Balto-Slavic languages

Balto-Slavic languages

The Balto-Slavic language group consists of the Baltic and Slavic languages, belonging to the Indo-European family of languages. Having experienced a period of common development, Baltic and Slavic languages share several linguistic traits not found in any other Indo-European branch, which points to their close genetic relationship.

The hypothetical Proto-Balto-Slavic language is also reconstructable, descending from Proto-Indo-European by means of well-defined sound laws, and out of which modern Slavic and Baltic languages descended. One particularly innovative dialect separated from the Balto-Slavic dialect continuum and became ancestral to Proto-Slavic language, out of which all other Slavic languages descended.

There was extensive debate in the first half of the 20th century on the exact details of the relationship among Slavic and Baltic languages. Some claimed them to be genetically related, and others explained similarities by prolonged language contact. Modern research, especially insights gained in the field of comparative Balto-Slavic accentology, corroborate the claim of genetic relationship.

Infobox Language family
region=Eastern and Northern Europe

Historical dispute

Genetic relationship of Balto-Slavic languages stirs a lot of discussion from the very beginning of the historical linguistics as a scientific discipline. Even though the similarities between Baltic and Slavic languages are often more than obvious, some were, and still are, more intent to explain them not by genetic relationship but by language contact, dialectal closeness in Proto-Indo-European period etc.

Baltic and Slavic share more close similarities, phonological, lexical, morphosyntactic and accentological, than any other language groups within the Indo-European language family. Notable Indo-Europeanist of the early period August Schleicher (1861) proposed a simple solution: From Proto-Indo-European descended Proto-Balto-Slavic, out of which Proto-Baltic and Proto-Slavic emerged. Latvian linguist Jānis Endzelīns thought that all similarities among Baltic and Slavic languages were a result of an intensive language contact, i.e. that they were not genetically related and that there was no Proto-Balto-Slavic language. Antoine Meillet (1905, 1908, 1922, 1925, 1934), distinguished French Indo-Europeanist, in reaction to a simplified Schleicher's theory, 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. From a modern perspective, the most acceptable is the theory of the Polish linguist Rozwadowski, who thought that the similarities among Baltic and Slavic languages are a result of not only genetic relationship, but also of later language contact.

Even though some linguists still don't accept today the genetic relationship, prevalent scholary opinion is that there is very little doubt that Baltic and Slavic languages experienced a period of common development. Beekes (1995: 22), for example, states expressly that " [t] he Baltic and Slavic languages were originally one language and so form one group". Gray and Atkinson's (2003) application of language-tree divergence analysis supports a genetic relationship between the Baltic and Slavic languages and dating the split of the family to about 1400 BCE. That this was found using a very different methodology than other studies lends some credence to the links between the two. [Gray, R. D. & Atkinson, Q. D. " [ Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin] ", Nature 426, 435−439 (2003)] .

Modern interpretation

Traditionally the Balto-Slavic languages are divided in Baltic and Slavic branches. However, there is another division that was proposed in the 1960s by Vyacheslav Ivanov and Vladimir Toporov - they were the first to question not only the Balto-Slavic unity, but also the Baltic unity. In other words, they hold that the Balto-Slavic proto-language split not into Baltic and Slavic branches, but that the division was, from the start, into West Baltic, East Baltic and Proto-Slavic. In their framework, Proto-Slavic is one peripheral and innovative Balto-Slavic dialect which has, resulting from a conjunction of historical circumstances, suddenly expanded effectively erasing all the other Balto-Slavic dialects, except in the marginal areas where Lithuanian, Latvian and Old Prussian developed. Onomastic evidence shows that Baltic languages were once spoken in much wider territory than the one they cover today, all the way to Moscow, subsequently being replaced by Slavic.

The Ivanov-Toporov model is supported not only by the newest research into Old Prussian (as the only clear representative of the West Baltic branch), but also with archaeological evidence and other historical indications. The West and East Balts would have been separated from the Slavs by the Goths. Before the split there was some kind of dialect continuum, on whose outskirts existed an innovative dialect that was ancestral to Proto-Slavic.

