Paleo-Balkan languages

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The Paleo-Balkan languages are a geographical grouping of various Indo-European languages that were spoken in the Balkans and surrounding areas in ancient times. In antiquity, Dacian, Greek, Illyrian, Messapic, Paeonian, Phrygian and Thracian were the Paleo-Balkan languages which were attested in literature. They may have included other unattested languages.

Paleo-Balkan studies are obscured by the scarce attestation of these languages outside of Ancient Greek and, to a lesser extent, Messapic and Phrygian. Although linguists consider each of them to be a member of the Indo-European family of languages, the internal relationships are still debated. A Palaeo-Balkanic or Balkanic Indo-European branch has been proposed in recent research, comprising the Albanoid or Illyric (Albanian-Messapic), Armenian, and Graeco-Phrygian (Hellenic-Phrygian) subbranches.

Due to the processes of Hellenization, Romanization and Slavicization in the region, the only surviving representatives of the ancient languages of the Balkans are Greek and Albanian. The Albanian language evolved from either Illyrian, often supported for obvious geographic and historical reasons as well as for some linguistic evidence,[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8] or an unmentioned language that was closely related to Illyrian and Messapic.[9][10][11][12]


Subgrouping hypotheses[edit]

Illyrian is a group of reputedly Indo-European languages whose relationship to other Indo-European languages as well as to the languages of the Paleo-Balkan group, many of which might be offshoots of Illyrian, is poorly understood due to the paucity of data and is still being examined. The centum or satem character of Illyrian is difficult to detect due to the paucity of the available 'Illyrian' linguistic material and to the dual nature of its interpretation. Today, the only source of information about the Illyrian language consists of a handful of Illyrian words cited in classical sources, and numerous examples of Illyrian anthroponyms, ethnonyms, toponyms and hydronyms.[30]

Messapian was spoken on the Italian peninsula, but is generally regarded an offshoot from the Paleo-Balkan language area. A grouping of Messapian with Illyrian has been proposed for about a century, but remains an unproven hypothesis due to the fragmentary attestation of Illyrian. The theory is based on classical sources, archaeology, as well as onomastic considerations. Messapian material culture bears a number of similarities to Illyrian material culture. Some Messapian anthroponyms have close Illyrian equivalents.[31]

A grouping of Illyrian with Venetic and Liburnian, once spoken in northeastern Italy and Liburnia respectively, is also proposed. The consensus now is that Illyrian was quite distinct from Venetic and Liburnian,[32] but a close linguistic relation has not been ruled out and is still being investigated.

Another hypothesis would group Illyrian with Dacian and Thracian into a Thraco-Illyrian branch,[33] and a competing hypothesis would exclude Illyrian from a Daco-Thracian grouping in favor of Mysian.[34] The classification of Thracian itself is a matter of contention and uncertainty.

The place of Paeonian remains unclear.[35] Not much has been determined in the study of Paeonian, and some linguists do not recognize a Paeonian area separate from Illyrian or Thracian. Phrygian, on the other hand, is considered to have been most likely a close relative of Greek.[36]

The classification of Ancient Macedonian and its relationship to Greek is also under investigation. Sources suggest that Macedonian is in fact a variation of Doric Greek, or alternatively a closely related sister language grouped together with Greek in a family called Hellenic.[37][38][39]

Balkanic Indo-European[edit]

The Palaeo-Balkanic Indo-European branch based on the chapters "Albanian" (Hyllested & Joseph 2022) and "Armenian" (Olsen & Thorsø 2022) in Olander (ed.) The Indo-European Language Family

While "Paleo-Balkan" languages are conventionally understood as a linguistic areal grouping, in recent historical linguistic research scholars propose a distinct "Balkanic" (or "Paleo-Balkanic") Indo-European branch based on shared Indo-European morphological, lexical, and phonetic innovations, as well as shared lexical proto-forms from a common pre-Indo-European substratum.[40] The Balkanic subgroup comprises three branches of modern and well-attested ancient languages, viz. Armenian, Graeco-Phrygian (= Greek + Phrygian) and "Illyric" (= Albanian + Messapian).[41] Some scholars further propose that innovations exclusively shared by Greek and Albanian point to a closer link between the latter two branches, which can thus be unified to a "Graeco-Albanian" branch.[42][43]

