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The Balto-Slavic languages are a branch of the Indo-Europeanfamily of languages. It traditionally comprises the Baltic and Slavic languages. Baltic and Slavic languages share several linguistic traits not found in any other Indo-European branch, which points to a period of common development. Although the notion of a Balto-Slavic unity has been contested (partly due to political controversies), there is now a general consensus among specialists in Indo-European linguistics to classify Baltic and Slavic languages into a single branch, with only some details of the nature of their relationship remaining in dispute.
The nature of the relationship of the Balto-Slavic languages has been the subject of much discussion from the very beginning of historical Indo-European linguistics as a scientific discipline. A few are more intent on explaining the similarities between the two groups not in terms of a linguistically "genetic" relationship, but by language contact and dialectal closeness in the Proto-Indo-European period.
Various schematic sketches of possible alternative Balto-Slavic language relationships; Van Wijk, 1923.
Baltic and Slavic share many close phonological, lexical, morphosyntactic and accentological similarities (listed below). The early Indo-Europeanists Rasmus Rask and August Schleicher (1861) proposed a simple solution: From Proto-Indo-European descended Balto-German-Slavonic language, out of which Proto-Balto-Slavic (later split into Proto-Baltic and Proto-Slavic) and Germanic emerged. Schleicher's proposal was taken up and refined by Karl Brugmann, who listed eight innovations as evidence for a Balto-Slavic branch in the Grundriss der vergleichenden Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen ("Outline of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-Germanic Languages"). The Latvian linguist J?nis Endzel?ns thought, however, that any similarities among Baltic and Slavic languages resulted from intensive language contact, i.e. that they were not genetically more closely related and that there was no common Proto-Balto-Slavic language. Antoine Meillet (1905, 1908, 1922, 1925, 1934), a French linguist, in reaction to Brugmann's hypothesis, propounded a view according to which all similarities of Baltic and Slavic occurred accidentally, by independent parallel development, and that there was no Proto-Balto-Slavic language. In turn, the Polish linguist Rozwadowski suggests that the similarities among Baltic and Slavic languages are a result of both a genetic relationship and later language contact. Thomas Olander corroborates the claim of genetic relationship in his research in the field of comparative Balto-Slavic accentology.
Even though some linguists still reject a genetic relationship, most scholars accept that Baltic and Slavic languages experienced a period of common development. This view is also reflected in most modern standard textbooks on Indo-European linguistics. Gray and Atkinson's (2003) application of language-tree divergence analysis supports a genetic relationship between the Baltic and Slavic languages, dating the split of the family to about 1400 BCE.
The traditional division into two distinct sub-branches (i.e. Slavic and Baltic) is mostly upheld by scholars who accept Balto-Slavic as a genetic branch of Indo-European. There is a general consensus that the Baltic languages can be divided into East Baltic (Lithuanian, Latvian) and West Baltic (Old Prussian). The internal diversity of Baltic points at a much greater time-depth for the breakup of the Baltic languages in comparison to the Slavic languages.
"Traditional" Balto-Slavic tree model
This bipartite division into Baltic and Slavic was first challenged in the 1960s, when Vladimir Toporov and Vyacheslav Ivanov observed that the apparent difference between the "structural models" of the Baltic languages and the Slavic languages is the result of the innovative nature of Proto-Slavic, and that the latter had evolved from an earlier stage which conformed to the more archaic "structural model" of the Proto-Baltic dialect continuum.Frederik Kortlandt (1977, 2018) has proposed that West Baltic and East Baltic are in fact not more closely related to each other than either of them is related to Slavic, and Balto-Slavic therefore can be split into three equidistant branches: East Baltic, West Baltic and Slavic.
Alternative Balto-Slavic tree model
Although supported by a number of scholars, Kortlandt's hypothesis is still a minority view. Some scholars accept Kortlandt's division into three branches as the default assumption, but nevertheless believe that there is sufficient evidence to unite East Baltic and West Baltic in an intermediate Baltic node.
