scholars as D. Bolinger, L. Lipka and V. Zvegintsev. His other writings include: English Articles: A Practical Course with Exercises (Spasov 1967) and The Verb in the Structure of English: A Practical Course for Advanced Students (Spasov 1972). In collaboration with colleagues in the Department he wrote a reference book on English Prepositions (Spasov 1964) and English Spelling (Danchev 1968). Spasov’s absolute dedication to his teaching and research and his loving interest in the English language could not fail to deeply impress his many students and set an attractive example for them to follow.

1.5. The Crisis

Soon after the inclusion of Bulgaria in the Soviet bloc in 1944 and the beginning of the Cold War era English became increasingly unwanted and suspicious as a means of ideological infiltration. The indisputable Head of the Sofia English Department, Prof. Mincoff was barely tolerated by the authorities as a burdensome legacy of the bourgeois past. The objective development of the modern world, however, increased the need of English in all spheres of life and that brought about a constant growth of the Sofia Department and the creation of new ones as centres for the production of the necessary teachers, translators, language experts, etc. There was, all the same, the carefully cultivated impression that people working within such centres were under constant surveillance and should watch their every step. Thus it should not have come as a surprise, as it did, when in the summer of 1975 a decree was issued by the Sofia Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party ordering a purge of the English Department of ‘unsuitable’ staff for their bourgeois family background and ‘unregulated contacts’ with foreigners. As a result five lecturers were transferred to other institutions, Prof. Molhova was deposed as Head of the Department for her failure to toe the Party line with respect to staff recruitment. This traumatic event could not but leave a deep scar on the life of the Department and the collegial relationships. Of course, it could not stop the development and growth of English Studies but its blighting effect on them is difficult to gauge.

Professor ANDREI DANCHEV (1933-1996)[9] was one of the members of staff who were forced to leave the Department in 1975. At that time he had already obtained his doctoral degree and was teaching historical grammar. The grandson of a prime-minister and son of a high-ranking diplomat of the pre-communist period, Danchev had to pay the price for his ancestry from his school days when his family was exiled to the provinces. This explains the belated start of his academic career. In 1975 he was transferred to the Institute for Foreign Students and it was not until 1990 that he was allowed to return to the University of Sofia, where he soon became Professor, Head of the English Department, Dean of the Faculty of Classical and Modern Philology and Vice-Rector of the University.

In spite of the vicissitudes of life, Danchev’s development as a scholar was remarkably steady and successful. Official recognition was slow to come and yet throughout his career he showed an exceptional stamina, sense of purpose and a talent for organisation and leadership. Paradoxically, it was during the years of his banishment from the University that Danchev developed broad international links and made his name well-known and respected in the linguistic circles. In spite of the authorities’ resentment the English Department continued uninterruptedly to co-operate with him in all professional and academic pursuits.

Andrei Danchev is the author of over a hundred publications including books, monographs, textbooks, articles, reviews, etc. A considerable part of his work appeared in prestigious international journals and collections. A versatile scholar of considerable erudition and original thinking, he made valuable contributions to a number of fields: diachronic phonology and syntax, contrastive linguistics, the theory of language contacts and language change, modern English grammar (the tense-aspect system of the verb), translation theory, applied linguistics and foreign language teaching.

Danchev developed what he called the Expanded Model of Contrastive Analysis, integrating systemic description with the analysis of speech production and learners’ errors and aspects of translation theory. His ideas in this area are synthesised in the yet unpublished Contrastive Linguistics: Theory and Methodology. During the fifteen years at the Institute for Foreign Students Danchev worked mainly in the field of applied and contrastive linguistics in which he founded a Bulgarian school, supervising and encouraging a large number of researchers and language teachers. To this period belong a series of books written under his supervision: English for Bulgarians (1983), Lexical Minimum of English for Bulgarian Learners (1980), Error Analysis. Bulgarian Learners of English (1988) and Linguistic Problems of Translation (English & Bulgarian) (1986). His book Bulgarian Transcription of English Names (1979) helped to bring order into the chaos of the existing practice of transcription and transliteration.