The sudden expansion of Proto-Slavic in the sixth and the seventh century (around AD 600 uniform Proto-Slavic with no detectable dialectal differentiation was spoken from Thessaloniki in Greece to Novgorod in Russia [Literally entire continental Greece was Slavicized except for the cities, which is obvious from numerous Slavic toponyms there (e.g. on Peloponnese). Afterwards the population was Hellenicised under the influence of prestigious Greek as an official language of the administration, except in certain enclaves (such as Thessaloniki) where Slavic is still spoken.] ) 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. [cf Holzer 2002 with references] It is well-known from historical sources that Slavs and Avars jointly attacked the Byzantine Empire and held siege of Constantinople [Later historical sources, such as De Administrando Imperio by Constantine Porphyrogenitus, often mix Avars and Slavs, after a few centuries making no clear distinction between them.] . According to that interpretation, Avars where a thin layer of military aristocracy in that state/alliance, while the Slavs were a military caste - warriors (i.e. not a nation or ethnicity in the proper sense of that word). Their language - at first possibly only one local speech, koinéized became a "lingua franca" of the Avar state. This would explain very well how Proto-Slavic could have spread so fast across all of Eastern Europe - from the Baltic to the Peloponnese, and from Russia and Ukraine to present-day Eastern Germany (Hamburg) and Austria [Slavic languages have been spoken till the year 800 all the way to line Trieste-Hamburg. Later they were pushed back to the east.] , as well as the facts that Avars were assimilated very fast, leaving practically no linguistic traces, and that Proto-Slavic was so unusually uniform.

That sudden expansion of Proto-Slavic erased most of the idioms of the Balto-Slavic dialect continuum, which left us today with only three branches: Eastern Baltic, Western Baltic and Slavic.

Balto-Slavic isoglosses

To the close relationship among Baltic and Slavic languages point a series of exclusive isoglosses (i.e. not shared with any other IE branch), especially in the phonology, and the fact that one can establish relative chronology among them, which is the most important criterion for establishing genetic relationship in historical linguistics. The most important of these isoglosses are:

* Winter's law (lengthening of vowels before PIE voiced consonants, probably only in closed syllable)
* identical reflexes of PIE syllabic sonorants
* Hirt's law (retraction of PIE accent to the preceding syllable closed by a laryngeal)
* rise of the Balto-Slavic acute before PIE laryngeals in closed syllable
* replacement of PIE genitive singular of thematic nouns with ablative
* ending for instrumental plural of *-miHs; e.g. Lith. "sūnumìs", OCS "synъmi" 'with sons'
* formation of past tense with the ending *-ē (a type of Lithuanian preterite "dãvė" 'he gave', OCS imperfect "bě" 'he was')
* generalization of the PIE neuter * stem to the nominative singular of masculine and feminine demonstratives instead of PIE *, i.e. PIE demonstrative PIE|*só, *séh₂, *tód (‘this, that’) became PBSl. *tos, *ta, *tod
* formation of so-called definite adjectives with a construction that includes adjective and a relative pronoun, e.g. Lith. "geràsis" 'the good' as opposed to "gẽras" 'good', OCS "dobrъjь" 'the good' as opposed to "dobrъ" 'good'
* usage of genitive to state the object of a negated verb, e.g. Russ. "knigy (ja) ne čital", Lith. "knygos neskaičiau" 'I haven't' read the book'.

Common Balto-Slavic innovations include several other prominent, but non-exclusive isoglosses, such as the Satemization, Ruki, change of PIE */o/ to PBSl. */a/ (shared with Germanic, Indo-Iranian and Anatolian branch) and the loss of labialization in PIE labiovelars (shared with Indo-Iranian, Armenian and Tocharian).

Baltic and Slavic languages show also a remarkable amount of correspondence in vocabulary; there are at least 100 words exclusive to Balto-Slavic, either being a common innovation (i.e. not of PIE origin) or sharing the same semantic development from PIE root. For example:
* PBSl. PIE|*lḗypā 'tilia' > Lith. "líepa", Old Pr. "līpa", Latv. "liẽpa"; PSl. *léypā > Common Slavic *lipa (OCS "lipa", Russ. "lipa", Pol. "lipa")
* PBSl. PIE|*ránkā 'hand' > Lith. "rankà", Old Pr. "rānkan" (A sg.), Latv. "rùoka"; PSl. *ránkā > Common Slavic *unicode|rǭkà (OCS "rǫka", Russ. "ruká", Pol. "ręka")
* PBSl. PIE|*galwā́ 'head' > Lith. "galvà", Old Pr. "galwo", Latv. "galva"; PSl. *unicode|galwā́ > Common Slavic *golvà (OCS "glava", Russ. "golová", Pol. "głowa")

Among Balto-Slavic archaisms notable is the retention of free PIE accent (with lots of innovations).

