The Baltic languages are a group of genetically-related languages spoken in northeastern Europe and belonging to the Indo_European language family.
Division and member languages
The Baltic language group is divided into two genetic sub_groups: West Baltic, which now contains only extinct languages, and East Baltic, which contains the living languages in the group.
West Baltic languages
East Baltic languages
Note that although the term Baltic states is commonly used to refer collectively to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the Estonian language is a Uralic language, not shown to be related to Lithuanian, Latvian or any of the Indo-European languages.
Present-day distribution of the living Baltic languages, with probable historical distribution of two major extinct Baltic languages.
Speakers of modern Baltic languages are generally concentrated within the borders of Latvia, and in emigrant communities in the United States, Canada, Australia and former Soviet states. Historically the languages were spoken over a larger area: West to the mouth of the Poland, at least as far East as the Dniepr river in present-day Belarus, perhaps even to Moscow, perhaps as far South as Kiev. Key evidence of Baltic language presence in these regions is found in Hydronyms (names of bodies of water) in the regions that are characteristically Baltic. Use of hydronyms is generally accepted to determine the extent of these cultures' influence, but not the date of such influence. Expansion of Slavic peoples in the South and East, and Germanic peoples in the West reduced the Baltic territory to a fraction of their former area.
The Indo-European tribes speaking the dialects that would become the Baltic languages probably settled in the area South of the Baltic coast in about the 13th Century B.C.E. and later migrated towards the coast where they met an indigenous population of subsistence fishermen and farmers speaking a Uralic language. This indigenous population was assimilated to varying degrees with the Baltic peoples. Divergence of the dialects into distinct languages probably occured in the 1st millenium C.E.
Although the various Baltic tribes were mentioned by ancient historians as early as 98 B.C.E, The first attestation of a Baltic language was in about 1350, with the creation of the Elbing Prussian Vocabulary, a German to Prussian translation dictionary. Lithuanian was first attested in a hymnal translation in 1545; the first printed book in Lithuanian, a Catechism by Martynas Mažvydas was published in 1547. Latvian appeared in a hymnal in 1530 and in a printed Catechism in German state in Prussia, and the relocation of much of the Baltic Prussian population in the 13th century, Prussians began to be assimilated, and by the end of the 17th century, the Prussian language had become extinct.
During the years of the Polish_Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569-1795), official documents were written in Polish, Ruthenian and Latin, with Lithuanian being mostly an oral language of commoners.
After the Partitions of Poland, much of the Baltic lands were under the rule of the Russian Empire, where the native languages were sometimes prohibited from being written down, or used publicly.
Relationship with other Indo-European languages
The Baltic languages are of particular interest to linguists because they retain many Archaic features, which are believed to have been present in the early stages of the Proto-Indo-European language.
Linguists disagree regarding the relationship of the Baltic languages to other languages in the Indo-European family. Such relationships are discerned primarily by the Comparative method, which seeks to reconstruct the chronology of the languages' divergence from each other in phonology and lexicon. Language kinship is generally determined by the identification of linguistic innovations that are held in common by two languages or groups.
Several of the extinct Baltic languages have a limited or nonexistant written record, their existence being known only from the records of ancient historians and personal or place names; all of the languages in the Baltic group (including the living ones) were first written down relatively late in their probable existence as distinct languages. These two factors combined with others have obscured the history of the Baltic languages, leading to a number of theories regarding their position in the Indo_European family.
While some linguists believe that the Baltic languages diverged from Proto_Indo_European separately from other language groups, others feel that the Baltic languages share a common ancestor tongue with either the Slavic languages or the Germanic languages, and should be classified as Balto-Slavic or Balto-Germanic respectively.
Close relationships have also been posited between the Baltic languages and geographically-distant Indo-European languages and groups such as Albanian, Dacian, and Thracian.
More recently, it has been suggested that the Baltic language group is itself an inappropriate grouping and that the West Baltic and East Baltic groups have differing lineages that converged later in their existences.
- Joseph Pashka, Proto Baltic and Baltic languages (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Ithaca/6623/proto.htm) (1994)
- Lituanus Linguistics Index (http://www.lituanus.org/IndexLanguage.htm) (1955-2004) provides a number of articles on modern and archaic Baltic languages.
- Mallory, J.P. (1991). In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology and Myth. New York: Thames and Hudson Ltd. ISBN 0-500-27616-1