By Nelson CABEJ/
The history of the Albanian language is an essential part of their history and cannot be separated from it. Being an Indo-European language, Albanian, like all the rest of Indo-European languages of Europe has a considerable Pre-Indo-European linguistic substrate, originating in the language of the Neolithic population of the Western Balkans. The prevailing opinion among linguists is that Neolithic Europe was characterized by a linguistic diversity of languages that didn’t belong to a single family of languages.
During the Neolithic, the territory where by the Bronze Age formed the Illyrian ethnos, flourished the Vinča culture, which left a large number pictographic “writings”. However, the pictographs are still not deciphered and provide us no clue about the language they spoke. Basque may be the only language that survived from the group of the Neolithic languages of Europe, but the extinct Minoan language attested in undeciphered inscriptions and the Eteocretan language (whose inscriptions are deciphered) in Crete are clearly non-Indo-European languages and is believed to belong to the group of the Neolithic pre-Indo-European languages. It is not known whether the languages of the Caucasus belong to the same group of Neolithic languages.
The development of the ancient Mediterranean culture of the Pre-Indo-European inhabitants of Western Balkans was interrupted with the arrival of the immigrant population, the bearers of the Indo-European culture. From their fusion, a new culture emerged in the region. Despite the domination of the Indo-European component, elements of the earlier Mediterranean culture were preserved in the emerging new culture.
From the viewpoint of the physical-anthropology, however, the following process of dinaricization of population in this region complicates the situation to such a degree that makes it difficult for us today to determine the relative contribution of Pre-Indo-European type in the formation of the population that came to be known as Illyrians by the bronze era.
Under such circumstances, the examination of the lexical Pre-Indo-European and Indo-European substrate of the Albanian language could lead us to a reliable judgment on the relative contributions of both components of the Illyrian culture. It is generally believed that the pastoral civilization of steppes was lower than the agriculture-based civilization of the late Neolithic inhabitants of the South-East Europe, with the first being of a higher degree of patriarchal organization1. This and the fact that at the time existed no state and true centralization of the social structure, leads one to believe that the contribution of both the Pre-Indo-European and Indo-European populations in the formation of future Illyrian ethnos and the spiritual and material culture that emerged from their gradual fusion, might have been proportional to the contribution of each of them to the language of Illyrians, and Albanian as a linear descendant of Illyrian. Commenting on the Norbert Jokl’s view on Illyrian-Thracian origin of Albanian the greatest scholar of the history of the Albanian, Eqrem Çabej, while admitting the possibility of a Thracian component in Albanian, concluded that available linguistic material proves that “Illyrian is the major contributor to the formation of the Albanian language”2. However, as late as 1976, the well known Croatian linguist, Radoslav Katičić, denied the very existence of any proof or reliable indications on any Thracian origin of Albanian3: “Nothing in the nature of a proof has been presented so far for the Thracian origin of Albanian, only a cumulation of indications which, without deciding the question, prevent us from rejecting the Thracian hypothesis outright. The only thing one can do is to keep an open mind while remembering that in this controversy the burden of proof is with those who deny the Illyrian descent of Albanian”3.
Since the beginning of the 19th century when Franz Bopp (1791-1867) and August Schleicher (1821- 1868) proved that Albanian belongs to the Indo-European family of languages4, 5, most linguists pointed out that the Albanian vocabulary and grammatical structure is Indo-European and, from the family of ancient Indo-European languages, Illyrian provided most of the lexical material, without excluding a modest contribution of Thracian, which is difficult to be determined because of the close genetic relationship and likeness of these two ancient languages.
In modern Albanian, however, a considerable number of words is believed to belong to the ancient Balkan Pre-Indo-European substrate. Most of them belong to Albanian-Basque lexical correspondences, e.g. Albanian agon ‘to dawn’ and Basque ego ‘light’, Alb. bisht ‘tail’ and Basq. bustan ‘tail’, hardhi ‘grapevine, grape plant’ and ardo ‘wine’4, etc. In 50es of the 20th century E. Lahovary and K. Bouda discovered a number of Albanian-Basque concordances, which could not be accidental. A number of words of the Pre-Indo-European substrate of Albanian are similar with the corresponding words of the Pre-Indo-European substrtate of other Indo-European languages. So, e.g., Albanian words rripë, shkrep, etc. are comparable to the corresponding words of the Pre-Indo-European substrate of German (dialectal form riepe ‘rripë, rrëpirë), Italian (dialectal rave and grepo ‘shkrep’) and French (dialectal crep, grep ‘shkrep’). In the ancient Illyrian language were preserved a number of Mediterranean, Pre-Indo-European place names, such as names of the islands Issa and Cissa, as well as place names Puplisca, Tambia(Timbia) etc. considered by Hans Krahe7.
Although the contribution of this ancient Mediterranean language to the vocabulary and morphology of Illyrian and the Albanian language is very difficult to be determined, the idea exists that there are more words of the Mediterranean substrate in modern Albanian than in other Balkan languages and the study of the lexical material of Albanian may considerably contribute to the knowledge of the lexical structure of ancient languages of Balkans8 (Mayer, A. (1957). Die Sprache der alten Illyrier I.).
In regard to the possible Thracian component that may have participated in formation of the Albanian people, culture and language, it is noteworthy that the Thracian component is not satisfactorily demonstrated and argued. Besides, that contribution may be exaggerated because at the time, i.e. more than 2 millennia ago, as argued by Norbert Jokl, Illyrian and Thracian were two closely related Indo-European languages (Polack, V. (1964). Op. cit.). It can be imagined that Illyrian and Thracian at the time of the formation of the Albanian people have been roughly as closely related to each other as two neo-Latin languages are today. Such a conclusion would be drawn based on the general view of the historical linguistics that differentiation of languages of a common origin, in our case of the Indo-European family of languages, is a function of time. This implies that in the classical era Illyrian and Thracian from their common Proto-Indo-European were evolving as separate dialects for about 2 millennia.
1 Garashanin, M.V. (1971). Nomades des steppes et autochtones dans le Sud-Est européen à l’epoque de transition du néolithique a l’age du bronze. In Sympossion: L’ethnogenese des peuples balkaniques. Sofia, p. 9-14.
2 Çabej, E. (1976). Studime Gjuhësore III. Rilindja, Prishtinë, p. 36.
3 Katičić R. (1976). Ancient Languages of the Balkans. Ed. W. Winter, Mouton & Co., The Hague, p. 187-88.
4 Bopp, F. (1855).Über das Albanesische in seinen verwandtschaftlichen Beziehungen. Stargardt, Berlin.
5 Schleicher, A. (1861). Compendium der vergleichende Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen. Bohlau, Weimar.
6 Krahe, H. ((1955). Die Sprache der Illyrier. Wiesbaden, f. 48.
7 Çabej, E.. (1936). Mundartliches aus Italien. Glotta, XXV (1/2), 50–57 (52).
8 Mayer, A. (1957). Die Sprache der alten Illyrier I.