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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: February 2017

11 - The Balkan Perfects: Grammaticalization and Contact


The Balkan languages, especially Greek, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Romanian, and Albanian, present a remarkable series of similarities in their syntactic structure, in spite of the fact that most of these languages are only distantly related. As mentioned in Chapter 2, the Balkan languages have come to be recognized as a classic example of a Sprachbund, or linguistic area, which can be defined as a group of contiguous languages that share a set of structural correspondences not inherited from a common ancestor but developed by means of long-term contact. What this chapter will demonstrate most clearly is that a Sprachbund is not merely an area of single-tiered contact or a region where features converge in some unmotivated way. Rather, it represents an accumulation of the effects of many layers of influence, all governed by the sociolinguistic pressures that were in existence at the time of the spread of each innovation, as well as by the formal characteristics of the model and the copying varieties. The way that the innovation is inserted into the linguistic system depends on the formal context, but the motivation for the change itself springs from sociolinguistic considerations (Johanson 1992; Bisang 1996). The innovations tend to enter as productive reworkings, renewals, of elements already in existence in the language, resulting in what could be regarded as motivated, sociolinguistically governed exaptations – exaptations not in the sense that the reanalyzed material was useless before, but in the sense that it receives a new, heightened value, imbued as it is with desirable external connections.

Historical Factors Fostering Balkan Linguistic Unity

Before we begin our analysis of the development of the periphrastic perfect in the Balkans, a brief look at the social and political factors that unified the area throughout its history may be useful, for it is clearly the complex shared history of the Balkan speech communities that caused them to develop so many systematic correspondences. One of the most important factors in this development was a shared history of domination – by the Roman Empire, by Byzantine Greece and the Greek Orthodox Church, and eventually by the Ottoman Turks. The various invasions of Byzantine territory by Slavic and Avar tribes in the sixth century led to the weakening of central administration and cities, with “radical ruralization of society” (Fine 1983; Weithmann 1994; Lindstedt 2000: 240).

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Language Contact in Europe
  • Online ISBN: 9781139027694
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