On the other hand, there are very few exclusive isoglosses that connect Baltic languages only, and that leave Slavic languages aside. Lots of these isoglosses are trivial from phonological point of view (e.g. transition PIE *tl > Baltic *kl), and most importantly, they do not show any kind of relative chronology.

Proto-Balto-Slavic language

Proto-Balto-Slavic is reconstructed proto-language descending from Proto-Indo-European and out of which all later Baltic and Slavic languages and dialects descended.


Proto-Indo-European phonological system has exhibited several significant changes in Balto-Slavic period:
* the three series of PIE stops were reduced to two series (voiced an unvoiced)
* PIE syllabic sonorants were substituted with sequences of a short vowel (*i or *u) and a non-syllabic sonorant
* the three PIE laryngeals merged into one (*H), which may have disappeared even during the Balto-Slavic period
* the complex system of PIE dorsals was simplified due to the delabialization of labiovelars and the change of PIE palatovelars into fricatives


PIE voiced and unvoiced stops were preserved in Balto-Slavic and Proto-Slavic, and aspirated series was deaspirated.

Winter's law was still operable when there was phonemic distinction between the series of plain and aspirated voiced stops. As a result of Winter's law, the distinction between those two series has been indirectly preserved in Proto-Balto-Slavic, because Balto-Slavic vowel would lengthen before a plain voiced stop, but not before an aspirated stop, this occurring probably only if the stop was in syllable coda (i.e. in closed syllable).

On the basis of relative chronology of sound changes it has been ascertained that Winter's law acted rather late, after some other less prominent Balto-Slavic changes occurred, such as after the disappearance of laryngeals in prevocalic position. Compare:
* PIE *PIE|eǵh₂om > PBSl. *eźHam (by Winter's law) *ēźHam > PSl. *jāzun (OCS "azъ", Slovene "jaz")Therefore, the merger of PIE aspirated and plain velar stop series was one of the last common Balto-Slavic sound changes.


Three series of PIE dorsals (velars, palatovelars and labiovelars) merged to two series in Balto-Slavic: velars and palatovelars. PIE labiovelars lost their labialization in Balto-Slavic, just like they did in the Indo-Iranian, Armenian and Greek branches. Unlike some other Indo-European languages, Balto-Slavic labiovelars were delabialized unconditionally and at once, leaving no noticeable direct or indirect traces.

There are a number of words in Balto-Slavic which show Centum reflex of PIE patalalized dorsals. A number of these can be explained by regular sound laws, although some of these laws have been obscured by numerous analogical developments. Others are argued to be borrowings from Centum languages, e.g. Proto-Balto-Slavic *kárwā 'cow' (Lith. "kárvė", OCS "krava", Russ. "koróva") was likely borrowed from Proto-Celtic *karawā, which in turn is a regular reflex of PIE PIE|*ḱerh₂weh₂.

PIE palatovelars could also depalatalize in Balto-Slavic. Several depalatalization rules for Balto-Slavic have been proposed [For an alternative formulation, see Kortlandt:1978] . According to Matasović (2008:86) [For a more precise formulation of the rule, see Matasović 2005] , the depalatalization of palatovelars occurred before sonorant followed by a back vowel: K' > K/_RVback. That would explain Centum reflexes such as:
* Lithuanian "akmuõ" and OCS "kamy" would have regular /k/ as opposed to Sanskrit "áśmā" < PIE PIE|*h₂eḱmōn 'stone'
* OCS "svekry" < PIE PIE|*sweḱruh₂ 'mother-in-law'
* Old Prussian "balgnan" < PIE PIE|*bʰolǵʰno- 'saddle'

PIE palatovelars */PIE|ḱ/, */PIE|ǵ/, */PIE|ǵʰ/ turned to Balto-Slavic fricatives: */ś/, */ź/ and */źʰ/, this latter one becoming merged with */ź/ after the loss of contrastive aspiration. They possibly had intermediate stage of affricates */ć/, */đ/, */đʰ/, but that development is somewhat less likely to have occurred. By applying usual methods of reconstructions on Baltic and Slavic languages, fricatives */ś/ and */ź/ represent the most likely phonological interpretation of the reflexes of PIE palatovelars. [Matasović 2008:87]


Reflexes of PIE laryngeals PIE|*/h₁/, */h₂/, */h₃/ which represented 3 different phonemes in PIE became merged in Balto-Slavic to a single */H/. Laryngeals disappeared in Balto-Slavic period during a very long period. No Balto-Slavic language has preserved them, but relative chronology of sound changes shows that they were not lost at once in all positions in a word.

