Seržant (2020) The Circum-Baltic Area. An Overview

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      Carlos Quiles

      A recent and rather conservative summary of the palaeolinguistic context for cultures and genomes around the Baltic Sea (and North-Eastern Europe in general) can be found in Ilja Seržant’s draft The Circum-Baltic Area. An Overview (2019, version 2 of 2020).

      Some relevant excerpts, including a summary (emphasis by the author):

      We do not know anything about the languages of the tribes that settled in the region before the major present-day linguistic groups of the area arrived. The Saami constitute the first immigration wave, followed by the closely related Finnic population. Then came the Balts, and subsequently the Slavs. The western part of the area, Scandinavia, was gradually settled by North Germanic tribes arriving there from Denmark. The West of the [Circum-Baltic] area (Scandinavia) and the East (Finnland, the Baltic states, Belarus, Poland, and the West and North-West of Russia) existed fully independently from each other for a long period time, basically, up until the historical period. At the same time, large parts of both territories were subject to longitudinal Finnic and Saami substrate effects.

      (…) The emergence of spatial expressions morphologically realized via case stacking crucially involving postfixes took place at different hotbeds (Scandinavia, Northwest Russia, West Latvia and West Lithuania) and most probably through independent historical processes, but, crucially, triggered by the same substrate (Finnic and possibly Saami). (…)

      To summarize, there is good evidence to assume that the development of spatial cases has been subject to strong language contact in the whole area. Finnic and Saami were the donor languages, albeit they exercised their impact on the neighbouring languages to varying degree. We observe that different processes in different languages affected the encoding of spatial relations by means of case: Russian has recycled the former locative ending of the u-declension. East Baltic has encliticized former postpositions for the at- and in-cases while Scandinavian has encliticized the adpositions from and in with some few words. It is probable that different Finnic and/or Saami areas provided the input here. In a second wave, however, Swedish and German must have played the main role in propagating the adpositional phrases that gradually replaced the former spatial cases. The chronology of these changes is noteworthy because it is recurrent in the area: The earlier layer of changes is often due to contacts with the autochthonous Finnic and Saami population while the later changes are due to contacts with the politically and socially dominant languages, such as Swedish, Low/High German, Polish, and Russian. Contact-induced changes relating to vowel harmony, as discussed above, also confirm this finding. This does not apply to lexical borrowings and lexicalizations of grammatical patterns, such as pluralia tantum. (…)

      There are a number of common traits – I list 27 common traits of the CB area in total above (cf. 2.6.3) – that go beyond just a pair of languages. However, there is considerable variation across the languages of the CB area with respect to factors as corpus frequency, the degree of grammaticalization, selectional input restrictions, the degree of diachronic persistence of a contact-induced trait, etc. On the basis of two selected examples (vowel harmony and spatial cases), I have argued that this variation is due to later geographic and historical diversification of various hotbeds in the later, historical period. In turn, the earliest common traits emerged from assimilating parts of the Uralic population – that is, Finnic and Saami people, leaving traces in the Indo-European languages on both sides of the Baltic Sea.

      Finnic and Saami, as well as Low and, later, High German were the donor languages that left traces in all languages of the area. By contrast, other donor languages, such as Polish, Russian, and Swedish had effects that were rather local and confined to a particular subarea. Moreover, while the Finnic and Saami impact was primarily due to extensive bilingualism and substrate effects, the impact of Low and, later, High German was rather based on cultural and political dominance of the language.

      Read the whole draft at

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