Open main menu

The Paleo-Balkan languages are the various extinct Indo-European languages that were spoken in the Balkans in ancient times. Hellenization, Romanization and Slavicization in the region caused their only modern descendants to be Modern Greek, which is descended from Ancient Greek, and Albanian,[1] which evolved from either Illyrian, Thracian, Dacian or another similar tongue.[2][3][4]


Besides Ancient Greek, the following Indo-European languages were spoken on the Balkan Peninsula in ancient times:

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 because 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. For example, during the 2000s the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts promoted the fallacy that the "Demotic Egyptian" script on the Rosetta stone was written in an early Slavic language, close to the modern Macedonian, and this was the original language of the Ancient Macedonians.[7][8][9]

Subgrouping hypothesesEdit

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.

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,[10] 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,[11] and a competing hypothesis would exclude Illyrian from a Daco-Thracian grouping in favor of Mysian.[12] The classification of Thracian itself is a matter of contention and uncertainty.

The place of Paeonian remains unclear.[13] 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.[14]

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


Modern studies[16][17][18] show that assertions about the proximity of Greek and Phrygian (Mushks) with Armenian are not confirmed in the language material. New comparative studies show that the Armenian language is as close to Indo-Iranian as it is to Greek and Phrygian.[19].


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.[1] 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.[3][4][20] Not enough is known of these languages to completely prove or disprove the various hypotheses.[21]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ 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".
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ a b Fortson IV 2011, p. 446.
  4. ^ a b Villar 1996, pp. 313-314.
  5. ^ Philipp Strazny ed., Encyclopedia of Linguistics, Routledge, 2013, ISBN 1135455228, p. 116.
  6. ^ Olga M. Tomic, Balkan Sprachbund Morpho-Syntactic Features, Volume 67, Springer, 2006, ISBN 1402044887, p. 38.
  7. ^ Tome Boshevski, Aristotel Tentov, "Tracing the script of the Ancient Macedonians", presenting the results of research realized within the project 'Deciphering the Middle Text of the Rosetta Stone', supported by Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, 2003 – 2005.
  8. ^ Tome Boševski, Aristotel Tentov, Rosetta Stone - The Monument of Ancient Macedonian Pre-Slavic Script and Language. This paper presents the results of research realized within the project "Deciphering the Middle Text of the Rosetta Stone", supported by Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, 2003 – 2005.
  9. ^ Comparative analysis of the results of deciphering the middle text on the Rosetta stone, Tome Boševski, Aristotel Tentov, MANU, Vol 31, No 1-2 (2010) DOI:
  10. ^ 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...."
  11. ^ 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."
  12. ^ Vladimir Georgiev (1960), Raporturile dintre limbile dacă, tracă şi frigiană, "Studii Clasice" Journal, II, 1960, 39-58.
  13. ^ Paeonia
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Brixhe, Cl. "Le Phrygien". In Fr. Bader (ed.), Langues indo-européennes, pp. 165-178, Paris: CNRS Editions.
  16. ^ Vavroušek P. (2010). "Frýžština". Jazyky starého Orientu. Praha: Univerzita Karlova v Praze. p. 129. ISBN 978-80-7308-312-0.
  17. ^ J. P. Mallory, Douglas Q. Adams. (1997). Encyclopedia of Indo-European culture. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. p. 419. ISBN 9781884964985.
  18. ^ Brixhe C. (2008). "Phrygian". The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 72.
  19. ^ Kim Ronald I. Greco-Armenian. The persistence of a myth // Indogermanische Forschungen. — 2018. — 123. Band. — S. 247–271.
  20. ^ Katicic 2012, pp. 184-188.
  21. ^ Mallory & Adams 1997, p. 9