Shared innovations include the first person singular mediopassive ending *-mai, and lexical innovations such as *ai̯ĝ- 'goat', dʰeh1s- 'god'.[44][45] The word for "goat" is a remarkable common proto-form of non-Indo-European origin exclusively shared between Albanian, Armenian, and Greek. It could have been borrowed at a pre-stage that was common to these languages from a pre-Indo-European substrate language that in turn had loaned the word from a third source, from which the pre-IE substrate of the proto-form that is shared between Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian could also have borrowed it. Hence it can be viewed as an old cultural word, which was slowly transmitted to two different pre-Indo-European substrate languages, and then independently adopted by two groups of Indo-European speakers, reflecting a post-Proto-Indo-European linguistic and geographic separation between a Balkan group consisting of Albanian, Armenian, and Greek, and a group to the North of the Black Sea consisting of Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian.[46][47] Innovative creations of agricultural terms shared only between Albanian and Greek were formed from non-agricultural PIE roots through semantic changes to adapt them for agriculture. Since they are limited only to Albanian and Greek, they could be traced back with certainty only to their last common IE ancestor, and not projected back into Proto-Indo-European.[48]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Friedman 2022, pp. 189–231: "On the other hand, there is some evidence to argue that Albanian is descended from the Illyrian complex."
  2. ^ Coretta et al. 2022, p. 1122: "Though the origin of the language has been debated, the prevailing opinion in the literature is that it is a descendant of Illyrian (Hetzer 1995)."
  3. ^ Matasović 2019, p. 5: "Much has been written about the origin of the Albanian language. The most probable predecessor of Albanian was Illyrian, since much of the present-day Albania was inhabited by the Illyrians during the Antiquity, but the comparison of the two languages is impossible because almost nothing is known about Illyrian, despite the fact that two handbooks of that language have been published (by Hans Krahe and Anton Mayer)... examination of personal names and toponyms from Illyricum shows that several onomastic areas can be distinguished, and these onomastic areas just might correspond to different languages spoken in ancient Illyricum. If Illyrians actually spoke several different languages, the question arises -from which 'Illyrian' language did Albanian develop, and that question cannot be answered until new data are discovered.The single "Illyrian" gloss preserved in Greek (rhínon 'fog') may have the reflex in Alb. (Gheg) re͂ 'cloud' (Tosk re)< PAlb. *ren-."
  4. ^ Parpola 2012, p. 131: "The poorly attested Illyrian was in antiquity an important Indo-European language in the Balkans, and it is widely believed to survive in the Albanian language (cf. Mallory 1989: 73–76; Fortson 2004: 405–406 and 390)."
  5. ^ Beekes 2011, p. 25: "It is often thought (for obvious geographic reasons) that Albanian descends from ancient Illyrian (see above), but this cannot be ascertained as we know next to nothing about Illyrian itself."
  6. ^ Fortson 2010, p. 446: "Albanian forms its own separate branch of Indo-European; it is the last branch to appear in written records. This is one of the reasons why its origins are shrouded in mystery and controversy. The widespread assertion that it is the modern–day descendant of Illyrian, spoken in much the same region during classical times ([...]), makes geographic and historical sense but is linguistically untestable since we know so little about Illyrian."