The strain and adversities of life took their toll and A. Danchev sadly died, rather unexpectedly for those who knew him as a vigorous and energetic person, just when he was on the verge of achieving new synthesis in his research. Such as it is, his legacy is a major and lasting contribution to Bulgarian linguistics which is yet to be systematised and made full use of.

2. Present State

2.1. Degree Programmes

Since the 1960s English is no longer confined to Sofia University. Daughter departments have sprung up in a number of other universities, initially staffed by Sofia graduates and modelled on the oldest department. The first of these is in the University of Veliko Turnovo, which has already developed its own character and traditions. A third generation of English departments established in the last dozen years belong to the Universities of Plovdiv and Shoumen, while other institutions like the South-West University at Blagoevgrad, teach English language and literature within composite foreign language departments.

The degree programme offered by the state universities in compliance with government regulations comprises five years of studies, each divided into two semesters. It leads to a Higher Education Diploma in English Philology analogous to an M.A. and contains three groups of core courses in English Linguistics, English and American Literature and Practical English. These are preceded by introductory courses in General Linguistics, Theory of Literature and British and American Civilisation. The final two years are mostly given to elective subjects which build on a solid all-round philological grounding focusing chiefly on English Linguistics, English and American Literature, Translation Theory and Practice, and Cultural Studies. The practical course in the English Language running throughout the five years has several components: integrated skills, writing and translation. One of the characteristic features of the Bulgarian curriculum is its integration of a full-scale teacher training programme including in-service training. Most of the courses consist of two types of classes: the teacher-centred lectures and the interactive seminars. These are co-ordinated within each subject as regards the topics discussed and the methods of study.

Students are admitted to the English Philology degree course on the basis of a tough competitive entrance examination testing their proficiency in the language. Since English is the medium of instruction and examination, all applicants are expected to have a command of it so that they can follow lectures and participate actively in seminar discussions. Courses are organised in one-semester modules and students are assessed both continuously and through an examination on the completion of the course. The Diploma is earned through a final examination consisting of two parts – written and oral – and covering the key problems of all theoretical subjects as well as testing English language skills. The best students of each year(about 15 %) are given the chance of writing a final-year dissertation, the defence of which replaces the oral part of the exam. One form of encouraging research activity among students are the recently introduced special grants named after Prof. Marco Mincoff and Prof. Andrei Danchev and earned in a competition of research projects. Some undergraduates have even been able to publish their studies in refereed academic journals.

A restructuring of this programme is already under way. For several years the English Departments have been effecting a gradual transition from the diploma course to the two-tier structure of bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The latter will be awarded on the basis of a successfully defended M.A. dissertation. The Sofia Department has already developed M.A. programmes in the different areas of English Studies which attract graduates from other institutions both at home and abroad. Language and literature are understandably the subjects that can be offered in a full-scale form. At the same time, however, Cultural Studies are vigorously developing in their various aspects, e.g. Irish Studies, Post-colonial Studies, Gender Studies, Children’s Literature, Media. They will eventually grow into an independent programme. The same applies to Translation Theory and Practice.

For the last thirty-five years Sofia University has also been offering a postgraduate programme in English leading to a doctoral degree (traditionally called ‘Candidate of Sciences’, now renamed ‘Doctor’), an equivalent of Ph.D. Several dozen specialists, including nationals of other countries, have successfully completed the course by defending their doctoral dissertations. A higher academic degree called Doctor of Philology is granted to senior scholars on the basis of a substantial contribution to the field of research.

Most of the English Departments aspire to developing M.A. programmes, though for some of them this will obviously take longer. A relatively young private institution in Sofia, the New Bulgarian University, has chosen a different orientation, offering a B.A. in Applied Linguistics and the study of English in combination with another foreign language.

2.2. Department Structure

At present the Department of English and American Studies at Sofia University is well ahead of the other English Departments in the country as far as teaching and research capacity is concerned. It has forty-five regular staff, among them two full Professors, two Emeritus Professors, nine Associate Professors, two Doctors of Philology and seventeen Doctors (Ph.D.). Two members of the Sofia Department have won the distinction of honorary doctorates conferred on them by British Universities.[10]Temporary staff is also recruited on a part-time bases mainly for the purposes of language teaching and for some of the elective courses. Native-speaking lectors are regularly appointed in conjunction with the British Council and the Fulbright Commission for Educational Exchange.

