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The term Sprachbund goes back to Nikolai Sergejewitsch Trubetzkoy and describes a group of languages that are typologically more similar than would be expected based on their genetic relationship . A distinction can be made between a broad and a narrow language federation term.

The former includes all groupings of languages ​​that have at least one feature in common that cannot be explained by the relationship between languages. A classic example is Roman Jakobson's pioneering essay On Phonological Language Groups .

The narrower language federation has a number of additional conditions. A certain minimum distance is required , i.e. This means that closely related languages ​​(e.g. Russian and Polish) cannot generally form a linguistic union on their own, the largest possible number of common features or isoglosses (at least two), a minimum relevance, i.e. a great importance of the common features, as well as their presence in at least three (not just two!) languages, as the similarities are otherwise considered to be simple bilateral contact.

A distinction is still made between active and passive characteristics. Active means that in at least one of the language federation a feature must have been rebuilt through contact influence within the language federation, e.g. B. the article in Bulgarian , while passive means a characteristic preserved through contact (which would have been degraded without this contact), such as probably the synthetic language structure of Russian .

The unique combination resulting from the common features is the characteristic of the respective language group. However, the characteristics do not have to be restricted to the Sprachbund; it is only important that the combination of all features occurs only once. A language can also be a member of several language groups.

A language union is created through particularly intensive language contact , in which larger groups of speakers of different languages ​​have a high degree of interaction with one another over a long period of time, with widespread bilingualism or multilingualism being seen as an important factor.

The similarities resulting from the convergent development in the linguistic union are sometimes misinterpreted as a sign of genetic relationship in cases where genetic relationships cannot be clearly determined. A good example of this are Southeast Asian languages ​​such as Thai and Vietnamese , which have taken on the properties of neighboring languages: just like Chinese , they have monosyllabic words and the pitches have different meanings (see tonal language ). Nevertheless, today one does not (anymore) assume a relationship to the Sino-Tibetan language family .

In recent research, the concept of the Sprachbund is controversial.

Some well-known language federations

Some well-known language groups are briefly explained below. They serve as examples of how relatively different languages ​​(a speaker of one language cannot understand the speaker of the other language because of their genetic relationship) are grammatically similar.

The Balkans Language Association

The Balkansprachbund is a linguistic union in south-eastern Europe, i.e. a group of languages ​​that are not genetically closely related, but which nevertheless have a number of striking structural similarities.

The South Asian language federation

The South Asian language federation is a language federation that covers the entire Indian subcontinent.

The Ethiopian language federation

Under the term Ethiopian convergence area , a linguistic alliance of Ethiosemitic , Cushitic and Omotic languages ​​is also discussed, to which the Nilo-Saharan Kunama is also counted. Features of this language federation are z. B. ejective consonants, palatalization , SOV word order, converbs , postpositions and verb constructions with 'say'.

The Baltic language federation

Sometimes a Baltic language union is mentioned, which includes the Baltic languages and some Russian and Belarusian dialects . The following features are typical for the languages ​​of this language union:

It is assumed that these similarities go back to a Baltic substrate (see also Altnowgorod dialect , Dnieper-Balten ).

SAE language association

Standard Average European (in German: Standard Average European, also called SAE languages) means a European language association, i.e. H. a group of European languages ​​that have a number of linguistic structural features that are the same, although they are not necessarily related to one another, i.e. they are derived from the same original language.

The Alpine Language Association

The so-called Alpensprachbund has recently been researched, to which some Upper German and ( Rhaeto ) Romance dialects, especially in Switzerland, belong (research is initially limited to these two groups). Typical features of this language group are, for example:

  • Passively come with (e.g. the bridge is built );
  • Future tense with to come (e.g. this will be paid out this year );
  • Dative coding by preposition + dative ( give it to / in the mother );
  • Geminized pronouns (stressed + clitic ; especially in (maximum) Alemannic , in Bavarian in the 1st person plural generally possible, e.g. mir ham ma ).

In the area of ​​historical Carantania , similar interference phenomena are observed for South Bavarian, Friulian and partly also Slovenian .

