Prof. Boris Simeonov – Innovations in Linguistic Traditions

Prof. Boris SimeonovIn the history of Bulgarian linguistics Prof. Boris Simeonov stands out as a linguist with a distinguished profile of a classical philologist. His scientific research and teaching practice – it is worth noticing, equally represented in several Bulgarian universities, leading humanitarian centres: Sofia, Plovdiv, Shumen – continue reminding of the researcher with an innovative approach towards the facts in the old written artefacts, the state and dependencies between the different levels of the language system. Nowadays the philologists who were Prof. Boris Simeonov’s students respectfully call him the Scientist and the Teacher, prompting their search for the codes of linguistic panorama.

Prof. Boris Simeonov was born on 29 September, 1925 in the village of Murgash, Godechko. In 1944 he graduated from the Third Male High School of Sofia, a classical class with excellent grades, and in 1950 – classical philology at Sofia University. Two years later he was already an assistant professor at the Department of General Linguistics and broadened his scientific interests in Balkan linguistics, phonology and etymology. However, he had the deepest affection for the Proto-Bulgarian studies and onomastics. The two works with which he attained the academic rank of associate professor in 1966 were also onomastic: Toponymy of Godechko and Etymological Dictionary of the Local Names of Godechko. In the toponymy of this Western Bulgarian area, B. Simeonov discovered two archaic layers – Pre-Slavonic (Thracian Roman) and Slavonic Bulgarian. For the first time the Thracian Roman toponyms Buchumet, Pinet, Kovtsel, Mutskel, Tsikura, Vakarel, Balsha, Magulitsa, Renda were etymologically explained. There are certain old features in the names from Godechko, belonging to the Slavonic Bulgarian layer, for instance [a]-saying can be found in Pragono, Magulitsa, Rasule, Arnitsa, Magila; in the morphological structure of Varloso, Malose, Garbas there exists a remainder of the typical article for close definiteness съ, typical of the Old Bulgarian determinative system.

The linguists who study the scientific legacy of Prof. Boris Simeonov emphasize the fact that he is among these Bulgarian linguists whose contribution has seriously evolved Proto-Bulgarian Studies as a scientific field. The professor worked extensively in the realm of ethnonymy, toponymy, anthroponymy, title practice, epigraphy in order to greatest extent cast light upon issues connected with the ethnogenesis and spiritual culture of the Proto-Bulgarians. Thus, relying on Early Byzantine and Chinese sources (until 5th century), as well as on linguistic data, Prof. Simeonov drew a conclusion that Proto-Bulgarian was related to the Hunnic and Altai language, but was not identical to Turkic languages. Interpreting the ethnonym Bulgar, the researcher associated it with the system of other old ethnonyms from Central Asia and of Proto-Bulgarian family names, based on totem theory. According to Prof. Simeonov our ethnonym consists of two components – bulg(a), an animal with precious fur, marten, sable and -ar, a person, people; hence the literal translation of Bulgari is the people descendents of marten.

Prof. Simeonov focused his scientific analyses on Proto-Bulgarian studies and the origin and meaning of a number of toponyms – Kaspichan, Tutrakan, Shabla, Madar; on the titles of officials in the military and administrative hierarchy of the First Bulgarian State. At the same time the classical philologist also worked thoroughly on the deciphering of the Proto-Bulgarian runic script. The scientist, too, made serious contribution to the field of general, Bulgarian, contrastive and Balkan phonology. N. S. Trubetskoi’s idea of the three-dimensional phonemic systems is fundamental in his theoretical research in phonology. This thesis is formulated semantically as follows: every phonological system has three types of phonemes: vocals, sonants and consonants, and the phonological content of the phonemes depends on three basic dimensions: locality, modality and sonority for the consonants; and locality, modality and quantity for the vocals and sonants.

