Paleo-Balkan languages

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The Paleo-Balkan languages are the various extinct Indo-European languages that were spoken in the Balkans in ancient times. Due to Hellenization, Turkicisation, Romanization, and Slavicization in the region, their only modern descendants are Modern Greek and Albanian, which are descended from Ancient Greek and one of the Thraco-Illyrian languages, respectively. [1]


Ancient Greek and Roman writers report that the following languages were spoken on the Balkan Peninsula :[2]

Although these languages are all members of the Indo-European language family, the relationships between them are unknown. Classification of the languages spoken in the region is severely hampered by the fact that they are all scantily attested. Furthermore, many of the individuals who have published studies on these languages have had strong patriotic or nationalistic interests, which may compromise the scholarly value of their work.

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 Illyrian languages are often considered to be centum dialects.[3] Today, the main source of authoritative 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.

A grouping of Illyrian with Messapian has been proposed for about a century, but remains an unproven hypothesis. 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.

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,[4][5] 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,[6] and a competing hypothesis would exclude Illyrian from a Daco-Thracian grouping in favor of Mysian.[7] The classification of Thracian itself is a matter of contention and uncertainty.

The place of Paeonian remains unclear.[8] Not much has been determined in the study of Paeonian, and some linguists do not recognize a Paeonian area separate from Illyrian or Thracian. The classification of Ancient Macedonian and its relationship to Greek are also under investigation, with solid sources pointing that Ancient Macedonian is in fact a variation of Doric Greek, but also the possibility of being only related through the local sprachbund.[9][10][11][12][13]

Phrygian, on the other hand, is considered to have been most likely closely related to Greek.[14][15]