The Department has grown too big to function as one undifferentiated unit. For the practical purposes of teaching and research planning it is subdivided into five sections – Language, Literature, Applied Linguistics, Translation, and Cultural Studies, – which are organised on a functional rather than strictly administrative basis and allow a good deal of overlap. English Language Teaching Methodology is dealt with by a separate department, which takes care of the other West-European languages too. English for Specific Purposes within Sofia University is the responsibility of yet another department covering a number of languages. In the past all these activities were contained in the respective philology departments and the present imperfect and probably impermanent arrangement is the product of growth.

The above-described structure is replicated in the remaining English departments to the extent of their teaching and research potentials. A great boost to English Studies in Bulgaria has been given by the creation of a whole network of resource centres with the generous assistance of the British Council and USIS. In addition to books and periodicals these offer both students and staff the use of computers (including Internet and e-mail), video and audio equipment, photocopying facilities, etc.

2.3. Research

The majority of members of staff are actively engaged in research, thematically representing a range of individual interests and specialisms in the entire spectrum of English Studies. A growing number of articles are published in scholarly journals and collections. Particularly successful in an international perspective has been the work of colleagues in translation studies from a cognitive and psycholinguistic point of view and the reception of Shakespeare in Eastern Europe. A considerable emphasis has been placed on contrastive English-Bulgarian linguistic studies, cognitive linguistics, word-formation, the reception of English and American literature in Bulgaria, comparative literary and cultural studies, etc.

In recent years a number of book-length monographs by Bulgarian anglicists have appeared either in this country or abroad. The mere listing of the titles will give an idea of the variety of topics and approaches: Renaissance Humanism and Shakespeare’s Lyrical Poetry (Shurbanov 1980), English Word-Formation (Pencheva 1991), Shakespeare’s Romances as Interrogative Texts: Their Alienation Strategies and Ideology (Sokolova 1992), Aspect in English (Kabakchiev 1992), The Drama of Paradox: Oscar Wilde in Bulgarian Cultural Context (Grigorova 1993), Between Pathos and Irony: Christopher Marlowe and the Genesis of Renaissance Drama (Shurbanov 1993), Similarity in Difference: Characteristics of Realistic Narration in the English Enlightenment Novel and Bulgarian Post-Liberation Fiction (Bakracheva 1995), The Myth of Prometheus and the Poetics of English Romanticism (Nikolchina 1988), The Indelible Mirror Image: The Topical Bulgarian Reception of England, the English and English Thought in the 19th and Early 20eth Century (Trendafilov 1996), The West and the American Dream: Studies in Twentieth Century American Literature (Krasteva 1996), On Meaning Representation and Language Use (Genova 1997), Tales of the Periphery: The Balkans in Nineteenth-Century British Writing (Kostova 1997), Potential of Openness (Bakracheva 1997), Man in Language, Language in Man (Pencheva 1998). Two influential collections of articles have been edited or co-edited by Bulgarian scholars: Translation as Social Action: Russian and Bulgarian Perspectives (Zlateva 1993), Shakespeare in the New Europe (Hattaway 1994). A Teach-Yourself Bulgarian book has been published in Britain (Holman 1993). Staff-members of the English Departments have compiled a number of university and high-school textbooks, anthologies, etc., as well as dictionaries.

2.4. International Contacts

The specialisation of a number of colleagues in the study of contacts and typological parallels between Bulgaria and the English-speaking world has made them eligible for lectorship in Bulgarian language, literature and culture in those countries. Many members of the English Departments have worked successfully in such positions and in some cases have become the founders of long-term Bulgarian lectorates abroad. Their contribution is especially valuable at the Universities of London and Oxford, Leeds and Sheffield, and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). These postings are at once a valuable opportunity for anglicists to specialise in their main subject and develop professional contacts.

