Paleo-Balkan languages

Last updated

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 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]


Subgrouping hypotheses

Paleo-Balkan languages between the 5th and 1st century BC. The Venetic language is generally considered to be Italic. Paleo-Balkan languages in Eastern Europe between 5th and 1st century BC.png
Paleo-Balkan languages between the 5th and 1st century BC. The Venetic language is generally considered to be Italic.

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. [24]

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, [25] 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, [26] and a competing hypothesis would exclude Illyrian from a Daco-Thracian grouping in favor of Mysian. [27] The classification of Thracian itself is a matter of contention and uncertainty.

The place of Paeonian remains unclear. [28] 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. [29]

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. [30]


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] [31] Not enough is known of these languages to completely prove or disprove the various hypotheses. [32]

See also



  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. 1 2 Fortson IV 2011, p. 446.
  3. 1 2 Villar 1996, pp. 313-314.
  4. 1 2 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. 1 2 3 4 De Simone 2017, p. 1868.
  6. 1 2 3 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.
  14. Matzinger 2017, p. 1790.
  15. 1 2 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. de Melo, Wolfgang David Cirilo (2007). "The sigmatic future and the genetic affiliation of Venetic: Latin faxō "I shall make" and Venetic "he made"". Transactions of the Philological Society. 105 (105): 1–21. doi:10.1111/j.1467-968X.2007.00172.x.
  24. West, M. L. (2007-05-24). Indo-European Poetry and Myth. OUP Oxford. p. 15. ISBN   978-0-19-928075-9.
  25. 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...."
  26. 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."
  27. Vladimir Georgiev (1960), Raporturile dintre limbile dacă, tracă şi frigiană, "Studii Clasice" Journal, II, 1960, 39-58.
  28. "Paeonia | historical region". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-05-03.
  29. Brixhe, Cl. "Le Phrygien". In Fr. Bader (ed.), Langues indo-européennes, pp. 165-178, Paris: CNRS Editions.
  30. 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.
  31. Katicic 2012, pp. 184-188.
  32. Mallory & Adams 1997 , p. 9


Related Research Articles

Italic languages Subfamily of the Indo-European language family spoken by Italic peoples

The Italic languages form a branch of the Indo-European language family, whose earliest known members were spoken in the Italian Peninsula in the first millennium BC. The best known of them is Latin, the official language of ancient Rome, which conquered the other Italic peoples before the common era. The other Italic languages became extinct in the first centuries AD as their speakers were assimilated into the Roman Empire and shifted to some form of Latin. Between the third and eighth centuries AD, Vulgar Latin diversified into the Romance languages, which are the only Italic languages natively spoken today.

Dacian language Extinct Indo-European language

Dacian is an extinct language, generally believed to be Indo-European, that was spoken in the Carpathian region in antiquity. In the 1st century, it was probably the predominant language of the ancient regions of Dacia and Moesia and possibly of some surrounding regions. The language was probably extinct by the 7th century AD.

Illyrians Ancient Western Balkanic tribes

The Illyrians were a group of Indo-European tribes, who inhabited the western Balkan Peninsula in ancient times. They constituted one of the three main Paleo-Balkan populations in the Balkans, along with the Thracians and Greeks.

Thracian language Extinct Indo-European language

The Thracian language is an extinct and poorly attested language, spoken in ancient times in Southeast Europe by the Thracians. The linguistic affinities of the Thracian language are poorly understood, but it is generally agreed that it was an Indo-European language with satem features.

Phrygian language Dialect of Indo-European language spoken by the Phrygians

The Phrygian language was the Indo-European language of the Phrygians, spoken in Anatolia, during classical antiquity.

Messapic language Extinct Indo-European language

Messapic is an extinct Indo-European language of the southeastern Italian Peninsula, once spoken in Apulia by the three Iapygian tribes of the region: the Messapians, the Peucetians and the Daunians. Messapic became extinct following the Roman conquest of the region. It has been preserved in about 600 inscriptions written in an alphabet derived from a Western Greek model and dating from the mid-6th to at least the 2nd century BC.

This is a list of languages spoken in regions ruled by Balkan countries. With the exception of several Turkic languages, all of them belong to the Indo-European family. A subset of these languages is notable for forming a well-studied sprachbund, a group of languages that have developed some striking structural similarities over time.

The origin of the Albanians has long been a matter of debate within scholarship. The Albanians first appear in the historical record in Byzantine sources of the 11th century. At this point, they were already fully Christianized. The Albanian language forms a separate branch of Indo-European, first attested in the 15th century, and is considered to have evolved from one of the Paleo-Balkan languages of antiquity. The surviving pre-Christian Albanian culture shows that Albanian mythology and folklore are of Paleo-Balkanic origin and that almost all of their elements are pagan.

Paeonian language Extinct Indo-European language

Paeonian, sometimes spelled Paionian, is a poorly attested, extinct language spoken by the ancient Paeonians until late antiquity.

Thraco-Illyrian is a hypothesis that the Daco-Thracian and Illyrian languages comprise a distinct branch of Indo-European. Thraco-Illyrian is also used as a term merely implying a Thracian-Illyrian interference, mixture or sprachbund, or as a shorthand way of saying that it is not determined whether a subject is to be considered as pertaining to Thracian or Illyrian. Downgraded to a geo-linguistic concept, these languages are referred to as Paleo-Balkan.

The linguistic classification of the ancient Thracian language has long been a matter of contention and uncertainty, and there are widely varying hypotheses regarding its position among other Paleo-Balkan languages. It is not contested, however, that the Thracian languages were Indo-European languages which had acquired satem characteristics by the time they are attested.

Illyrian religion refers to the religious beliefs and practices of the Illyrian peoples, a group of tribes who spoke the Illyrian languages and inhabited part of the western Balkan Peninsula since at least the 8th century BC and until the 7th century AD. The available written sources are very tenuous. They consist largely of personal and place names, and a few glosses from Classical sources.

Illyrian language Ancient language in Southeast Europe

The Illyrian language was a language or group of languages spoken in the western Balkans in Southeast Europe during antiquity. The language is unattested with the exception of personal names and placenames. Just enough information can be drawn from these to allow the conclusion that it belonged to the Indo-European language family.

Graeco-Phrygian is a proposed subgroup of the Indo-European language family which comprises Greek and Phrygian.


Paeonians were an ancient Indo-European people that dwelt in Paeonia. Paeonia was an old country whose location was to the north of ancient Macedonia, to the south of Dardania, to the west of Thrace and to the east of Illyria, most of their land was in the Axios river basin, roughly in what is today North Macedonia.