The Central European language area (Donausprachbund)

The Central European Language Association includes the languages German , Hungarian , Czech and Slovak . The following features can be identified:

Regarding phonetics and phonology

  • Differences between long and short vowels ( vowel quantity ): Hungarian fél [fe: l] 'to be afraid' vs. hungarian fel [fEl] 'up'
  • Final hardening : Czech had [hat] 'snake'; this feature does not exist in Hungarian!
  • The main accent is on the first syllable; here numerous exceptions in German (e.g. for foreign words and compound words)

Regarding the morphology

  • numerous prefixes in verba
  • circumscribing passive voice (the passive voice is rarely used in Hungarian)
  • regular increase in adjectives and adverbs
  • irregular increase in adverbs in the comparative and superlative

Regarding the syntax

  • Relative clauses can be made up of indirect questions: German "I don't know who you are" = Czech Nevím, "kdo" jsi = Slovak Neviem, "kto" si = Hungarian Nem tudom, "ki" vagy .


  • Henrik Becker: The language association. Humboldt et al., Leipzig 1948.
  • Hans Henrich Hock & Brian D. Joseph: Language History, Language Change, and Language Relationship. An Introduction to Historical and Comparative Linguistics. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 1996, ISBN 3-11-014785-8 .
  • Helena Kurzová: Central Europe as a language area . In: Acta Universitatis Carolinae - Philologica 5, Germanistica Pragensia XIII (1996), pp. 57-73.
  • Stefan Michael Newerkla : Contact areas in Central Europe . In: A. Kątny (red.), Słowiánsko-niesłowiańskie kontakty językowe. Slavic-non-Slavic language contacts. Materiały z międzynarodowej konferencji naukowej zorganizowanej przez Wydział Filologii Wszechnicy Mazurskiej i Instytut Filologii Germańskiej Uniwersytetu Gdańskiego w later 27 - 28 czerwca 2005 r. Słowiańsko-niesłowiańskie kontakty językowe w perspektywie dia- i synchronicznej. Slavic-non-Slavic language contacts in a slide and synchronic view . Wydawnictwo Wszechnicy Mazurskiej, Olecko 2007, pp. 29-48.
  • Stefan Michael Newerkla: Language contacts German - Czech - Slovak. Dictionary of German loanwords in Czech and Slovak: historical development, evidence, previous and new interpretations. Second, continuously revised and updated edition (= writings on languages ​​and texts 7). Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main, 2011, ISBN 978-3-631-61026-8 (print), ISBN 978-3-653-03121-8 (e-book), doi : 10.3726 / 978-3-653-03121 -8 , in it excursus: Central Europe as a language area , pp. 80–86.
  • Norbert Reiter: Basics of Balkanology. A step into Eurolinguistics. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1994, ISBN 3-447-03522-6 ( Balkanological Publications 22).
  • Thomas Stolz : Language Association in the Baltic States? Estonian and Latvian at the center of a linguistic convergence landscape. Brockmeyer, Bochum 1991, ISBN 3-88339-881-0 ( Bochum-Essen contributions to research into language change 13).
  • Jiří Pilarský: Donausprachbund - the arealist profile of a linguistic landscape . Habilitation thesis at the University of Debrecen (Institute for German Studies). Debrecen 2001. Available online (last accessed September 1, 2018).
  • Sarah Gray Thomason & Terrence Kaufman: Language contact, creolization, and genetic linguistics. University of California Press, Berkeley 1992 (1988), ISBN 978-0-520-07893-2 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Sprachbund  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Language union definition on glottopedia
  2. Roman Jakobson: About the phonological language groups . In: Travaux du cercle linguistique de Prague 4, 1931, pp. 234-240.
  3. ^ Daniel Weiss: Russian as an anti-analytic language. In: Uwe Hinrichs (Ed.): The European languages ​​on the way to the analytical language type. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2004, ISBN 3-447-04785-2 .
  4. ^ Stefan Weninger: Ethio-Semitic in General . In: The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook , edd. S. Weninger et al. (HSK 36), Berlin 2011, pp. 1118–1119 (with literature).