Specialisation stints, participation in summer courses, study periods, etc. have been appreciated when available and have helped professional advancement at all stages of the academic career. Unfortunately, they tend to become less accessible beyond certain age. Most of the Bulgarian anglicists have profited from these opportunities at one point or another. With the liberalisation of the political system in Eastern Europe, this has become less a matter of academic planning and more a case of personal initiative and resourcefulness. All in all, possibilities have increased and a number of young colleagues have enrolled in postgraduate courses at such renowned universities as Oxford, Cambridge, Cornell and others. Some graduates and former members of staff of the Bulgarian departments have been employed as lecturers and professors in prestigious institutions in USA, Canada, Japan, Norway, Australia, Great Britain and elsewhere.

International links of Bulgarian anglicists have been extensive in spite of all hindrances in the past. For over thirty years now a students and staff exchange between the Sofia English Department and a number of British universities has been going on. That has provided a unique opportunity for the best students of English to get first-hand knowledge of British life and complete their studies with a final semester under the supervision of British academics. In exchange, students of Slavic languages spend a term at Sofia University. The mainspring of this programme from its very beginning was Professor Michael Holman of the University of Leeds.[11] A similar exchange project has been developing between Sofia and Exeter for the last ten years or so. On the research side, the English Departments in Bulgaria have co-operated with the Universities of Sheffield, Wolverhampton, Bochum and others within the framework of a number of TEMPUS projects,[12] as well as with the University at Albany, SUNY, under the auspices of USIA. This last one, initiated by Professor Ernest Scatton, has made it possible for Bulgarian specialists in English language and English and American literature to teach their subjects for a full semester in USA and launch joint research programmes with American colleagues. A couple of phoneticians are involved in a multi-language database COPERNICUS project co-ordinated by Prof. Peter Roach of the University of Reading, UK. A teacher of the Sofia Department has taken part in a lexicographical project under Professor Manfred Goerlach of the University of Cologne studying English borrowings in a number of European languages.

Most of the active researchers in English Studies both at the universities and other institutes belong to the Bulgarian Society for British Studies (BSBS). This organisation, founded in 1991 in Sofia, brings together specialists in different fields such as language, literature, history, sociology, political science, journalism, economics, etc., interested in British topics. It promotes cross-fertilisation between the different disciplines through regular annual conferences and meetings on special occasions. BSBS is a founding member of the European Society for the Study of English (ESSE), which enables Bulgarian scholars to develop and maintain useful international contacts. Another professional organisation of English teachers on all levels of education is IATEFL, which now has a Bulgarian branch.

Both the university departments and the professional organisations of Bulgarian anglicists have made a serious and consistent effort to bring forth collections of articles devoted to the major problems of English Studies. In this number are the four volumes of The University of Sofia English Papers published between 1981 and 1991, two BSBS conference volumes – Britain and Europe (Kostova 1993)and Victorian England: Literary Perspective (Shurbanov 1996), two TEMPUS collections – Europe from East to West (Dangerfield 1997) and Europe Real and Imagined (Brett 1998), two Anglo-Bulgarian Symposium Proceedings of 1982 (Collins 1985) and 1985 (Collins 1993). Bulgarian periodicals offering opportunities for publication of current research in English Studies are the Universities’ yearbooks, a Sofia University series Philologia, and the journals Contrastive Linguistics, Foreign Language Teaching, Ezik i literatura [Language and Literature], Literaturna misul [Literary Thought], Sravnitelno literaturoznanie [Comparative Literature], and Literaturna istoriya [Literary History].

2.5. Gown and Town

The tradition of active participation in the cultural life at home is maintained by the present generation of English language specialists. They have continued to create series of English language courses by radio and television as well as giving public lectures on philological topics. Special broadcasts introducing English-language writers and their work to the general public have also been solicited from members of the English Departments. They write articles and reviews for the press. Some of them have made a name for themselves as gifted translators of fiction, poetry and specialised texts. They have produced the Bulgarian versions of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Malory’s Morte Darture, Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, Marlowe’s Hero and Leander and Doctor Faustus, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Blake’s poetry, Dickens’s Dombey and Son, W. B. Yates’s, Dylan Thomas’s, Ted Hughes’s and Sylvia Plath’s verse, to name but a few. In view of the relatively slight representation of Bulgarian literature abroad, an especially valuable aspect of the work of translators is their effort to render, either on their own or in collaboration with native speakers, both classics and modern authors into English.

