Category Archives: Balkan sprachbund

Linguistic Areas

Linguistic Areas: Convergence in Historical and Typological Perspective edited by Yaron Matras, April McMahon and Nigel Vincent (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006) ISBN 1403996571.

Linguistic Areas ed. Matras, McMahon and Vincent is a collection of 11 papers on areal linguistics, from scholars holding a variety of different views. The first two papers intriguingly suggest doing away with the term Sprachbund. Lyle Campbell’s paper ‘Areal linguistics: a closer scrutiny’ and Thomas Stolz’ ‘All or nothing’ recommend focusing on the facts of the individual loans and historical changes instead of chasing after a definition of Sprachbund, a definition which is perhaps impossible to establish because linguistics is difficult to quantify.

We then find a number of papers focusing mainly on individual linguistic areas. I won’t comment on all of them, as I read only those that I thought related to my research interestings. Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm’s ‘The Circle that won’t come full’ shows that neither of the two isoglosses often used to define a “Circum-Baltic Sprachbund’ — polytonicity and GenN word order combined with SVO basic order — encompass together all the languages in the region. Her scepticism goes well with the views of Campbell and Stolz. Lars Johanson’s ‘On the Roles of Turkic in the Causasus Area’ makes use of a wealth of sociolinguistic information to explain how Turkic languages in the region have both influenced non-Turkic languages and converged toward their models. Claire Bowern’s ‘Another Look at Australia as a Linguistic Area’ is a response to Dixon’s controversial theory of ‘punctuated equilibrium’, essentially reading for anyone following that debate.

The curious dearth of Albanian resources

As I write this, I’m sitting in the airport in Vienna waiting for a flight back to Helsinki. I’ve still got 28 hours to wait, but the friendly proprietor of the airport restaurant where I sit is from Albania. As it was four in the morning and things weren’t exactly busy for him, we chatted a bit about differences among Albanian dialects.

In spite of the many years gone by since the fall of Communism, and the existence of Albanian communities in other European countries and in the U.S., from a language-practise standpoint Albania still seems like an isolated little country. Routledge’s Colloquial Albanian, written by Isa Zymberi, has been widely criticized for teaching language specific to Kosovo instead of to the Republic of Albania. Cezar Kurti‘s Learn Albanian: Mesoni Shqip, now in its third edition, has garnered much praise, but good luck finding it in a bookshop.

If print resources in English are so rare, free and quality Internet resources are understandably pretty much nonexistent, as far as I can tell. At least Kurti has put up several lessons from his book at his website Albanian World. There’s also a phrase guide at a gimmicky site that has the benefit of being printable and easily folded. Albanian does look very Balkan Sprachbund-ish and, except for the unfamiliar lexicon, I think I could pick it up fairly easily, were there only resources available. Anyone with advice is welcome to leave a comment.

Balkan insights

Through a web search, I stumbled across a monograph by Brian D. Josephs entitled ‘Balkan Insights into the Syntax of *mē in Indo-European’ (PDF) It’s always nice to find freely available monographs about IE linguistics, and this one is very informative for any Classics student wondering why Greek has such an unusual looking negator (in comparison with Latin which uses only the familiar and comfortable nōn and ).

Josephs is one of the foremost authorities on the Balkan sprachbund. His work The Synchrony and Diachrony of the Balkan Infinitive (Cambridge University Press, 1983) is an essential read for anyone who wonders why Romanian, Bulgarian, Modern Greek, and Albanian have the weird syntax that they do. At his university website he has a list of publications with some further interesting items available in PDF format. Unfortunately, the most intriguing for me, one entitled ‘Is Faliscan a Local Latin Patois?’, is not available online and will have to wait until I get back to my university library.