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The Problem of Ancient Minor Languages and Their Origin.
        § 2. Paleobalkan languages

Most of ancient Indo-European languages have already been divided into groups and sub-groups. Most part of them are exactly defined and related to other. The only area where discussions still continue is the problem with the so-called Paleo-Balkan languages.

Greek tribes were among the first to part from common Indo-European people and language. They arrived in Europe, as every scholar knows, in two waves - in XXII-XX and in XIII-XII centuries BC. We do not touch here the question of Indo-European place of origin - that will be done in later issues - we just state that the first Greek tribes came to Aegean peninsula not only from Asia Minor, but mainly from Balkans. The same can be said, and even with more confidence, about Doric people, who invaded Greece with the second wave of settlers. So, since the first Indo-Europeans began to move massively in Europe, Balkan mountains and plains became the region of constant Indo-European migration. There is even a theory (first appeared in the late XIX century authored by Hommel and Benfey) that all Indo-Europeans come from Balkans. And nowadays practically no one doubts that such groups as Greek, Illyric, Italic, Slavic passed through Balkans in their migrations.

Now we know several languages which are not joined in one group yet but are gathered together as Paleobalkan languages. These are: Illyrian, Thracian, Phrygian, Macedonian and some less known or related to any of the above said, e.g. Messapic, Dacian and other languages or dialects.

They are all similar somehow, because all did not go far from Common Proto-Indo-European. But the fact is that we know quite a little about any of them. The only thing we have got from ancient Greek manuscripts (the most valuable is the Hesihios's dictionary) is some words, toponimic terms - names of rivers, hills and settlements, personal names, which are often composed of nouns and adjectives, and rare grammatical forms. All that allows us to say definitely that all of the above mentioned languages are Indo-European (though some scientists still believe Thracian is more unknown than Indo-European). Let us judge for ourselves:

Thracian             English                 Cognates in other IE languages

balio-                  white                     Russian bely (white), Greek jalios (white), Lithuanian balas (white)

eber                     has brought            Latin  ferre (to carry), Old Irish bér- (to carry), Avestan baraiti (carries)

Illyrian                 English                 Cognates

teut-                     people, tribe           Old Irish teutá (people), Oscan touto (people)

metu-                   between, amidst     Slovenian med (amidst), Sanskrit madhyas (middle)

Phrygian             English                 Cognates

kunes                 dogs                       Latin canis (dog), Breton koun (dog)

vedu-                 water                       Hittite watar (water), Russian woda (water), Lithuanian vanduo (water)

Besides, we know some morphological forms and some conjunctions and pronouns which are very important to define a language (how to define an Indo-European language?). For example, both Thracian and Phrygian have similar endings of nominative singular nouns of o-stems: -os / -us. Also the ending of dative singular of o-stem nouns in Phrygian is known: it is -ei, that confirms the Indo-European origin of the language (in Proto-Indo-European it was like -oi / -ei).

Macedonian is much more problematic. First of all, this language was assimilated by Greek very soon after it was somehow depicted by Hesihios. We know the opinion of ancient Greeks who considered Macedonians barbarians, not Hellenes, but as far as the two languages quickly came into one we can suppose they were relative. Hesihios gives us some examples of Macedonian words in Greek language: some of them have definite cognates in IE languages:

Macedonian         English             Cognates

bedu-                    water                 Hittite watar (water), Russian woda (water), Lithuanian vanduo (water)

alixa                     alder                  Old High German elira (alder), Polish olcha (alder), Lithuanian alksnis (alder)

Macedonian language disappeared in the 3rd century BC and maybe was preserved just in dialects of Northern Greece. Thracian language disappeared in 5th or 6th language AD, as Thracians were assimilated by Romans, Slavs and Bulgars, and no scientist now is brave enough to write a monograph about this language (there is just one work - "The Language of the Thracians" by Bulgarian linguist Georgiev). The descendants of Thracians in Rumania and Bulgaria lost last signs of their language long ago. Illyrian is said to be the ancestor of modern Albanian language, but in Albanian not much left from Illyrian. And what about Phrygian - the majority of linguists believe the Armenian language is related to Phrygian. But grammatically and lexically they are still too far from each other.

Modern linguistic materials cannot tell us much about Paleobalkan languages. Yes, they are Indo-European. They were closely related to each other. They were also related closely to Greek, Slavic, Italic and maybe Celtic language groups. And - the last thing to say for sure - they had a large percent of pre-Indo-European substratum in lexics. No other thing can be definitely stated.

This vulnerable situation generated quite a lot of theories. We decided to describe only one of them which seems to us the most probable.

Paleobalkan tribes left the original place in Central Asia or Asia Minor with the first wave of migrants, together with Greeks and Armenians. Armenians left in Asia Minor; Greeks went farther to Aegean peninsula. Balkan tribes, let us call them Thraco-Illyro-Phrygians, settled on Balkan peninsula. It took place in the XXIIIth or the XXIIth century BC. Scientists believe it was the time of linguistic unity of all Balkan peoples. Later they divided into two groups: Thraco-Illyrian and Thraco-Phrygian, the first spread to all Balkan mountains, Illyria, Pannonia, Dacia and parts of Italy, the second existed in South-East Balkans and partly in Asia Minor. Modern Albanian means everything that left after the first group, whether it is the direct successor of Illyrian language or just related to it. Modern Armenian is NOT the descendant of Phrygian but is really its close relative.

See Indo-European Glossaries where we publish the materials unique on the Web concerning word lists of Thracian, Illyrian, Macedonian, and Phrygian languages. Indo-European cognates will make it easy for you to see the Indo-European cognates of all four tongues which used to be spoken on the Balkans.