  7. ^ Holst 2009, p. 65–66: ""Illyrisch" möchte ich nicht klassifizieren, da hierüber nicht einmal klar ist, ob es sich tatsächlich um eine Sprache handelt und nicht Ma-terial aus mehreren Sprachen, die auf albanischem Boden Spuren hinterlassen haben. Falls man jedoch Illyrisch als die Vorläufersprache des Albanischen definiert (wofür einiges spricht), ist Illyrisch automatisch im Zweig des Albani-schen enthalten." ["I don't want to classify "Illyrian" because it is not even clear whether it is actually one language and not material from several languages that have left traces on Albanian soil. However, if Illyrian is defined as the precursor language to Albanian (which there is some evidence for), Illyrian is automatically included in the branch of Albanian."]
  8. ^ Mallory & Adams 1997, p. 11: "Although there are some lexical items that appear to be shared between Romanian (and by extension Dacian) and Albanian, by far the strongest connections can be argued between Albanian and Illyrian. The latter was at least attested in what is historically regarded as Albanian territory and there is no evidence of any major migration into Albanian territory since our records of Illyrian occupation. The loan words from Greek and Latin date back to before the Christian era and suggest that the ancestors of the Albanians must have occupied Albania by then to have absorbed such loans from their histori-cal neighbors. As the Illyrians occupied Albanian territory at this time, they are the most likely recipients of such loans."
  9. ^ Friedman 2020, p. 388.
  10. ^ Matzinger 2017, p. 1790.
  11. ^ Ismajli 2015, p. 45.
  12. ^ Hamp & Adams 2013, p. 8.
  13. ^ a b Giannakis, Georgios; Crespo, Emilio; Filos, Panagiotis (2017-12-18). Studies in Ancient Greek Dialects: From Central Greece to the Black Sea. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. p. 8. ISBN 978-3-11-053213-5.
  14. ^ Filos 2023, pp. 86–88; Hyllested & Joseph 2022, p. 235; Friedman 2022; Coretta et al. 2022, p. 1122; Demiraj 2020, p. 33; Friedman 2020, p. 388; Majer 2019, p. 258; Matasović 2019, p. 5; Trumper 2018, pp. 383–386; Yntema 2017, p. 337; Matzinger 2017, p. 1790; Ismajli 2015, pp. 36–38, 45; Hamp & Adams 2013, p. 8; Parpola 2012, p. 131; Holst 2009, p. 65–66; Schaller 2008, p. 27; Demiraj 2004, pp. 58–59; Mallory & Adams 1997, p. 11; Huld 1986, pp. 245–250; Huld 1984, p. 158.
  15. ^ Hyllested & Joseph 2022, p. 235.
  16. ^ Matzinger 2015, pp. 65–66.
  17. ^ a b c d De Simone 2017, p. 1868.
  18. ^ a b c Beekes, Robert S. P. (2011). Comparative Indo-European Linguistics: An Introduction. John Benjamins Publishing. p. 24. ISBN 978-90-272-1185-9.
  19. ^ Friedman 2022.
  20. ^ Edwards, I. E. S.; Gadd, C. J.; Hammond, N. G. L. (1970). Cambridge ancient history. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press. p. 840. ISBN 978-0-521-07791-0.
  21. ^ Boardman, John; Edwards, I. E. S.; Hammond, N. G. L.; Sollberger, E. (1970). The Cambridge Ancient History. Cambridge University Press. pp. 876. ISBN 978-0-521-22496-3. Such a lexical difference would, however, be hardly enough evidence to separate Daco-Moesian from Thracian [...]
  22. ^ Georgiev, Vladimir Ivanov (1977). Trakite i technijat ezik [Thacian and their Languages] (in Bulgarian). Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. p. 282.
  23. ^ Price, Glanville (2000). Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-22039-9., p. 120
  24. ^ Brixhe, Claude (2002). "Interactions between Greek and Phrygian under the Roman Empire". In Adams, J. N.; Janse, M.; Swaine, S. (eds.). Bilingualism in Ancient Society: Language Contact and the Written Text. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-924506-2.
