A Sprachbund (ˈʃpʁaːxbʊnt : "language league" in German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

) – also known as a linguistic area, convergence area, diffusion area or language crossroads – is a group of language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s that have become similar in some way because of geographical proximity and language contact
Language contact
Language contact occurs when two or more languages or varieties interact. The study of language contact is called contact linguistics.Multilingualism has likely been common throughout much of human history, and today most people in the world are multilingual...

. They may be genetically unrelated, or only distantly related. Where genetic affiliations are unclear, the Sprachbund characteristics might give a false appearance of relatedness. Areal features
Areal feature (linguistics)
In linguistics, an areal feature is any feature shared by languages within the same geographical area as a consequence of linguistic diffusion....

 are common features of a group of languages in a Sprachbund.


In a 1904 paper, Jan Baudouin de Courtenay emphasized the need to distinguish between language similarities arising from a genetic relationship and those arising from convergence
Language convergence
Language convergence is a type of contact-induced change whereby languages with many bilingual speakers mutually borrow morphological and syntactic features, making their typology more similar....

 due to language contact.
The term Sprachbund, a calque
In linguistics, a calque or loan translation is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal, word-for-word or root-for-root translation.-Calque:...

 of the Russian term yazykovoy soyuz ("language union"), was introduced by Nikolai Trubetzkoy
Nikolai Trubetzkoy
Prince Nikolai Sergeyevich Trubetzkoy was a Russian linguist and historian whose teachings formed a nucleus of the Prague School of structural linguistics. He is widely considered to be the founder of morphophonology...

 in an article in 1923.
In a paper presented to the 1st International Congress of Linguists in 1928, Trubetzkoy defined a Sprachbund as a group of languages with similarities in syntax, morphological structure, cultural vocabulary and sound systems, but without systematic sound correspondences, shared basic morphology or shared basic vocabulary.
Later workers, starting with Trubetzkoy's colleague Roman Jakobson
Roman Jakobson
Roman Osipovich Jakobson was a Russian linguist and literary theorist.As a pioneer of the structural analysis of language, which became the dominant trend of twentieth-century linguistics, Jakobson was among the most influential linguists of the century...

, have relaxed the requirement of similarities in all four of the areas stipulated by Trubetzkoy.

In contrast, a Sprachraum
Sprachraum is a linguistic term used to designate a geographical region/district where a language, dialect, group or family of languages is spoken. The German word Sprachraum literally means "language area"....

(from German, "language area"), also known as a dialect continuum
Dialect continuum
A dialect continuum, or dialect area, was defined by Leonard Bloomfield as a range of dialects spoken across some geographical area that differ only slightly between neighboring areas, but as one travels in any direction, these differences accumulate such that speakers from opposite ends of the...

, describes a group of genetically related dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s spoken across a geographical area, differing in their genetic relationship only slightly between areas that are geographically close, and gradually decreasing in mutual intelligibility
Mutual intelligibility
In linguistics, mutual intelligibility is recognized as a relationship between languages or dialects in which speakers of different but related languages can readily understand each other without intentional study or extraordinary effort...

 as distances increase.

The Balkans

The idea of areal convergence is commonly attributed to Jernej Kopitar
Jernej Kopitar
Jernej Bartol Kopitar was a Slovene linguist and philologist working in Vienna. He also worked as the Imperial censor for Slovene literature in Vienna...

's description in 1830 of Albanian
Albanian language
Albanian is an Indo-European language spoken by approximately 7.6 million people, primarily in Albania and Kosovo but also in other areas of the Balkans in which there is an Albanian population, including western Macedonia, southern Montenegro, southern Serbia and northwestern Greece...

, Bulgarian
Bulgarian language
Bulgarian is an Indo-European language, a member of the Slavic linguistic group.Bulgarian, along with the closely related Macedonian language, demonstrates several linguistic characteristics that set it apart from all other Slavic languages such as the elimination of case declension, the...

 and Romanian
Romanian language
Romanian Romanian Romanian (or Daco-Romanian; obsolete spellings Rumanian, Roumanian; self-designation: română, limba română ("the Romanian language") or românește (lit. "in Romanian") is a Romance language spoken by around 24 to 28 million people, primarily in Romania and Moldova...

 as giving the impression of "nur eine Sprachform ... mit dreierlei Sprachmaterie", which has been rendered by Victor Friedman
Victor Friedman
Victor A. Friedman is an American linguist. He is currently Andrew W. Carnegie Professor in the humanities at the University of Chicago. He holds a joint appointment in linguistics and Slavic languages and literatures with an associated appointment in anthropology...