The tripartite split is supported by glottochronologic studies by V. V. Kromer, whereas two computer-generated family trees (from the early 2000s) that include Old Prussian have a Baltic node parallel to the Slavic node.
Area of Balto-Slavic dialect continuum (purple) with proposed material cultures correlating to speakers Balto-Slavic in Bronze Age (white). Red dots= archaic Slavic hydronyms.
The sudden expansion of Proto-Slavic in the sixth and the seventh century (around 600 CE, uniform Proto-Slavic with no detectable dialectal differentiation was spoken from Thessaloniki in Greece to Novgorod in Russia[dubious – discuss]) is, according to some, connected to the hypothesis that Proto-Slavic was in fact a koiné of the Avar state, i.e. the language of the administration and military rule of the Avar Khaganate in Eastern Europe. In 626, the Slavs, Persians and Avars jointly attacked the Byzantine Empire and participated in the Siege of Constantinople. In that campaign, the Slavs fought under Avar officers. There is an ongoing controversy over whether the Slavs might then have been a military caste under the khaganate rather than an ethnicity. Their language--at first possibly only one local speech--once koinéized, became a lingua franca of the Avar state. This might explain how Proto-Slavic spread to the Balkans and the areas of the Danube basin, and would also explain why the Avars were assimilated so fast, leaving practically no linguistic traces, and that Proto-Slavic was so unusually uniform. However, such a theory fails to explain how Slavic spread to Eastern Europe, an area that had no historical links with the Avar Khanate. That said, the Avar state was later replaced by the definitively Slavic state of Great Moravia, which could have played the same role.
It is also likely that the expansion of Slavic occurred with the assimilation of Iranic-speaking groups such as the Sarmatians, who quickly adopted Proto-Slavic due to speaking related Indo-European satem languages, in much the same way Latin expanded by assimilating the Celtic speakers in continental Western Europe and the Dacians.
That sudden expansion of Proto-Slavic erased most of the idioms of the Balto-Slavic dialect continuum, which left us today with only two groups, Baltic and Slavic (or East Baltic, West Baltic, and Slavic in the minority view). This secession of the Balto-Slavic dialect ancestral to Proto-Slavic is estimated on archaeological and glottochronological criteria to have occurred sometime in the period 1500-1000 BCE.Hydronymic evidence suggests that Baltic languages were once spoken in much wider territory than the one they cover today, all the way to Moscow, and were later replaced by Slavic.
Shared features of the Balto-Slavic languages
The degree of relationship of the Baltic and Slavic languages is indicated by a series of common innovations not shared with other Indo-European languages, and by the relative chronology of these innovations which can be established. The Baltic and Slavic languages also share some inherited words. These are either not found at all in other Indo-European languages (except when borrowed) or are inherited from Proto-Indo-European but have undergone identical changes in meaning when compared to other Indo-European languages. This indicates that the Baltic and Slavic languages share a period of common development, the Proto-Balto-Slavic language.
Common sound changes
Winter's law: lengthening of vowels before Proto-Indo-European (PIE) non-breathy voiced consonants (*b, *d, *g).
PIE breathy-voiced consonants (*b?, *d?, *g?, *) merge into plain voiced consonants (*b, *d, *g, *?). This also occurred in several other Indo-European branches, but as Winter's law was sensitive to the difference between the two types of consonants, the merger must have happened after it and so is a specific Balto-Slavic innovation.
Hirt's law: retraction of the PIE accent to the preceding syllable, if that syllable ended in a laryngeal (*h?, *h?, *h?, see Laryngeal theory).
A high vowel is inserted before PIE syllabic sonorants (*l?, *r?, *m?, *n?). This vowel is usually *i (giving *il, *ir, *im, *in) but in some occasions also *u (*ul, *ur, *um, *un). Proto-Germanic is the only other Indo-European language that inserts a high vowel (*u in all cases), all others insert mid or low vowels instead.