In unison with his teacher, Academician Vl. Georgiev, Prof. Simeonov also had a scientific presence in the linguistic Balkan studies – the research of Paleo-Balkan languages. In this subject, his linguistic focus fell on the characteristic features of substratum languages, Balkan Latin, the relations between Thracian, Balkan Latin and Slavic. In the sphere of Indo-European linguistics, he considered lautverschiebung and other phonetic phenomena in the old Indo-European languages; specified the Grossman’s law; in the general linguistics, he authored papers and articles on the relationship between language and thinking, on the sign character of language, on language norm, on word structure and grammatical meaning. Multifunctional has become the definition, given by Prof. Simeonov, of the nature of grammatical meaning that it is a kind of conscious relation expressed in the language structure. This definition is now used in the research of the most authoritative Bulgarian linguists.


Prof. Boris Simeonov is one of the few contemporary professors who left his own direct students and disciples to linguistics. In the students’ scientific clubs and toponymic expeditions, led by him, a lot of today’s specialists, who work in different philological departments and linguistic institutions, took their first steps. He continued taking interest in their progress even after their leaving the students’ bench, devoting his time to helping them, and not seldom – giving his own ideas. His former students, who did not choose linguistics for their own career, also loved him and wanted his support and advice about life.

Petya Asenova

It is not possible for someone to know Prof. Simeonov even vaguely, and not have remembered him for their whole life. He was a striking and colorful person, who was not afraid of being unorthodox, was full of original ideas and unusual insights, and did not worry to stand up for them in front of any audience. The legends of Bobi preceded him and notified about his appearance everywhere, but at the same time turned and have turned him into a symbol of a strong university presence, into a representative of a generation which has already left the lecture halls and life for good, but from whose charisma and colour every generation of students needs in order to better realize what it means to be a scientist and teacher.

Iliyana Krapova

Everyone, who was his student, colleague or friend, keeps a permanent memory of Prof. Boris Simeonov. The professor’s workdays were divided between Sofia, Shumen and Plovdiv, and for a while Blagoevgrad as well. Like a travelling preacher, he went from university to university, but for the longest period, 20 years, stayed in Shumen. Here, he felt at home, loved and respected by his colleagues. Around him there was atmosphere, not only academic, but also friendly. He was eager to help any young assistant professor. […] Like in a card index in a library, Prof. Boris Simeonov was ready to make all kinds of bibliographic references, informed us about the latest articles and books, and often brought them from Sofia. He was an unlimited source of ideas and energy.

Elena Ivanova

Prof. Boris Simeonov is an example of a philologist in the classical meaning of this definition. He researched speech in its multifaceted forms of existence in time and space. His scientific vision stretched from the problem of the origin of human language and the specifics of child speech to questions from the realm of the history of Bulgarian language, modern Bulgarian dialects, phonetics and spelling.

Antoaneta Deleva

Библиография за Борис Симеонов:

Асенова 1985: П. Асенова. Борис Симеонов на 60 години. – Съпоставително езикознание, 1985, кн. 5.
Асенова 2008: П. Асенова. Проф. Борис Симеонов – ученият и учителя. – В: Името в паметта на езика. Сборник в памет на проф. Борис Симеонов. С. 2008.
Данчева 1985: М. Данчева. Библиография на трудовете на Борис Симеонов. – Съпоставително езикознание, 1985, кн. 5.
Делева 1995: А. Делева. В чест на учителя! (По случай 70 години от рождението на проф. Борис Симеонов). – Научни трудове на Пловдивския университет, т. 33, кн. 1, Филологии.
Иванова 2008: Е. Иванова. Проф. Борис Симеонов в Шуменския университет. – В: Името в паметта на езика. Сборник в памет на проф. Борис Симеонов. С. 2008.
Кръпова 2008: Ил. Кръпова. Спомен за Проф. Боби Симеонов. – В: Името в паметта на езика. Сборник в памет на проф. Борис Симеонов. С. 2008.

Prof. SimeonovProf. SimeonovDuring a conferenceProf. Boris SimeonovProf. B. SimeonovProf. Simeonov