General information

Course type EPICUR
Module title Introduction to the Balkan Studies. Linguistic Point of View
Language English
Module lecturer dr Tatiana Ganenkova
Lecturer's email
Lecturer position assistant professor
Faculty Faculty of Polish and Classical Philology
Semester 2024/2025 (summer)
Duration 15
USOS code 03-EPI-IBS


10.05.2024 16:00-17:30 (Warsaw time)
17.05.2024 16:00-17:30 (Warsaw time)
24.05.2024 16:00-17:30 (Warsaw time)
31.05.2024 16:00-17:30 (Warsaw time)
07.06.2024 16:00-17:30 (Warsaw time)
14.06.2024 16:00-17:30 (Warsaw time)
21.06.2024 16:00-17:30 (Warsaw time)

Module aim (aims)

The course is devoted to the theory of the Balkan Sprachbund (Balkan language area) with special attention to the latest trends in the Balkan studies.

The idea of areal convergence of languages is commonly attributed to Kopitar’s description of Albanian, Wallachian, and Bulgarian (in modern terms: Albanian, Balkan Romance, and Balkan Slavic) (Kopitar 1829). In 1829 the Slovenian linguist Jernej Kopitar, a censor for Imperial Austria, remarked famously with regard to those varieties that "nur eine Sprachform herrscht, aber mit dreyerley Sprachmaterie" ('only one grammar dominates but with three kinds of language material'). In 1928, Nicholas Trubezkoy introduces the term Sprachbund defining it as a convergent areal group of languages with similarities in syntax, morphological structure, cultural vocabulary, and sound systems that cannot be explained by genetic affinity. The list of structural similarities at various levels known as balkanisms were presented by Sanfeld (1930), with more compendia published since. It should be said that most of the classic papers on Balkan studies are based on the data from standard languages. Systematic use of data from dialects in the analysis of contact-induced changes has begun relatively recently.

The analysis of balkanisms in different Balkan languages (and their dialects) made it possible to establish the centers of the innovations for certain balkanisms and directionsof their spread. Studying the history of changes in the Balkan languages scientists try to identify the factors that contributed to such a radical change in their grammatical structure. It is believed the contact-induced changes led to the emergence of the Balkan Sprachbund. Therefore, one part of the modern research focuses on smaller areas within the greater Balkan region that retained sustainable bilingualism and on the so-called “symbiotic communities” where “balanced language contact” can still be observed (Sobolev 2021), whereas another explanation in addition to intensive contacts is offered by the theory of language substratum.

The aim of the proposed course is to introduce this theory to the students and to show its problems and complexity. The students will discuss different approaches to the definition of the Balkan and Balkan languages, criteria for defining language vs dialect and innovation center vs its periphery. In addition to that they will explore the history of changes in the Balkan languages and possible explanations for them. The discussion of the theory will be accompanied by an analysis of specific facts of individual Balkan languages and their dialects. The course is an excellent opportunity for students to improve their skills in analyzing distinct linguistic phenomena, their relationships with a wider context and theoretical interpretation.

Pre-requisites in terms of knowledge, skills and social competences (where relevant)

Keen interest in the theory of the Balkan Sprachbund (Balkan language area), Balkan languages and in the contact-induced changes.


Week 1.




Different approaches to the definition of the term ‘Balkans’. What languages are spoken in the Balkans?




General discussion what are balkanisms and how we can explain them (possibility of parallel development, contact-induced changes, language substrate).




Week 2.




Main stages of development of the Balkan Sprachbund’s theory. What languages are included in the Balkan Sprachbund? Main groups of the Balkan Sprachbund (Balkan Slavic, Balkan Romans, Hellenic and Albanian) and their short characteristics (part 1).




Week 3.




Main groups of the Balkan Sprachbund (Balkan Slavic, Balkan Romans, Hellenic and Albanian) and their short characteristics (part 2). Could we treat Judesmo and Romani as a parts of the Balkan Sprachbund (pros and cons)?




Week 4.




List of balkanisms. Main balkanisms (enclitic articles, object reduplication, prepositions instead of cases, dative/possessive merger, goal/location merger, relativum generale, “aux+(comp)+finite verb” construction (so called “Balkan infinitive loss”), volo future, past future as conditional, habeo perfect, evidentialis and analytic comparison) and their analysis in particular Balkan languages (part 1).




Week 5.




Main balkanisms and their analysis in particular Balkan languages (part 2).




Week 6.




Short insight into the history of the discussed changes in the Balkan languages.




Week 7.




Different approaches to the definition of the terms ‘language’ and ‘dialect’. How balkanisms are distributed in particular Balkan languages and their dialects? How we can use this information to define the center of innovation for particular balkanisms?





Reading list

  1. Asenova P. 2002: Balkansko ezikoznanie: Osnovni problem na balkanskija ezikov juz. (2nd edition.) Veliko Tărnovo: Faber.
  2. Hinrichs U. (ed). 1999: Handbuch der Südosteuropa - Linguistik. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  3. Lindstedt J. 2000: Linguistic balkanization: Contact-induced change by mutual reinforcement. In: D. Gilbers, J. Nerbonne, J. Schaeken (eds.) Languages in contact (Studies in Slavic and General Linguistics), Vol. 28, 231–246. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
  4. Sandfeld K. 1930. Linguistique balkanique. Problèmes et résultats. Paris: Champion. (Collection linguistique publiée par la Société Linguistique de Paris, 31).
  5. Trubetzkoy Nicolay, 1928: Proposition 16. In: Actes du Premier congrès international des linguistes, Sijthoff, A. W., Leiden, 17–18.
  6. Sobolev A. (ed.) 2003: Malyj dialektologičeskij atlas balkanskih jazykov. München: Biblion Verlag.
  7. Sobolev A.N. (ed.) 2021:Southeastern European Languages and Cultures in Contact. Between Separation and Symbiosis. Berlin; New York: de Gruyter.
  8. Friedman V. 2006: The Balkans as a Linguistic Area. In: K. Brown (ed.) Elsevier Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, Vol. 1, 657– Oxford: Elsevier.
  9. Sawicka I. 1997: The Balkan rachbund in the Light of Phonetic Features. Warsaw: Energeia.
  10. Schaller H. 1975: Die Balkansprachen: Eine Einführung in die Balkanologie. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.