 as "one grammar with the three lexicons".
The Balkan Sprachbund comprises Albanian, Romanian, the South Slavic languages
South Slavic languages
The South Slavic languages comprise one of three branches of the Slavic languages. There are approximately 30 million speakers, mainly in the Balkans. These are separated geographically from speakers of the other two Slavic branches by a belt of German, Hungarian and Romanian speakers...

 of the southern Balkans (Bulgarian, Macedonian
Macedonian language
Macedonian is a South Slavic language spoken as a first language by approximately 2–3 million people principally in the region of Macedonia but also in the Macedonian diaspora...

 and to a lesser degree Serbian
Serbian language
Serbian is a form of Serbo-Croatian, a South Slavic language, spoken by Serbs in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia and neighbouring countries....

), Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

, and Romani
Romani language
Romani or Romany, Gypsy or Gipsy is any of several languages of the Romani people. They are Indic, sometimes classified in the "Central" or "Northwestern" zone, and sometimes treated as a branch of their own....

. All these are Indo-European languages
Indo-European languages
The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

 but from very different branches. Yet they have exhibited several signs of grammatical convergence, such as avoidance of the infinitive
In grammar, infinitive is the name for certain verb forms that exist in many languages. In the usual description of English, the infinitive of a verb is its basic form with or without the particle to: therefore, do and to do, be and to be, and so on are infinitives...

, future tense
Future tense
In grammar, a future tense is a verb form that marks the event described by the verb as not having happened yet, but expected to happen in the future , or to happen subsequent to some other event, whether that is past, present, or future .-Expressions of future tense:The concept of the future,...

 formation, and others. The same features are not found in other languages that are otherwise closely related, such as the other Romance languages, in relation to Romanian, and the other Slavic languages, such as Polish in relation to Macedonian.

Indian subcontinent

In a classic 1956 paper titled "India as a Linguistic Area", Murray Emeneau laid the groundwork for the general acceptance of the concept of a Sprachbund. In the paper, Emeneau observed that the subcontinent's Dravidian
Dravidian languages
The Dravidian language family includes approximately 85 genetically related languages, spoken by about 217 million people. They are mainly spoken in southern India and parts of eastern and central India as well as in northeastern Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, and...

 and Indo-Aryan languages
Indo-Aryan languages
The Indo-Aryan languages constitutes a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages, itself a branch of the Indo-European language family...

 shared a number of features that were not inherited from a common source, but were areal features, the result of diffusion during sustained contact.

Emeneau specified the tools to establish that language and culture had fused for centuries on the Indian soil to produce an integrated mosaic of structural convergence of four distinct language families: Indo-Aryan
Indo-Aryan languages
The Indo-Aryan languages constitutes a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages, itself a branch of the Indo-European language family...

, Dravidian
Dravidian languages
The Dravidian language family includes approximately 85 genetically related languages, spoken by about 217 million people. They are mainly spoken in southern India and parts of eastern and central India as well as in northeastern Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, and...

, Munda
Munda languages
-Anderson :Gregory Anderson's 1999 proposal is as follows. Individual languages are highlighted in italics.*North Munda **Korku**Kherwarian***Santhali***Mundari*South Munda **Kharia–Juang***Juang***Kharia...

 and Tibeto-Burman. This concept provided scholarly substance for explaining the underlying Indian-ness of apparently divergent cultural and linguistic patterns. With his further contributions, this area has now become a major field of research in language contact and convergence.

Mainland Southeast Asia

The area stretching from southern Thailand to southern China is home to speakers of languages of the Sino-Tibetan, Hmong–Mien (or Miao–Yao), Kadai, Austronesian (represented by Chamic) and Mon–Khmer families.
Neighbouring languages across these families, though presumed unrelated, often have similar features, which are believed to have spread by diffusion.
A well-known example is the similar tone
Tone (linguistics)
Tone is the use of pitch in language to distinguish lexical or grammatical meaning—that is, to distinguish or inflect words. All verbal languages use pitch to express emotional and other paralinguistic information, and to convey emphasis, contrast, and other such features in what is called...

 systems in Sinitic languages
Sinitic languages
The Sinitic languages, often called the Chinese languages or the Chinese language, are a language family frequently postulated as one of two primary branches of Sino-Tibetan...

