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Paleo-European languages

The Paleo-European languages, or Old European languages, are the mostly-unknown languages that were spoken in Europe prior to the spread of the Indo-European and the Uralic families caused by the Bronze Age invasion from the Eurasian steppe of pastoralists whose descendant languages dominate the continent today.[1]

The term Old European languages is also often used more narrowly, to refer only to the unknown languages of the first Neolithic European farmers in Southern, Western and Central Europe and the Balkan Peninsula, who emigrated from Anatolia and the Levant around 9000–6000 BC, excluding unknown languages of various European hunter gatherers (who were made extinct by or highly mixed with farming populations by the Bronze Age).

A similar term, Pre-Indo-European, is used to refer to the disparate languages mostly displaced by speakers of Proto-Indo-European as they migrated out of the Urheimat. This term thus includes certain Paleo-European languages along with many others spoken in the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia before the Proto-Indo-Europeans and their descendants arrived.

Traces of lost Paleo-European languagesEdit

The prehistoric Neanderthal languages, Paleolithic and Mesolithic modern human hunter-gatherer Paleo-European languages and Neolithic Antolian and European farmer languages are not attested in writing (but see Old European script for a set of undeciphered signs that were used in the Vinča culture, which may or may not have been a writing system). Our only sources for some of them are place names and especially river names that are found all over central and western Europe, and possibly loanwords in some Indo-European languages now spoken there.

Attested Paleo-European languages and reconstructed substratesEdit

Paleohispanic languagesEdit

  • Basque (Euskara) – the only surviving language that could possibly qualify as a pre-IE "Old European" Iberian farmer language.
  • Aquitanian – A close relative to, or a direct ancestor, of Modern Basque.
  • Iberian – Perhaps a relative to Aquitanian and Basque: maybe even ancestral to both, but not confirmed.
  • Tartessian – Unclassified: possibly related to Iberian, if not related to Indo-European.

Other Paleohispanic languages can only be identified indirectly through toponyms, anthroponyms or theonyms cited by Roman and Greek sources. Most inscriptions were found written in the Phoenician or Greek alphabets. Little or no evidence of Paleo-alphabets or hieroglyphics is found today; the little material that exists is mostly incompatible[with what?] and indecipherable.

Paleo-European (Old European) languages of ItalyEdit

Paleo-European languages of the Aegean areaEdit

North EuropeEdit


Sometimes Caucasian languages are also included in Paleo-European, but the Caucasus region is often considered to be in Asia, at least partly, depending on the definition of the Europe–Asia border used.[citation needed]


There is no direct evidence of the languages spoken in the Neolithic. Paleolinguistic attempts to extend the methods of historical linguistics to the Stone Age have little academic support. Donald Ringe, criticizing scenarios that envision only a small number of Neolithic language families spread over huge areas of Europe, has argued on general principles of language geography applying to "tribal" pre-state societies, and the scant remains of non-Indo-European languages attested in ancient inscriptions, that Neolithic Europe must have been a place of great linguistic diversity, with many language families having no recoverable linguistic links to one another, much like western North America before European colonisation.[2]

Discussion of hypothetical languages spoken in the European Neolithic is divided into two topics: Indo-European languages and "Pre-Indo-European" languages.

Early Indo-European languages are usually assumed to have reached Europe in the Chalcolithic or early Bronze Age, with the Yamnaya, Corded Ware or Beaker cultures (see also Kurgan hypothesis for related discussions). The Anatolian hypothesis postulates arrival of Indo-European languages with the early Neolithic. Old European hydronymy is taken by Hans Krahe to be the oldest reflection of the early presence of Indo-European in Europe.

Theories of "Pre-Indo-European" languages in Europe are built on scant evidence. Basque is the best candidate for a descendant of such a language, but since Basque is a language isolate, there is no comparative evidence to build upon. Vennemann nevertheless postulates a "Vasconic" family, which he supposes had co-existed with an "Atlantic" or "Semitidic" (i. e., para-Semitic) group. The theory, however, is rejected by mainstream linguists. Another candidate is the Tyrrhenian languages, which would have given rise to Etruscan and Raetic in the Iron Age and possibly also Aegean languages such as Minoan or Pelasgian in the Bronze Age.

In the north, a similar scenario to Indo-European is thought to have occurred, with Uralic languages expanding in from the east. In particular, while the Sami languages of the indigenous Sami people belong in the Uralic family, they show considerable substrate influence, which is thought to represent one or more extinct older languages. The ancestors of Sami are estimated to have adopted a Uralic language less than 2500 years ago.[3] Some traces of indigenous languages of the Baltic area have been suspected in the Finnic languages as well, but they are much more modest. There are early loanwords from unidentified non-Indo-European languages in other Uralic languages of Europe, as well.[4]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Story of most murderous people of all time revealed in ancient DNA | New Scientist".
  2. ^ Ringe 2009.
  3. ^ Aikio 2004.
  4. ^ Häkkinen 2012.