The Paleo-Balkan languages are the various extinct Indo-European languages that were spoken in the Balkans in ancient times. Hellenization, Romanization, Slavicization and Turkification in the region caused their only modern descendants to be Modern Greek and Albanian, which are descended from Ancient Greek and one of the Thraco-Illyrian languages, respectively.
Ancient Greek and Roman writers report that the following languages were spoken on the Balkan Peninsula:
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.
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. 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, 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, and a competing hypothesis would exclude Illyrian from a Daco-Thracian grouping in favor of Mysian. The classification of Thracian itself is a matter of contention and uncertainty.
The place of Paeonian remains unclear. 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.
The Albanian language is one of the three modern languages which constitute independent branches of the Indo-European language family (two others are Armenian and Greek). It is considered by current linguistic consensus to have developed from one of the non-Greek, ancient Indo-European languages of the region. Some historians believe it is derived from ancient Illyrian, others hold that it has its roots in the ancient Thracian tongue.
- 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.
- 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...."
- 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."
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