Paleo-Balkan languages

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The Paleo-Balkan languages or Palaeo-Balkan languages is a grouping of various extinct Indo-European languages that were spoken in the Balkans and surrounding areas in ancient times.

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.

Due to the processes of Hellenization, Romanization and Slavicization in the region, the only modern descendants of Paleo-Balkan languages are Modern Greek—which is descended from Ancient Greek—and Albanian—which evolved from either Illyrian, Thracian, Dacian or another related tongue.[1][2][3]


Albanian in the Paleo-Balkanic branch based on "The Indo-European Language Family" by Brian D. Joseph and Adam Hyllested (2022).

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[citation needed] but this is not confirmed as there are hints of satemization. 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.[23]

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,[24] 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,[25] and a competing hypothesis would exclude Illyrian from a Daco-Thracian grouping in favor of Mysian.[26] The classification of Thracian itself is a matter of contention and uncertainty.

The place of Paeonian remains unclear.[27] 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.[28]

The classification of Ancient Macedonian and its relationship to Greek are also under investigation. Sources suggest that Macedonian is in fact a variation of Doric Greek, but also the possibility of their being related only through the local sprachbund.[29]


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.[15] For more historical and geographical reasons than specifically linguistic ones, the widespread claim is that Albanian is the modern descendant of Illyrian, spoken in much the same region in classical times. Alternative hypotheses hold that Albanian may have descended from Thracian or Daco-Moesian, other ancient languages spoken farther east than Illyrian.[2][3][30] Not enough is known of these languages to completely prove or disprove the various hypotheses.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Simmons, Austin; Jonathan Slocum. "Indo-European Languages: Balkan Group: Albanian". Linguistics Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin. Archived from the original on 16 September 2012. Retrieved 8 September 2012.
  2. ^ a b Fortson IV 2011, p. 446.
  3. ^ a b Villar 1996, pp. 313–314.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ a b c d De Simone 2017, p. 1868.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Matzinger 2015, pp. 65–66.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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 [...]
  10. ^ Georgiev, Vladimir Ivanov (1977). Trakite i technijat ezik [Thacian and their Languages] (in Bulgarian). Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. p. 282.
  11. ^ Price, Glanville (2000). Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-22039-9., p. 120
  12. ^ Orel, Vladimir (2000). A Concise Historical Grammar of the Albanian Language: Reconstruction of Proto-Albanian. Brill. p. 12. ISBN 978-90-04-11647-4.
  13. ^ Matasović, Ranko (2019). A Grammatical Sketch of Albanian for Students of Indo European (PDF). Zagreb. p. 39.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  14. ^ Matzinger 2017, p. 1790.
  15. ^ a b Katicic 2012, p. 184: "And yet we know that it is the continuation of a language spoken in the Balkans already in ancient times. This has been proved by the fact that there are Ancient Greek loan words in Albanian".
  16. ^ Hamp 1963, p. 104.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Blažek 2005.
  19. ^ Brixhe 2017, p. 1863.
  20. ^ Philipp Strazny ed., Encyclopedia of Linguistics, Routledge, 2013, ISBN 1135455228, p. 116.
  21. ^ Olga M. Tomic, Balkan Sprachbund Morpho-Syntactic Features, Volume 67, Springer, 2006, ISBN 1402044887, p. 38.
  22. ^ I. M. Diakonoff The Problem of the Mushki Archived August 25, 2011, at the Wayback Machine in The Prehistory of the Armenian People
  23. ^ West, M. L. (2007-05-24). Indo-European Poetry and Myth. OUP Oxford. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-19-928075-9.
  24. ^ 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...."
  25. ^ 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."
  26. ^ Vladimir Georgiev (1960), Raporturile dintre limbile dacă, tracă şi frigiană, "Studii Clasice" Journal, II, 1960, 39–58.
  27. ^ "Paeonia | historical region". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-05-03.
  28. ^ Brixhe, Cl. "Le Phrygien". In Fr. Bader (ed.), Langues indo-européennes, pp. 165–178, Paris: CNRS Editions.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ Katicic 2012, pp. 184–188.
  31. ^ Mallory & Adams 1997, p. 9


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.