 (Sino-Tibetan), Hmong–Mien, Tai languages
Tai languages
The Tai or Zhuang–Tai languages are a branch of the Tai–Kadai language family. The Tai languages include the most widely spoken of the Tai–Kadai languages, including standard Thai or Siamese, the national language of Thailand; Lao or Laotian, the national language of Laos; Burma's Shan language;...

 (Kadai) and Vietnamese
Vietnamese language
Vietnamese is the national and official language of Vietnam. It is the mother tongue of 86% of Vietnam's population, and of about three million overseas Vietnamese. It is also spoken as a second language by many ethnic minorities of Vietnam...

These parallels led to confusion over the classification of these languages, until Haudricourt
André-Georges Haudricourt
André-Georges Haudricourt was a French botanist, anthropologist and linguist.A.-G. Haudricourt spent his childhood in Picardie. He obtained his baccalauréat in 1928 and a diploma from the Institut national agronomique in 1931. He studied Genetics in Paris and Leningrad...

 showed in 1954 that tone was not an invariant feature, by demonstrating that Vietnamese tones corresponded to certain final consonants in other languages of the Mon–Khmer family, and proposed that tone in the other languages had a similar origin.

Similarly, the unrelated Khmer
Khmer language
Khmer , or Cambodian, is the language of the Khmer people and the official language of Cambodia. It is the second most widely spoken Austroasiatic language , with speakers in the tens of millions. Khmer has been considerably influenced by Sanskrit and Pali, especially in the royal and religious...

 (Mon–Khmer), Cham
Cham language
Cham is the language of the Cham people of Southeast Asia, and formerly the language of the kingdom of Champa in central Vietnam. A member of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian family, it is spoken by 100,000 people in Vietnam and up to 220,000 people in Cambodia . There are also...

 (Austronesian) and Lao
Lao language
Lao or Laotian is a tonal language of the Tai–Kadai language family. It is the official language of Laos, and also spoken in the northeast of Thailand, where it is usually referred to as the Isan language. Being the primary language of the Lao people, Lao is also an important second language for...

 (Kadai) languages have almost identical vowel systems.
Many languages in the region are of the isolating (or analytic) type, with mostly monosyllabic morphemes and little use of inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

 or affix
An affix is a morpheme that is attached to a word stem to form a new word. Affixes may be derivational, like English -ness and pre-, or inflectional, like English plural -s and past tense -ed. They are bound morphemes by definition; prefixes and suffixes may be separable affixes...

es, though a number of Mon–Khmer languages have derivational morphology
Derivational morphology
Derivational morphology changes the meaning of words by applying derivations. Derivation is the combination of a word stem with a morpheme, which forms a new word, which is often of a different class...

Shared syntactic features include classifier
Classifier (linguistics)
A classifier, in linguistics, sometimes called a measure word, is a word or morpheme used in some languages to classify the referent of a countable noun according to its meaning. In languages that have classifiers, they are often used when the noun is being counted or specified...

s, object–verb order
OV language
In linguistics, an OV language is a language in which the object comes before the verb. They are primarily left-branching, or head-final, i.e. heads are often found at the end of their phrases, with a resulting tendency to have the adjectives before nouns, to place adpositions as postpositions...

 and topic–comment structure, though in each case there are exceptions in branches of one or more families.

Northern Asia

Many linguists think the Mongolian
Mongolian language
The Mongolian language is the official language of Mongolia and the best-known member of the Mongolic language family. The number of speakers across all its dialects may be 5.2 million, including the vast majority of the residents of Mongolia and many of the Mongolian residents of the Inner...

, Turkic
Turkic languages
The Turkic languages constitute a language family of at least thirty five languages, spoken by Turkic peoples across a vast area from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean to Siberia and Western China, and are considered to be part of the proposed Altaic language family.Turkic languages are spoken...

, and Manchu-Tungus families of northern Asia are genetically related, in a group they call Altaic
Altaic languages
Altaic is a proposed language family that includes the Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, and Japonic language families and the Korean language isolate. These languages are spoken in a wide arc stretching from northeast Asia through Central Asia to Anatolia and eastern Europe...

, often also including Korean
Korean language
Korean is the official language of the country Korea, in both South and North. It is also one of the two official languages in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in People's Republic of China. There are about 78 million Korean speakers worldwide. In the 15th century, a national writing...

 and Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

. Others dispute this, attributing common features such as vowel harmony
Vowel harmony
Vowel harmony is a type of long-distance assimilatory phonological process involving vowels that occurs in some languages. In languages with vowel harmony, there are constraints on which vowels may be found near each other....

 to areal diffusion.