Balto-Slavic laryngeal was especially durable in a position before a vowel; PIE *PIE|tn̥h₂u- 'thin' (Latin ', Sanskrit ') was in Balto-Slavic reflected as *tunHu-, and only then as Proto-Slavic *tunu-ku/*tin-ku (OCS "tьnъkъ", Russ. "tónkij", Pol. "cienki"), which shows that the loss of laryngeals in Balto-Slavic occurred after the development of vocalic prothesis in Balto-Slavic syllabic sonorants.

In a syllabic position (between consonants), laryngeal disappeared if it was in the second syllable, but in the first syllable it was preserved as */a/. Compare:
* PIE PIE|*(h₁)rh̥₃deh₂ 'heron, stork' > (Ancient Greek "erōdiós", Latin "ardea") Proto-Slavic *radā > Common Slavic *roda (Croatian "róda")
* PIE PIE|*sh̥₂l- (oblique case stem of PIE|*seh₂ls 'salt') > Old Pr. "sal", Proto-Slavic *sali (OCS "solь", Pol. "sól", Russ. "sol´")

Loss of laryngeals in syllabic position occurred probably in early Balto-Slavic period. Compare:
* PIE PIE| > PBSl. "*duktēr" > Lith. duktė, Old Pr. "duckti ", Proto-Slavic *duktī or *duktej (OCS "dъšti", Russ. "doč’")The same phenomenon happened in Germanc and Celtic, which indicates that it might have been a dialectal isogloss in Late Proto-Indo-European.


PIE */s/ has been preserved in Balto-Slavic and Proto-Slavic in most of the positions; it changed to Balto-Slavic */š/ according to the RUKI law, and in Proto-Slavic it was probably lost word-finally. No attested Slavic language has word-final *-s preserved.

Before voiced stops */s/ manifested as */z/ in Balto-Slavic. That */z/ came to be phonologically distinctive in Slavic after the transition of Balto-Slavic */ź/ (a reflex of PIE */PIE|ǵ/ and */PIE|ǵʰ/) > Proto-Slavic */z/.

As a result of RUKI law, Proto-Slavic has */š/ before front vowels (*/e/, */i/), */x/ before back vowels and */s/ before consonants. That distribution is most probably a result of series of changes:
# PIE */s/ > */š/ after */r/, */u/, */k/, */i/
# */š/ > */s/ before consonants, */š/ > */x/ before vowels
# */x/ > */š/ before front vowels (Slavic first palatalization of velars)

RUKI rule also operated if there was a laryngeal after */u/ or */i/, i.e. */s/ changes to */š/ after *uH and *iH, but it remains open to debate whether the laryngeal was already lost in that environment, i.e. are we dealing with the change of */s/ to */š/ after Balto-Slavic */ū/ and */ī/.

In Baltic languages the evidence of RUKI rule is recognizable only in Lithuanian, because in Latvian and Old Prussian a merger occurs of Balto-Slavic */š/ (< PIE */s/ by RUKI rule), */ś/ (< PIE */ḱ/) and */s/ (< PIE */s/). In Lithuanian, Balto-Slavic */š/ and */ś/ are merged to /š/, which remains distinct from /s/ so the effect of RUKI rule is still evident in Lithuanian.

Most handbooks, on the basis of Lithuanian material, state that in Baltic RUKI law has been applied only partially. The most common claim is that Balto-Slavic */s/ turned to */š/ in Baltic unconditionally only after */r/, while after */u/, */k/ and */i/ we have both */s/ and */š/. Compare:
* Lith. "aušrà" < PIE *PIE|h₂ewsro- (cf. Latin "aurōra", Sanskrit "uṣás") with RUKI applied vs.
* Lith. "ausìs" < PIE *PIE|h₂ews- (cf. Latin "auris", OCS "uxo") with */s/ unchanged.Similarly, Lith. "maĩšas" "sack" completely matches etymologically with OCS "měxъ" and Sanskrit "meṣá", but in the word "teisùs" "correct" */s/ has been preserved while in Slavic there is */x/ < */š/ in accordance with RUKI rule (OCS "tixъ", Russ. "tíxij" 'quiet, peaceful').

There is no simple solution to such double reflexes of PIE */s/ after */r/, */u/, */k/, */i/ in Baltic, and thus no simple answer to the question of whether RUKI law is a common Balto-Slavic isogloss or not. The most probable seems the assumption that PIE */s/ was changed to */š/ after */r/, */u/, */k/, */i/ completely regularly in Baltic, just like in Slavic, but the traces of the effect of RUKI law were erased by subsequent changes, such as the change of word-final *-š to *-s.

