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Subject: Could an 'Atlantic Sprachbund' Exist?
The Balkan Sprachbund (or ''Speech Union'') consisting of Albanian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian, Modern Greek and several Rom (Gypsy) dialects has been fairly well-studied and seems to be accepted by most linguists as valid.

However, according to some linguists I've read, there is also a so-called ''Nordic Sprachbund'' which consists of Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Several North German dialects. In addition, just a few linguists have suggested an ''Atlantic Sprachbund'' consisting of Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, Dutch, Basque and all of the modern Celtic languages of Western Europe. However this one is much less accepted at the present time.

Sprachbunds consist of languages which may belong to either the same linguistic families or different linguistic families. However, they all share some lexical, morphological and syntactical characteristics in common with each other as a result their geographical proximity to each other and their mutual interaction with each other over a long period of time.

My question is two-fold:

1) Are Estonian (a Finno-Ugrian) language and Polabian (a Slavic language spoken in North Central Germany until about 1750) also considered members of the Nordic Sprachbund?

2) Do you think that the proposal for an Atlantic Sprachbund by a few linguists is sound in any way?

I would enjoy reading any of your perceptions or comments on this. I still don't really know what a professional linguist's view of it is.

Thank you very much for your answers!


1) Some examples for possible inclusion of Estonain and Polabian in the Nordic Sprachbund: Estonian Klar ilm, Polabian Klora vedrü ''Clear weather'' -Norwegian klar vaer; Nor. røve, Sw. röva, Est. roovima, Pol. [email protected] ''to rob'' - all from Low German 'roven' ''to rob, to steal.''

Four examples (although random) which tend to support the Atlantic Sprachbund theory:

1) Dutch broek for ''trousers.'' This word has various cognates in English: breech, britches; Irish Gaelic briste ''pants,'' Scotch Gaelic briogais; Scots English breeks ''trousers,'' Breton bragou ''pants,'' and Spanish braga ''panties; knickers'' but German has HOSEN.

2)Dutch ''Pijnboom'' is lexically and/or morphologically similar to English ''Pine (Tree),'' Welsh ''Pinwydden'', French ''pin'' and Spanish ''pino'' but German has KIEFER.

3) Irish oibrí (worker) is similar to the Spanish and Portuguese words for worker: obrero and obreiro. Vulgar Latin cuctillus later became the word for ''knife'' in Spanish (el cuchillo), French (Le couteau) and Welsh (y gyllell < cyllel ''knife'');

4) English: I beg your pardon; Excuse me. French Excusez-moi; Pardonnez-moi, Dutch Excuseer; Pardon but German Entschuldigen Sie, Verzeihung.

I do believe there's an "Atlantic (European) language area", but not for the reasons
you suggest.

Most Sprachbunds tend to to refer more to shared phonological, morphological and
syntactic innovations and not so much vocabulary. Otherwise, the whole world might
be in the same "techno-Sprachbund" (how many languages have a version of 'phone'
in their vocabulary?)

BUT, it is the case that:

1) Irish, English, Danish/Swedish have all reduced the case system to just genitive
and everything else (Dutch and German have richer case systems as does Icelandic,
Finnish and Russian).

2) English, Welsh/Breton and French/Spanish/Italian have independently eliminated
grammatical case altogether except in pronouns.

3) Both Irish/Welsh/Breton and French/Spanish/Italian have eliminated neuter
gender (in comparison to German and Dutch). English has lost gender altogether
except in pronouns, so it's a bit of an outlier here.

4) The present progressive (to be + present participle) - Not an Indo-European
feature, yet available in a lot of Western European languages.
* Welsh present progressive has supplanted the simple present
* Present progressive common in English
* Available in Spanish and Dutch
French is an outlier here.

5) Loss phonemic vowel length in Breton/Welsh, Romance languages and Danish.
Irish maintains vowel length and vowel length common in Germanic.

Truthfully, it would be surprising if Western Europe were NOT a sprachbund, they are
fairly common whenever languages come in contact over a period of time. But as ytou
can see, some of my examples include Nordic languages and exclude Dutch, so it's a
fluid entity. This is also reasonable considering how contact patterns have changed.

Reply From: Elizabeth J Pyatt     click here to access email
Date: Dec-04-2006
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Could an 'Atlantic Sprachbund' Exist?   Joseph F Foster    (Dec-04-2006)
  2. Re: Could an 'Atlantic Sprachbund' Exist?   Geoffrey Sampson    (Dec-06-2006)

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