Emergence of a register distinction on long syllables, between acute (probably glottalized) and circumflex. The acute arose primarily when the syllable ended in a PIE voiced consonant (as in Winter's law) or when it ended in a laryngeal. The distinction is reflected in most Balto-Slavic languages, including Proto-Slavic, as an opposition between rising and falling tone on accented syllables. Some Baltic languages directly reflect the acute register in the form of a so-called "broken tone".
Word-final *-mi > *-m after a long vowel. This followed the preceding change, as the preceding long vowel is retained.
Raising of stressed *o to *u in a final syllable.
Merging of PIE short *o and *a into *a or *o. This change also occurred in several other Indo-European branches, but here too it must have happened after Winter's law: Winter's law lengthens *o to *? and *a to *?, and must therefore have occurred before the two sounds merged. It also followed the raising of *o to *u above. Both vowels merged differently in both groups: Baltic languages have a in both cases, but Slavic ones have o (compare Lith. a?ìs with old. Sl. (from Ide. *a: Latin axis, Greek ?); Lith. avìs, old Slavic (from Ide. *?: Latin ovis, Greec ). The Indo-European long vowels *? and *? merged only in the Slavic group, and later only in old Prussian.
Common Balto-Slavic innovations include several other changes, which are also shared by several other Indo-European branches. These are therefore not direct evidence for the existence of a common Balto-Slavic family, but they do corroborate it.
Satemization: The PIE palatovelar consonants *?, *?, * become palatal sibilants *?, *?, *?, while the PIE labiovelar consonants *k?, *g?, *g lose their labalization and merge with the plain velar *k, *g, *g?. The palatal sibilants later become plain sibilants *s, *z in all Balto-Slavic languages except Lithuanian.
Ruki sound law: *s becomes *? when preceded by *r, *u, *k or *i. In Slavic, this *? later becomes *x (variously spelled ⟨ch⟩, ⟨h⟩ or ⟨?⟩ in the Slavic languages) when followed by a back vowel.
Common grammatical innovations
Replacement of the original PIE genitive singular ending of thematic (o-stem) nouns, which is reconstructed as *-osyo, with the ablative ending *-?d (Proto-Slavic *v?lka, Lithuanian vil?ko, Latvian vìlka). Old Prussian, however, has another ending, perhaps stemming from the original PIE genitive: deiwas "god's", tawas "father's".
Use of the ending *-?n (from earlier *-?mi) of the instrumental singular in ?-stem nouns and adjectives. This contrasts with Sanskrit -ay?, archaic Vedic -?. Lithuanian rankà is ambiguous and could have originated from either ending, but the correspondence with East Lithuanian runku and Latvian rùoku point to Balto-Slavic *-?n.
Use of the ending *-mis in the instrumental plural, e.g. Lithuanian s?numìs, Old Church Slavonicsyn?mi "with sons". This ending is also found in Germanic, while the other Indo-European languages have an ending with -b?-, as in Sanskrit -bhis.
Creation of a distinction between definite (meaning similar to "the") and indefinite adjectives (meaning similar to "a"). The definite forms were formed by attaching the corresponding form of the relative/demonstrative pronoun *jas to the end of the adjective. For example, Lithuanian geràsis 'the good' as opposed to g?ras 'good', Old Church Slavonic dobr?j? 'the good' as opposed to dobr? 'good'. These forms in Lithuanian, however, seem to have developed after the split, since in older Lithuanian literature (16th century and onwards) they had not yet merged (e. g. naujamjame ?in the new one' from *naujamén + *jamén). In Lithuanian, the pronoun merged with the adjective having a modern (secondary) pronominal inflection; in Slavic, the pronoun merged with an adjective, having an ancient (primary) nominal inflection.
Usage of the genitive case for the direct object of a negative verb. For example, Russian ? (?) , Lith. knygos neskai?iau 'I haven't read the book'.