Generally it can be ascertained that Baltic shows the effect of RUKI law only in old words inherited from Balto-Slavic period, meaning that Lithuanian /š/ will come after /r/, /u/, /k/, /i/ in words that have complete formational and morphological correspondence in Slavic (ruling out the possibility of accidental, parallel formations).

Unlike Indo-Iranian, where the change */s/ > */š/ also occurred after the palatovelar */PIE|ḱ/, it is possible that palatovelars yielded fricatives in Balto-Slavic even before the effect of RUKI law. Compare:
* PSl. *desnu 'right' (OCS "desnъ", Russ. "désnyj", Cr. "dèsnī") < PIE PIE|*deḱs-no- (Lat. "dexter", Skt. "dákṣiṇas")
* PSl. *asi 'axle, axis' (OCS "osь", Russ. "os"', Cr. "ȏs") < PIE PIE|*h₂eḱsi- (Lat. "axis", Skt. "ákṣas")

By satemization of PIE dorsals and the merger of PIE laryngeals, Balto-Slavic has significantly modified the system of PIE fricatives. After the merger of PIE voiced and aspirated stop series, Balto-Slavic system of fricatives had the following shape:

Common Slavic accentual paradigm a

The simplest accentuation is that of nouns which were acuted on the root in Balto-Slavic. They remain accented on the root ["root" is here understood in Proto-Slavic, not PIE sense] throughout the paradigm in Baltic (Lithuanian "first accentual paradigm") and Slavic ("accent paradigm a"). In the same time, Both Baltic and Slavic have expected reflexes of Balto-Slavic acute:

Lithuanian has preserved the best Balto-Slavic mobile paradigm. In Neoštokavian the final accent has been retracted and gained rising intonation, and the Proto-Slavic initial accent is preserved as circumflex.

Balto-Slavic apophony

Indo-European ablaut has been significantly reworked in Balto-Slavic. Prominence of lengthened-grade has been significantly increased, as opposed to PIE in which it was used only for rare vrddhi-formations, nominative singulars of some consonant-stem nouns and sigmatic aorist.

Proto-Slavic abundantly used lengthened-grade in morphology. For example:
* PSl. *slāwā 'fame, glory' (OCS "slava") vs. PSl. *slawa 'word' (OCS "slovo")
* PSl. *twāri 'substance' (OCS "tvarь") vs. PSl. *twarītey 'to form, create' (OCS "tvoriti")

Similarly in Lithuanian we have:
* Lith. "prõtas" 'intellect, mind' (< *prāt) vs. Lith. "pràsti" 'to understand'
* Lith. "unicode|gė̃ris" 'goodness' (< *gēr-) vs. Lith. "gẽras" 'good'

On the basis of already-present apophonic oppositions beween Balto-Slavic long */ā/, */ē/, */ō/ and short */a/, */e, new oppositions in Balto-Slavic arose between long */ī/, */ū/ and short */i/, */u/. This latter type of apophony was not productive in PIE. Compare:
* Lith. "mū̃šis" 'battle' vs. "mùšti" 'to kill, hit'
* Lith. "lỹkis" 'remainder' vs. "lìkti" 'to stay, keep'

This new type of apophonic length was especially used in Proto-Slavic in the formation of durative, iterative and imperfective verbs. Compare:
* PSl. *dirātey > OCS "dьrati" vs. PSl. *arz-dīrātey 'to tear' > OCS "razdirati"
* PSl. *birātey 'to pick' > OCS "bьrati" vs. PSl. *bīrātey 'to choose' > OCS "birati"

ee also

*Baltic languages
*Slavic languages
*Corded Ware culture



*Gray, Russell D., and Clayton Atkinson. 2003. "Language-tree divergence times support Anatolian theory of Indo-European Origins," "Nature" 426 (27 November): 435-439.
*cite book | author=Georg Holzer | title=Historische Grammatik des Kroatischen. Einleitung und Lautgeschichte der Standardsprache | location=Frankfurt am Main | publisher=Peter Lang | year=2007 | id=ISBN 978-3631561195 |language=German

External links

* [ The Balto-Slavic accentual mobility] , by Thomas Olander
* [ Balto-Slavic Accentuation] , by Kortlandt; a very idiosyncratic approach to Balto-Slavic accentuation

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