Alpatho-Hirtic languages

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Central and far East Europe
Linguistic classificationOne of the world's primary language families
  • Oronaic

The Alpatho-Hirtic languages, also known as Oronaic, are spoken in regions of the Alps and the Carpathians as well as in the northern part of the Ural Mountains in Russia. The Oronaic family consists of six languages, spoken by approximately 400,000 people.

The name "Alpatho-Hirtic" is made from names of two main branches the Alpathian languages and Hirtian. This term was more popular in the late XX century, but nowadays it is speculated, if the Alpathian languages had a common ancestor distinct from Hirtian, or Alpian, Carpathian and Hirtian are three separate branches; so a new term "Oronaic" became being used more. It derives from Classical Greek ὄρος “mountain” and ναίω “I inhabit” because all three groups are spoken in the mountainous regions. Sometimes "Oronaic" is used while mentioning only the Alpian and the Carpatian groups without including Hirtian.

The Alpatho-Hirtic languages derive from a common ancestral language called Proto-Oronaic Having separated perhaps in the IV millennium BC, they became a diverse group of languages, so their proto-language can not be reconstructed precisely.


Internal classification

According to the newest picture of this language family, the Oronaic languages are divided into three groups: Alpian, Carpathian and Hirtian. These languages also divide into various dialects creating a dialectal continuum.

  • Baaye
  • Vaand
    • North Vaand, transitional dialect between Vaand and Baaye
    • †South Vaand
    • Central Vaand, or Vaand proper
    • †East Vaand, possibly close to Central Vaand
  • West Carpathian
    • †Äzeränci Carpathian, a dialect of West Carpathian or a separate language.
    • Ränci Carpathian
    • Šilli Carpathian
    • Orava Carpathian
    • Prešov Carpathian
  • East Carpathian
    • Halicia Carpathian
    • Jīri Carpathian
    • Puohō Carpathian
  • †transitional East-South Carpathian
  • South Carpathian
  • Hirtya

More traditional genealogical classification treats Hirtian as a separate group which diverged first.

  • Hirtya
  • Alpian
    • Baaye
    • Vaand
  • Carpathian
    • †Äzeränci
    • West Carpathian
    • East Carpathian
    • South Carpathian

External classification

Many external relationships between Oronaic and other language families have been suggested, but none of them are generally accepted by linguists. The statistical improbability and other difficulties, like the time of diversification and expansion or lexical differences, of linking any Alpatho-Hirtic language with their Indo-European neighbours inspired many scholars to search for its possible relatives elsewhere. Besides many pseudoscientific comparisons, several attempts were made to connect the Oronaic languages with geographically distant language families. None of these hypotheses have a solid evidence of a relation between any language group. Some of these hypothetical connections are:

  • Uralic languages - the hypothesis suggests that Uralic and Alpatho-Hirtic are related at a fairly close level. Some cognates are found between Proto-Oronaic and Proto-Uralic reconstructed languages, however most of these are uncertain. Also while comparing Proto-Oronaic to Proto-Samic the ammount of cognates is larger, which can probably be explained by borrowing.
  • Indo-European languages - Proto-Oronaic could have been a close relative of Proto-Indo-European or an Indo-European creole with an unknown substrate. It is supported by the fact that the majority of Oronaic basic lexicon (including many intransitive verbs as well as some kinship terms) from neighbouring Indo-European languages. Nowadays this theory is not so popular, as lexical similarities are explained via close and prolonged contacts with various branches of Indo-European family. Despite modern Alpatho-Hirtic languages show some morphological and syntactic similarities with Indo-European languages, Proto-Oronaic grammar was very different and probably resembled a Proto-Chukotko-Kamchatkan one. Also, Hirtya has more common vocabulary with Samoyed languages (mostly Nenets) than with any Indo-European language, including basic words for body parts, weather and tools.
  • Proto-Samic substrate - as was mentioned previously, Proto-Oronaic shows some word correspondences with Proto-Samic, including a large ammount of words that can not be found in any other language group within Proto-Uralic. An idea that Proto-Oronaic or its rlative may contribute a substrate to modern Samic languages.
  • Siberian - a hypothesis that propose a common ancestor for Oronaic, Uralic, Yukaghir, Chukotko-Kamchatkan, and sometimes also Eskimo–Aleut languages. Not widely accepted.
  • Nostratic - a proposed unity or/and a common descendance of language families, which associates Oronaic, Indo-European, Uralic, Altaic, Dravidian, and various other language families of Asia. The Nostratic hypothesis was first propounded by Holger Pedersen in 1903 and revived by Vladislav Illich-Svitych and Aharon Dolgopolsky in the 1960s.
  • Separate language families - an idea, that Alpian, Carpathian and Hirtian are three distinct language families and Proto-Oronaic has never existed, was introduced in early 1980s when Hirtya had began to be studied more. A similar theory combines the Alpian and the Carpathian languages into a single Alpathian family without Hirtian, which is believed to be separate.
  • Caucasian languages - linking Oronaic to Caucasian languages, such as Georgian, is now widely discredited. The hypothesis was inspired by the possible connection between Basque (a Pre-Indo-European language of Western Europe) and languages of the Caucasus as a single Old European continuum, that had existed before the expansion of Indo-Europeans. No certain typological similarities between the languages were actually found.


