Ancient Linguistic Area

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Area linguistica | aire linguistique | Sprachenareal


The concept of linguistic area is one of the most variable and blurry ones in linguistic and cultural studies. It emerged in the first decades of the Nineteenth century in the environment of the functionalist schools of Europe, but was better defined in the second half of the century with the studies on the Balkan league and on the Standard Average European area (Weinreich 1953, Haspelmath 2001). To some extent, it seems to be interchangeable with that of “language league” (Sprachbund), while, on the other hand, this latter label indicates a particularly intensive area of grammatical interference, which is a rather uncommon case especially in the ancient world (Giusfredi - Merlin 2018, 101). In the environment of the ancient world, areas of intensive lexical exchange existed (Anatolia, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Ancient Near East provide several examples). However, cases of long distance grammatical interference comparable to some of the ones identified by Haspelmath (2001) for the modern European languages have not been safely identified. Therefore, in the framework of reference employed by the PALaC project, a linguistic area is defined in a milder fashion as an area featuring one of the following:

  1. intensive exchange of linguistic material (lexical or grammatical);
  2. occasional shared structural traits that:
    1. cannot be typical of the majority of languages of the world;
    2. are shared by the majority of the languages in the area;
    3. are not shared by other branches of the language family to which the league-languages belong, or other neighboring languages;
    4. are not typologically prevalent in a polygenetic fashion.


Giusfredi, F. and Merlin, S. 2018. A contact-based study of the languages and cultures of Pre-Classical Anatolia: the project PALaC, News from the lands of the Hittites 2018, 95-104. Haspelmath, M.. 2001. The European linguistic area: Standard Average European. Language Typology and Language Universals (Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft 20), Berlin: De Gruyter, pp. 1492–1510. Weinreich, U. 1953. Languages in contact (Publications of the Linguistic Circle of New York 1), New York: Linguistic Circle of New York.