  25. ^ Blažek 2005.
  26. ^ Brixhe 2017, p. 1863.
  27. ^ Philipp Strazny ed., Encyclopedia of Linguistics, Routledge, 2013, ISBN 1135455228, p. 116.
  28. ^ Olga M. Tomic, Balkan Sprachbund Morpho-Syntactic Features, Volume 67, Springer, 2006, ISBN 1402044887, p. 38.
  29. ^ I. M. Diakonoff The Problem of the Mushki Archived August 25, 2011, at the Wayback Machine in The Prehistory of the Armenian People
  30. ^ West, M. L. (2007-05-24). Indo-European Poetry and Myth. OUP Oxford. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-19-928075-9.
  31. ^ Matzinger, Joachim (2019). Messapisch. Kurzgrammatiken indogermanischer Sprachen und Sprachstufen (in German). Vol. 2. Dr Ludwig Reichert Verlag. pp. 19–20. ISBN 978-3954903986.
  32. ^ Wilkes, J. J. The Illyrians, 1992, ISBN 0631198075, p. 183,"We may begin with the Venetic peoples, Veneti, Carni, Histri and Liburni, whose language set them apart from the rest of the Illyrians...."
  33. ^ Cf. Paglia, Sorin (2002),"Pre-Slavic and Pre-Romance Place-Names in Southeast Europe." 'Proceedings of the 8th International Congress of Thracology', Sofia, Bulgarian Institute of Thracology – Europa Antiqua Foundation – Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, I, 219–229, who states: "According to the available data, we may surmise that Thracian and Illyrian were mutually understandable, e.g. like Czech and Slovak, in one extreme, or like Spanish and Portuguese, at the other."
  34. ^ Vladimir Georgiev (1960), Raporturile dintre limbile dacă, tracă şi frigiană, "Studii Clasice" Journal, II, 1960, 39–58.
  35. ^ "Paeonia | historical region". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-05-03.
  36. ^ Brixhe, Cl. "Le Phrygien". In Fr. Bader (ed.), Langues indo-européennes, pp. 165–178, Paris: CNRS Editions.
  37. ^ Beekes, R.S.P.; de Vaan, M. (2011). Comparative Indo-European Linguistics: An Introduction (in Estonian). John Benjamins Publishing Company. ISBN 978-90-272-1185-9. Retrieved 2024-01-29.
  38. ^ Masson, Olivier (2003) [1996]. "[Ancient] Macedonian language". In Hornblower, S.; Spawforth A. (eds.). The Oxford Classical Dictionary (revised 3rd ed.). USA: Oxford University Press. pp. 905–906. ISBN 0-19-860641-9.
  39. ^ Joseph, Brian D. (2001). "Ancient Greek". In Garry, Jane; Rubino, Carl; Bodomo, Adams B.; Faber, Alice; French, Robert (eds.). Facts about the World's Languages: An Encyclopedia of the World's Major Languages, Past and Present. H. W. Wilson Company. p. 256. ISBN 9780824209704.
  40. ^ Hyllested & Joseph 2022, p. 241; Olsen & Thorsø 2022, p. 209; Thorsø 2019, p. 258; Kroonen 2012, p. 246; Holst 2009, p. 65–66.
  41. ^ Hyllested & Joseph 2022.
  42. ^ Hyllested & Joseph 2022, pp. 231–237.
  43. ^ Holst 2009, p. 65–66.
  44. ^ Olsen, Birgit Anette; Thorsø, Rasmus (2022). "Armenian". In Thomas Olander (ed.). The Indo-European Language Family. Cambridge University Press. p. 202. doi:10.1017/9781108758666.012. ISBN 9781108499798.
  45. ^ Hyllested & Joseph 2022, pp. 237–241.
  46. ^ Thorsø 2019, p. 255.
  47. ^ Kroonen 2012, p. 246.
  48. ^ Kroonen et al. 2022, pp. 11, 26, 28


Further reading[edit]

  • Grbić, Dragana. "Greek, Latin and Palaeo-Balkan Languages in Contact". In: Rhesis International Journal of Linguistics, Philology and Literature Linguistics and Philology 7.1. Atti del Workshop Internazionale “Contact Phenomena Between Greek and Latin and Peripheral Languages in the Mediterranean Area (1200 B.C. – 600 A.D.)” Associazione Culturale Rodopis – Università degli Studi di Cagliari, Dipartimento di Filologia Letteratura e Linguistica, 13–14 aprile 2015, 2016, 7.1, pp. 56–65.