Homeland and expansion

The Alpian and the Carpathian peoples were considered indigenous to Europe for a long period of time. Their homeland is usually placed in the region between Austria and Slovakia or between Slovakia and Ukraine. Archeological data as well as placenames and substrate words support this theory. The situation with the Oronaic Urheimat is not so obvious. There are three main theories. According to the first one, Proto-Oronaic was spoken in the north-western part of modern day Belarus, which is supported archeologically but genetic analysis disproves this theory. Other two theories place the homeland in the Valdai Hills territory and an area between the Republic of Karelia and the Arkhangelsk Oblast in Russia.

All three branches became separate probably in the III millennium BCE. Archeological data shows that people who spoke those early languages had sparcely populated North-East Europe before they were pushed south or assimilated by other cultures migrating from the east. The speakers of Proto-Hirtian slowly migrated to the north and east until they reached the Urals near the Komi-Zyrians and Nenets people. On the other hand, Alpian and Carpathian peoples moved further south and westwards until they settled in the Carpatians and slowly spread around Alps. Supposedly there were even more languages or even language groups in this family, that are now extinct due to the migration of Indo-European cultures.



Grammatically speaking, Oronaic languages show a large variety. Here are some of the typical grammatical features of these languages:

  • case system in nouns (Carpathian also declines its adjectives); cases are marked with suffixes (usually agglutinatively, except for Alpian). The number of cases is different in each language:
    • Baaye: 3 cases, 4 in articles
    • Vaand: 4 cases, (7 if including case-like suffixes)
    • West Carpathian: 11 cases
    • East Carpathian: 13 cases (15 if to include nonstandard cases)
    • South Carpathian: 9 cases
    • Hirtya: 8 or 9 cases depending on dialect
  • nominative case always ends in a vowel (or ended in case of Alpian and Hirtian) or a derivative suffix
  • plural number if often formed with an addition of an infix
  • location of an object is indicated via a special locative suffix in various cases (or postpositions as in Baaye)
  • a lack of grammatical gender in nouns, personal endings and even pronouns
  • different roots for some positive and negative verbs (like East Carpathian šammet/ehčet "to see"/"not to see")
  • use of possessive suffixes, expressing possession via genitive
  • several plural (and dual for Hirtya) markers, like -j (-i), -k, -n/-ng. In Carpathian however only a few words have other markers than -k
  • the concepts like "to be", "to have", "to do", "to wish" and some others are represented by suffixes attached to an object of a sentence
  • nouns, used with a numeral, are singular if they refer to things which form a single group (Vaand gou jies ("three years", literally "three year")


Phonology is very different among three groups. In spite of this, there are still some common features:

  • large vowel inventory with distinct long and short vowel quality (except for South Carpathian, which instead has reduced vs full vowel contrast)
  • vowel harmony is absent or residual in all the modern languages but was fully present in their older stages without any neutral vowel (except for Proto-Alpian which kept i neutral)
  • various diphthongs which alter with monophthongs (usually long vowels) when declining. In Alpian this turned into ablaut and spread onto most vowels. In South Carpathian this feature is residual and almost disappeared
  • lack of phonologically contrastive tone (Hirtya preserves a glottal stop after a vowel which had a glottalization, Old Carpathian dialects had some tonal distinctions). All the languages, except Hirtian have a non-phonemic stress on a first syllable, but their ansestral languages all had tones and moveable stress patterns. Hirtya still preserves some of these patterns
  • consonant contrast or gradation which remain to the greatest degree only in West and East Carpathian and to a lesser extend in Alpian. Hirtya has a consonant alteration in derivation of nouns and adjectives, while South Carpathian lost it almost entirely
  • palatalization was lost only in Alpian probably under the influence of Old German or a different Indo-European language spoken in that area previously. However it is inconsistent among different languages and even among dialects, which means, that palatalization was weak and depended on a vowel quality.


A basic Proto-Oronaic vocabulary, consisting of words for family members (mother, sister, son), body parts (head, heart, tooth, eye), nature objects(star, fire, water, stone, branch), basic verbs (go, live, fall, see, hear, know) and pronouns (I, you, who), numerals two and three, can be reconstructed, but many of these words lack regular phonetic correspondences due to a large timescale of the proto-language and a small number of credible materials on the Hirtya language. The following is table of a few cognates across the Oronaic family, which can give the idea, how different languages developed and changed. In the table below only cognates are listed (without their translations - their meanings can be different from the meanings of the word in the proto-language). Only those words, which didn't change their meaning too much, are chosen down below ( for instance, тыхц (tyhc) in Hirtya actually means "thick ice layer", not just "ice". On the other hand, чунь (čuń) means "light snow" but it is a cognate to words for something that strews, like sand, in other languages).

