Usually, you imagine a linguistic map as a palette of colors, each distinctly different from each other. Those who master more than one language are often not aware of the deep relationships of mutual influence that language systems have if they do not have the observation and analysis skills that go beyond the formal acoustic dimension.
Linguists bring us up to date with everything in this field: by investigating the invisible structure of languages, we often get surprising results that allow us to understand how the human mind was able to take possession of the real world through the definition and development of the very sophisticated system that is language. Now, it is a known fact that language systems in contact with each other can develop converging tendencies: linguistic range tells us this very fact, by offering us the tools to decide whether two or more populations that share a space and “meet themselves” for a greater or shorter time can end up being similar, also from a linguistic point of view.
In order for a given linguistic area to have scientific significance, it is obviously necessary to disregard the sets of languages that present a certain number of similarities that come from their language family; it is precisely from the documentation of similar language traits in linguistic systems unrelated to each other that the theory of the linguistic area began.
One of the most striking examples of a linguistic area is obviously Europe, a melting pot of cultures and languages from the dawn of time. Some research into linguistic typology has indeed revealed a convergence of the European languages, strangely using the much better-known genetic classification. An analysis carried out at the centre of the EUROTYP project – Typology of Languages in Europe, sponsored by the European Sciences Foundation – has revealed that the languages spoken today and in the past in Central Western Europe have developed similar traits. In particular, several linguistic convergences have been identified using a non-negligible scientific basis between Dutch (a Germanic language, the Netherlands and Belgium), German (a Germanic language) and certain Gallo-Romance languages (including French and northern Italian dialects). As an attentive reader may observe, these language groups are concentrated in a well-defined area, consequently renamed the ‘Charlemagne linguistic area’. The title is obviously not random: it is thought that the political centralisation of the French emperor was one of the historical and cultural motives that initiated such linguistic progress that was then independently completed not only on the superficial lexical level but also the deeper syntactic and derivational morphology level.
Without getting too much into detail, some of the structural similarities that the researchers identified are:
- The perfect with ‘to have’ (the following examples show similarities of form, not of use). Here are some examples:
- ITALIAN – Lucia ha mangiato (Lucia has eaten)
- ENGLISH – John has done
- NORWEGIAN – Jeg har lest (I have read)
- Personal affixes as indicators of strict agreement with the subject. For example:
- ITALIAN (io) gioc-o; (noi) gioch-iamo
- GERMAN (ich) spiel-e; (wir) spiel-en
- FRENCH (je) jou-e; (nous) jou-ons
- the simultaneous existence of both indefinite and definite articles. This point requires a clarification: us Europeans are convinced that all historical-natural languages have articles; however, the statistics disprove this categorically. In reality, out of a sample of 400 languages, only 31 have developed both the definite and indefinite article, and 21 of these are spoken in Europe (remember that Latin, from which the romance languages originated, did not have articles);
- a common refined lexicon of Latin or Greek origin and a common strategy for the formation of new words by using classical matrix affixes having their roots in the classic era, certainly derived from common cultural macro references; For example from the Greek φιλοσοφία, philosophy, made up of φιλεῖν (phileîn), “to love” e σοφία (sophía) “knowledge”
- ITALIAN, PORTUGESE, filosofia
- FRENCH, GERMAN, philosophie
- ENGLISH philosophy
- SLOVENIAN filozofija
- DUTCH filosofie
By quickly considering the characteristics listed above that only represent part of the common linguistic traits that were found, the reader may argue that they are the qualities of languages that developed in Central-Eastern Europe. The scholars in question obviously have a valid explanation: the European language systems are in fact placed on an imaginary line near the Standard Average European (SAE), a linguistic concept observed by the American Benjamin Lee Whorf to which one could attribute the Central-Eastern European languages; simplifying everything, the Charlemagne area encompasses the European languages, both past and the present, that share the entirety of the linguistic traits classified by the European Science Foundation; moving away from the area, there is a progressive reduction in the incidence of the typical SAE traits in language systems spoken in peripheral areas compared to the original centre of diffusion.
Another widely recognised linguistic area between Europe and Asia is the Balkans region that gathers together languages such as modern Greek, Albanian (today still considered isolated languages), Romanian (a romance and neo-Latin language, like Italian), Turkish (an Altaic language, like Manchù), Hungarian (an Uralic language, like Finnish, Samoyed and Lappish) and several Slavic languages, such as Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, Bulgarian and Macedonian. It is important to underline the belonging to different linguistic families to show that the similarities between them are the outcome of convergences derived from centuries of coexistence (peaceful or not) of the language groups in question. The cited studies, results of the application of typological parameters, show how languages, as organisms in a constant state of change, do not only change based on intralinguistic properties (including the economy, the characteristic of all historical-natural languages that provides that a given linguistic system tends to develop communicative strategies that allow communication, giving as much information as possible with the least articulatory and cognitive effort) but mainly because of interlinguistic contact, an outcome of special historical, social and geo-political conditions.