(Old) Albanian - Living legacy of a dead language?
According to the central hypothesis of a project undertaken by the Austrian Science Fund FWF, Old Albanian had a significant influence on the development of many Balkan languages. Intensive research now aims to confirm this theory. This little-known language is being researched using all available texts before a comparison with other Balkan languages is carried out. The outcome of this work will include the compilation of a lexicon providing an overview of all Old Albanian verbs.
Different languages in the same geographical area often reveal certain similarities, despite there being no evidence of a common origin. This phenomenon, known as "Sprachbund", is also evident in the Balkan region where the Albanian, Greek, Bulgarian, Macedonian and Romanian languages display common words and structures. The question is whether these languages have influenced one another, or whether one specific language has been decisive in shaping the evolution of the others?
A project by the Department of Linguistics at the University of Vienna aims to prove that (Old) Albanian was a major influence on the other Balkan languages. Linguist Dr. Stefan Schumacher and his colleague Dr. Joachim Matzinger are undertaking pioneering research in two key areas. The initial stage involves an in-depth examination of Old Albanian, as research into this language is extremely scarce in comparison to modern Albanian. This includes an analysis of the Old Albanian verbal system using all available written sources - the first study of its kind. In the second stage, the results are compared with the verbal systems of the other Balkan languages to establish where similarities occur.
Influences from Albania
As project leader Dr. Schumacher explains, the research is already bearing fruit: "So far, our work has shown that Old Albanian contained numerous modal levels that allowed the speaker to express a particular stance to what was being said. Compared to the existing knowledge and literature, these modal levels are actually more extensive and more nuanced than previously thought. We have also discovered a great many verbal forms that are now obsolete or have been lost through restructuring - until now, these forms have barely even been recognized or, at best, have been classified incorrectly." These verbal forms are crucial to explaining the linguistic history of Albanian and its internal usage.
However, they can also shed light on the reciprocal relationship between Albanian and its neighbouring languages. The researchers are following various leads which suggest that Albanian played a key role in the Balkan Sprachbund. For example, it is likely that Albanian is the source of the suffixed definite article in Romanian, Bulgarian and Macedonian, as this has been a feature of Albanian since ancient times.
This project is based on the entire body of available Old Albanian literature dating from between the 16th and 18th centuries. This will prove a real challenge for the researchers as it comprises 1,500 pages of text, each of which must be analysed extremely carefully. Dr. Matzinger comments: "Until now, very little research has been carried out on these texts, as we are dealing almost exclusively with Catholic religious literature that was first forgotten and then became taboo, particularly during the Communist era. Following the fall of Communism, this literature has once again emerged from the shadows, but, so far, there has been a lack of money and of background knowledge about Catholicism."
Due to their role in the FWF project, these old texts are receiving a new lease of life and taking their place as part of Austria's rich tradition of research into this area - indeed, the Austrian professor Norbert Jokl, who was killed by the Nazis, is known as the "father of Albanology". Jokl would no doubt have been proud to witness the first complete representation of the Old Albanian verbal system in the form of the lexicon that is to be produced at the conclusion of the research. This will provide a foundation for all future investigations into the verbal system of Albanian and will also prove invaluable to Indo-European studies and linguistics as a whole.
Dr. Stefan Schumacher
University of Vienna
Institute of Linguistics / Indo-European Studies
1010 Wien, Austria
T +43 / 1 / 4277 - 41 753
M +43 / 676 / 79 73 521
Austrian Science Fund FWF
Mag. Stefan Bernhardt
Copy Editing & Distribution
PR&D - Public Relations for Research & Education
Campus Vienna Biocenter 2
1030 Wien, Austria
T +43 / 1 / 505 70 44