Southern Africa

The Nguni languages of Southern Africa, including Zulu
Zulu language
Zulu is the language of the Zulu people with about 10 million speakers, the vast majority of whom live in South Africa. Zulu is the most widely spoken home language in South Africa as well as being understood by over 50% of the population...

 and Xhosa
Xhosa language
Xhosa is one of the official languages of South Africa. Xhosa is spoken by approximately 7.9 million people, or about 18% of the South African population. Like most Bantu languages, Xhosa is a tonal language, that is, the same sequence of consonants and vowels can have different meanings when said...

, evolved from the Bantu languages of the Congo area, which do not use click
Click consonant
Clicks are speech sounds found as consonants in many languages of southern Africa, and in three languages of East Africa. Examples of these sounds familiar to English speakers are the tsk! tsk! or tut-tut used to express disapproval or pity, the tchick! used to spur on a horse, and the...

s. During and after the Nguni migration to Southern Africa, the Nguni came into frequent contact with speakers of the Khoisan languages
Khoisan languages
The Khoisan languages are the click languages of Africa which do not belong to other language families. They include languages indigenous to southern and eastern Africa, though some, such as the Khoi languages, appear to have moved to their current locations not long before the Bantu expansion...

, which make abundant use of click sounds. Over time, the Nguni languages started to incorporate click sounds, until they became the normal consonants they are today.


  • in the Ethiopia
    Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

    n highlands, Ethiopian Language Area
    Ethiopian Language Area
    Charles Ferguson first proposed the Ethiopian Language Area . He posited a number of phonological and morpho-syntactic features that were found widely across Ethiopia , including the Ethio-Semitic, Cushitic, and Omotic languages, Charles Ferguson first proposed the Ethiopian Language Area (1970,...

  • in the Sepik River basin of New Guinea
    New Guinea
    New Guinea is the world's second largest island, after Greenland, covering a land area of 786,000 km2. Located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, it lies geographically to the east of the Malay Archipelago, with which it is sometimes included as part of a greater Indo-Australian Archipelago...

  • in the Baltics (northeast Europe)
  • the Standard Average European
    Standard Average European
    Standard Average European is a concept introduced by Benjamin Whorf to group the modern, Indo-European languages of Europe in the sense of a Sprachbund.The more central members of the SAE Sprachbund are Romance and West Germanic, i.e...

     area, comprising Romance
    Romance languages
    The Romance languages are a branch of the Indo-European language family, more precisely of the Italic languages subfamily, comprising all the languages that descend from Vulgar Latin, the language of ancient Rome...

    , Germanic
    Germanic languages
    The Germanic languages constitute a sub-branch of the Indo-European language family. The common ancestor of all of the languages in this branch is called Proto-Germanic , which was spoken in approximately the mid-1st millennium BC in Iron Age northern Europe...

     and Balto-Slavic
    Balto-Slavic languages
    The Balto-Slavic language group traditionally comprises Baltic and Slavic languages, belonging to the Indo-European family of languages. Baltic and Slavic languages share several linguistic traits not found in any other Indo-European branch, which points to the period of common development...

     languages, the languages of the Balkans, and western Uralic languages
    Uralic languages
    The Uralic languages constitute a language family of some three dozen languages spoken by approximately 25 million people. The healthiest Uralic languages in terms of the number of native speakers are Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, Mari and Udmurt...

  • in the Caucasus
    Languages of the Caucasus
    The languages of the Caucasus are a large and extremely varied array of languages spoken by more than ten million people in and around the Caucasus Mountains, which lie between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea....

    , though this is disputed
  • the Australian continent prior to European settlement
  • throughout the Americas
    The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

     (see also Native American languages: Linguistic areas):
    • Mesoamerican linguistic area
      Mesoamerican Linguistic Area
      The Mesoamerican Linguistic Area is a sprachbund containing many of the languages natively spoken in the cultural area of Mesoamerica. This sprachbund is defined by an array of syntactic, lexical and phonological traits as well as a number of ethnolinguistic traits found in the languages of...

    • Pueblo linguistic area
      Pueblo linguistic area
      The Pueblo linguistic area is a Sprachbund consisting of the language spoken in and near North American Pueblo locations....

  • Northern Northwest Coast linguistic area
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