University anglicists are regularly invited to act as experts and advisers on government, public and private cultural programmes, members of editorial boards, publishers’ consultants, reviewers, etc. Sometimes they are even offered alternative, more lucrative jobs outside the academic field, which creates a new state of uncertainty for the English Departments that we are still to learn how to cope with.

2.6. Looking Up

For the last few decades English has been making headway in Bulgaria as the most popular foreign language, especially among the younger generations. This process has been accelerated in recent years by the aspiration of Bulgaria, together with the other East-European countries, to re-integrate in Europe and the world, without political mediation. Most of the schools in the country now offer English in their curriculum and the starting age has gone down to the first grades. A successfully passed proficiency test in English is the pre-requisite for enrolling in a number of university degree courses. In many institutes of higher education English has been promoted from an optional to an obligatory foreign language and, in some cases, even to a medium of instruction. It is rapidly turning into the main working language of conferences, meetings and symposia in all areas of life. Scientific publications, official documents and other significant texts regularly appear in English to make them available to a wider public. English words and phrases turn up in the most unlikely kinds of discourse and raise brows among those who are concerned about the ‘purity’ of the Bulgarian language. Even the recent inclusion of Bulgaria in the fold of Francophone nations, meant to re-affirm a cultural tradition of long standing, has failed to tip the new linguistic balance.[13]

In these favourable circumstances the English Departments should try to use their traditional strengths and develop new approaches in order to meet the needs of the day and adapt to the new trends. Their best achievements have already won recognition both in the field of language teaching and in the theoretical study of language and literature. The growing international co-operation in which they have entered lately warrants a stable and healthy development in the years to come, provided they manage to carry out the necessary reform in the most sensible way.


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University of Sofia English Papers, vol. III (Sofia: Sofia University Press, 1987).

Victorian England: Literary Perspective, ed. Alexander Shurbanov (Sofia: Sofia University Press, 1996).

[1]The following publications offering information and comments on this subject are available at the moment: Almanah 1929, 1988; Arnaoudov 1939; Bio-bibliografiya 1973; Purvev 1987; Mincoff 1987; Danchev 1983; Filipova 1992; Shurbanov 1997.

[2]More on Konstantin Stefanov in: Shurbanov 1979, Purvev 1987: 306.

[3]More on Roussi Roussev in: Shurbanov 1990.

[4]More on Mincoff in: Filipov 1967; Shurbanov 1979a, 1979b, 1997; Purvev 1987: 221-22.

[5] More on J. Molhova in: Danchev & Stamenov 1982, Purvev 1987: 238-39, Stamenov 1992, Kovatcheva 1997.

[6] See also Kovatcheva 1984, Purvev 1987: 285, Stamenov 1990.

[7] V. Filipov’s most comprehensive study of this problem (‘Reception of English and American literature in Bulgaria during the Period of National Revival’ [in Bulgarian], is still unpublished.

[8] More on D. Spasov in: Filipov 1984, Purvev 1987: 297-98.

[9] More on A. Danchev in: Purvev 1987: 147-48, Mareva 1993, Stamenov 1996, Pencheva 1997.

[10]M. Mincoff is doctor honoris causa of Birmingham University and A. Shurbanov is doctor honoris causa of the University of Kent and the University of Surrey.

[11]See Stamenov 1987, 1991, Stamenov & Holman 1993.

[12]See Filipova 1995.

[13] More about the place of English in present-day foreign-language teaching in Bulgaria can be found in M. Danova, L. Krusteva-Bossakova and O. Stoitzov, ‘Foreign Language Education in Bulgaria: Present Day Situation and Future Tendencies’ in Ager 1993, pp. 23-6.

Download as MS Word file: English Studies in Bulgaria


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