The Albanian language is considered by current linguistic consensus to have developed from one of the non-Greek, ancient Indo-European languages of the region, but attempts to connect it to a specific language are still controversial (see Origin of the Albanians).[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Simmons, Austin; Jonathan Slocum. "Indo-European Languages: Balkan Group: Albanian". Linguistics Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 8 September 2012. 
  2. ^ Carlos Quiles, Fernando López-Menchero (2009). Carlos Quiles, Fernando López-Menchero. Indo-European Association. pp. 90–98. ISBN 9781448682065. 
  3. ^ A Grammar of Modern Indo-European by Carlos Quiles,ISBN 8461176391,2007, p. 77,"The Illyrian languages are generally but not unanimously reckoned as centum dialects"
  4. ^ 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...."
  5. ^ Wilkes, J. J. The Illyrians, 1992,ISBN 0631198075, p. 81,".... " In Roman Pannonia the Latobici and Varciani who dwelt east of the Venetic Catari in the upper Sava valley were Celtic but the Colapiani of the Colapis (Kulpa) valley were Illyrians,..."
  6. ^ 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."
  7. ^ Vladimir Georgiev (1960), Raporturile dintre limbile dacă, tracă şi frigiană, "Studii Clasice" Journal, II, 1960, 39-58.
  8. ^ Paeonia
  9. ^ Paliga (2002) states: "It is therefore difficult to say whether the ancient Macedonians spoke an idiom closer to Thracian, Illyrian, Greek or a specific idiom."
  10. ^ Masson, Olivier (2003) [1996]. "[Ancient] Macedonian language". In Hornblower, S. and Spawforth A. (eds.). The Oxford Classical Dictionary (revised 3rd ed.). USA: Oxford University Press. pp. 905–906. ISBN 0-19-860641-9. 
  11. ^ Hammond, N.G.L (1993) [1989]. The Macedonian State. Origins, Institutions and History (reprint ed.). USA: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-814927-1. 
  12. ^ Michael Meier-Brügger, Indo-European linguistics, Walter de Gruyter, 2003, p.28,on Google books
  13. ^ Roisman, Worthington, 2010, "A Companion to Ancient Macedonia", Chapter 5: Johannes Engels, "Macedonians and Greeks", p. 95:"This (i.e. Pella curse tablet) has been judged to be the most important ancient testimony to substantiate that Macedonian was a north-western Greek and mainly a Doric dialect".
  14. ^ Brixhe, Cl. "Le Phrygien". In Fr. Bader (ed.), Langues indo-européennes, pp. 165-178, Paris: CNRS Editions.
  15. ^ Woodard, Roger D. The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor. Cambridge University Press, 2008, ISBN 0-521-68496-X, p. 72. "Unquestionably, however, Phrygian is most closely linked with Greek."
  16. ^ Alföldy, Geza (1964). "Die Namengebung der Urbevölkerung in der römischen Provinz Dalmatia." (Heidelberge) Beiträge zur Namenforschung 15.55-104; Duridanov, Ivan (1976). Ezikyt na trakite. Sofia: Nauka i izkustvo; Hamp, Eric P. (1957). "Albanian and Messapic." Studies Presented to Joshua Whatmough 73-89. La Haye: Mouton; Hamp, Eric P. (1966). "The position of Albanian." In: Birnbaum, Henrik & Jaan Puhvel (1966). Ancient Indo-European dialects: proceedings. Berkeley: University of California Press; Katičić, Radoslav (1964). "Namengebiete im römischen Dalmatian." Die Sprache 10.23-33; Katičić, Radoslav (1976). Ancient Languages of the Balkans. La Haye: Mouton, 2 vol; Krahe, Hans (1925). Die alten balkanillyrischen geographischen Namen. Heidelberg; Winter; Hans Krahe|Krahe, Hans (1929) Lexikon altillyrischen Personennamen. Heidelberg: Winter; Krahe, Hans (1955). Die Sprache der Illyrier, vol. 1. Wiesbaden: Winter; Kronasser, Heinz (1962). "Zum Stand der Illyristik." Linguistique Balkanique, 4:5-23; Kronasser, Heinz (1965). "Illyrer und Illyricum." Die Sprache 11.155-183; Neroznak, Vladimir Petrovich (1978). Paleobalkanskie jazyki. Moskva: Nauka; Paliga, Sorin (2002). "Pre-Slavic and Pre-Romance Place-Names in Southeast Europe." Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress of Thracology. Sofia: Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, vol. 1, pp. 219–229; version intégrale: Orpheus 11–12.85–132; Pollo, Stefan & Alex Buda (1969). Historia e popullit shqiptar. Prishtina, 2 vols.; Pollo, Stefan & Arben Puto (1974). Histoire de l’Albanie: des origines à nos jours. Lyon: Horvath; Polomé, Edgar C. (1982). "Balkan Languages: Illyrian, Thracian and Daco-Moesian." In: Boardman, Edwards et al. (1982). The Prehistory of the Balkans; and the Middle East and the Aegean world, tenth to eighth centuries B.C. London: Cambridge University Press, The Cambridge Ancient History, 2nd ed., vol. 3, part 1, pp. 866-888; Schwandner-Sievers, Stéphanie et al. (2002). Albanian identities: Myth and history. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Chapitres notamment par Noel Malcolm, George Schöpflin et Ger Duijzings; Simone, Carlo de (1964). Die messapischen Inschriften und ihre Chronologie. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz ('Die Sprache der Illyrier, vol. II); Rădulescu, Mircea-Mihai (1984). "Illyrian, Thracian, Daco-Mysian, the substratum of Romanian and Albanian." Journal of Indo-European Studies 12.77-131; Rădulescu, Mircea-Mihai (1987). "The Indo-European position of Illyrian, Daco-Mysian and Thracian: A historica-methodological approach." Journal of Indo-European Studies 15.239-271; Rădulescu, Mircea-Mihai (1994). "The Indo-European position of Messapic." Journal of Indo-European Studies 22.329-344; Untermann, Jürgen (1964). Die messapischen Personennamen. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz (Die Sprache der Illyrier, vol. II); Untermann, Jürgen (2001). Die vorrömischen Sprachen der iberischen Halbinsel: Wege und Aporien bei ihrer Entzifferung. Wiesbaden: Westdt. Verlag; Watkins, Calvert (1998). "The Indo-European linguistic family: genetic and typological perspectives". In: Giacalone Ramat, Anna & Paolo Ramat, eds (1998). The Indo-European languages. London: Routledge; Wilkes, John (1992). The Peoples of Europe: The Illyrians. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.


  • Crossland, R.A.; Boardman, John (1982). "Linguistic problems of the Balkan area in the late prehistoric and early Classical period" in The Cambridge Ancient History Volume 3, Part 1. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-22496-3. 
  • Polomé, Edgar Charles (1982). "Balkan Languages (Illyrian, Thracian and Daco-Moesian)". Cambridge Ancient History. III.1. pp. 866–888. 

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