Ancient Linguistic Area

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Translations

Area linguistica (antica) | aire linguistique (ancienne) | Sprachenareal (im Altertum)

Article

The concept of linguistic area generally refers to a geographical region in which languages influences each other on the different levels of lexicon and grammar. As many such areas have been observed in the modern world, it is one of the most variable and blurry concepts both in linguistic and in cultural studies (see Matras 2009, 286-296, for discussion). To some extent, the concept seems to be interchangeable with that of “language league” (Sprachbund), while, on the other hand, this latter label often indicates a particularly intensive area of grammatical interference, which is a rather uncommon case to observe when working on corpus languages.

In the environment of the ancient world, areas of intensive lexical exchange certainly existed (Anatolia, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Ancient Near East provide several examples). However, cases of long distance grammatical interference are not easily identified, nor was the existence of a proper mixed-language ever documented. 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. are shared by the languages in the area;
    2. are not shared by other branches of the language family to which the involved languages belong, or other neighboring languages;
    3. are not typologically prevalent in a polygenetic fashion.

Example

A proposed linguistic area involving Anatolia is the Aegean-Anatolian one (for a history of studies see Bianconi 2021, 11-13), a hypothetical Bund that aims at explaining some controversial similarities between Greek and the languages of the Anatolian branch of Indo-European.

While several scholars, starting with Emmanuel Laroche in the 1970s, raised doubts about the existence of an area of intensive interference involving Greece and Anatolia, other examples exist that are less controversial. A good example is offered by the area of Southern Mesopotamia in the III millennium BCE, in which Sumerian probably influenced the phonology and the clause architecture of Akkadian (turning it into an unusual SOV language within the Semitic branch of Afro-Asiatic; cf. Deutscher 2007, 20-21).

References

Bianconi, M. 2021. "There and back again": A Hundred Years of Graeco-Anatolian Comparative Studies. In: Linguistic and Cultural Interactions between Greece and Anatolia, Leiden, pp. 8-39; Deutscher, G. 2007. Syntactic Change in Akkadian The Evolution of Sentential Complementation, Oxford. Matras, Y. 2009. Language Contact, Cambridge.