Some examples of words shared among most or all Balto-Slavic languages:
Despite lexical developments exclusive to Balto-Slavic and otherwise showing evidence for a stage of common development, there are considerable differences between the vocabularies of Baltic and Slavic. Rozwadowski noted that every semantic field contains core vocabulary that is etymologically different between the two branches. Andersen prefers a dialect continuum model where the northernmost dialects developed into Baltic, in turn, the southernmost dialects developed into Slavic (with Slavic later absorbing any intermediate idioms during its expansion). Andersen thinks that different neighboring and substratum languages might have contributed to the differences in basic vocabulary.
^"Balto-Slavic languages. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online". Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Retrieved 2012. Those scholars who accept the Balto-Slavic hypothesis attribute the large number of close similarities in the vocabulary, grammar, and sound systems of the Baltic and Slavic languages to development from a common ancestral language after the breakup of Proto-Indo-European. Those scholars who reject the hypothesis believe that the similarities are the result of parallel development and of mutual influence during a long period of contact.
^Kortlandt (1977), p. 323:"Though Prussian is undoubtedly closer to the East Baltic languages than to Slavic, the characteristic features of the Baltic languages seem to be either retentions or results of parallel development and cultural interaction. Thus I assume that Balto-Slavic split into three identifiable branches, each of which followed its own course of development."
^Controversy discussed in Martin Hurbani? (2009). Posledná vojna antiky. Avarský útok na Kon?tantínopol roku 626 v historických súvislostiach [The Last War of Antiquity. The Avar Siege of Constantinople, 626, in Historical Sources]. Pre?ov: Vydavatel'stvo Michala Va?ka. pp. 137-153.
^Until the year 800 Slavic languages were spoken all the way to the Trieste-Hamburg line. Later, they were pushed back to the east.
^Curta (2004): It is possible that the expansion of the Avar khanate during the second half of the eighth century coincided with the spread of... Slavic into the neighbouring areas of Bohemia, Moravia and southern Poland. (but) could hardly explain the spread of Slavic into Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, all regions that produced so far almost no archaeological evidence of Avar influence
^cf. Novotná & Bla?ek (2007) with references. "Classical glottochronology" conducted by Czech Slavist M. ?ejka in 1974 dates the Balto-Slavic split to -910±340 BCE, Sergei Starostin in 1994 dates it to 1210 BCE, and "recalibrated glottochronology" conducted by Novotná & Bla?ek dates it to 1400-1340 BCE. This agrees well with Trzciniec-Komarov culture, localized from Silesia to Central Ukraine and dated to the period 1500-1200 BCE.
^Lurker, Manfred (2004). The Routledge dictionary of gods and goddesses, devils and demons. Routledge. p. 187. ISBN978-0-415-34018-2.
^Andersen, Henning (2003), "Slavic and the Indo-European Migrations", Language Contacts in Prehistory. Studies in Stratigraphy, Current Issues in Linguistic Theory, Amsterdam-Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 239: 71-73, It has always been a riddle how it came about that the Slavic and Baltic languages, while sufficiently similar to suggest a common origin ("Proto-Balto-Slavic"), and developing side by side for thousands of years under natural and technological conditions that must have been fairly similar, came to be so different. Leaving the similarities of structure aside and considering just the lexicon, there are indeed several hundred lexemes in Common Slavic that have etymological equivalents or near-equivalents in Baltic. On the other hand, however, there is not a single semantic field in which there are not deep differences in the corresponding lexis.
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Beekes, Robert (2011). Comparative Indo-European Linguistics (2nd. ed.). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Clackson, James (2007). Indo-European Linguistics, An Introduction. Cambridge University Press. ISBN978-0521653671.
Kim, Ronald I. (2018). "The phonology of Balto-Slavic". In Klein, Jared; Joseph, Brian; Fritz, Matthias (eds.). Handbook of Comparative and Historical Indo-European Linguistics. Vol. 3. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 1974-1985.