English Proto-Oronaic Alpian Carpathian Hirtian
Baaye North Vaand Vaand West Carpathian Prešov Carpathian Jīri Carpathian East Carpathian South Carpathian Hirtya
'mother' *ěmmè/*ěmbe emme èmme àmme emma amma emma omma ăma эмэни (emeni), эмбэ (embe)
'water' *c̺ec̺ä/*c̺äˀc̺ä tied tzeed tsääs siecä šeače šēče šēče šic сят (śat), цет (ćet)
'ice' t̺akc̺ə3 takke takk tauk sēhca šieču šēča šeači šač тыхц (tyhc), сьыхц (śyhc), сьы (śy-)
'fish' *àsŋə2-n unche anke ange osne osse vosse vošše oskă ысcан (yssan), əcӈ- (əsŋ-)
'frost' *mur(ń)ə mon more mure mursi murse morse morse mon муунь (muuń)
'head' *bàˀjə3 bude bäde bädi oiva oivu vojva vojvi oivă вуо’ (wuo’)
'eye' *gèri-ki gersch gèrsch geasch erkä jorke erke jerke gerki ыр (yr) ырх- (yrh-)
'house/home' *kodju kasch kasch kōdu kōlu kōlo kōje koi квай (kwai)
'star' *gooklu(j) guukl goakkl guokkel oalli oallu vuolla vuolle goilă кволь (kwoĺ)
'bone' *sääs̺kə1 siesch seets säits seskĕ сэхв (sexw), сэт- (set-)
'sand' tüün-i jön jeune jeune tuini tini tuini tuine tüni чунь (čuń)
'mouse' s̺(j)iŋrə1 šīri šiere śiere siere sirĕ хиир (hiir), шэйəр (šejər)
'moon' kööˀcü kös keuze keutze keahci keace kiehce kiehče köci сю’ə (śu’ə)
'to live' *wel- veln welen wellen ēli ēlid ēlahet jēllat elăd xэли (heli)
'to hear' *(ní)jêl- dieln delen zellen īli ielid jēlet jēlet jilĕd ни’льи (ni’ĺi)
  • Orthographical notes: The hacek denotes postalveolar articulation (⟨š⟩ [ʃ], ⟨č⟩ [t͡ʃ]) in Carpathian and Hirtian romanization. Palatal articulation is represented with an acute over a consonant (⟨ś⟩ [sʲ~ɕ], ⟨ć⟩ [tsʲ~tɕ], ⟨ń⟩ [nʲ~ɲ]). Long vowels are indicated with a macron (⟨ā⟩) in Carpathian or double letters elsewhere. In South Carpathian ⟨ĕ⟩ and ⟨ă⟩ represent reduced vowels [ɘ~ɜ] and [ə] respectively. In Alpian ⟨ts⟩ is for [t͡ʃ],⟨z⟩ and ⟨tz⟩ are for [t͡s], ⟨sch⟩ for [ʃ], ⟨è⟩ is for [ɤ] in North Vaand, ⟨à⟩ represents [a] in Vaand and ⟨a⟩ is [ɒ] in Alpian languages, ⟨eu⟩ is [œɪ] and ⟨ie⟩ is [iː] in Baaye, but [ɪe] in Vaand. ⟨y⟩ represents [ɨ] or [ɤ] which were once separate phonemes, but merged in the late XIXth century.


Feature Baaye Vaand West Carpathian East Carpathian South Carpathian Hirtya
Palatalization + + + +
Diphthongs + + + + + +
distinction in stops
+ + + ±1
Vowel length + + + + + +
Consonant length 2 + + + + +
Consonant gradation 3 + + + ±4
Grammatical vowel alternation
+ + + + + +
Dual number +
Distinction between
inner and outer local cases
+ + + +
Essive case ±5 + + + +
(marking of definiteness)
+ + +
Passive voice
verb distinction
±6 ±6 + + + +
Verb-like suffixes + + + + + +
Incorporation + + + + + +
SVO word order + + ±7 ±7 ±7


  1. usually grammatical voiced consonants can only be found in Komi and Russian loanwords. Otherwise they alter with respective voiced fricatives.
  2. the distinction was lost in the XIXth century, but is preserved in some transitional dialects to North Vaand.
  3. there are only qualitative consonant alterations, the quantitative gradation was lost in almost all the nouns, but preserves in verbs.
  4. the gramatical status of a consonant gradation in Hirtya is disputed. It may actually be explaned via assimilation of consonant clusters.
  5. the -kup suffix does not act like a real case in Vaand.
  6. obsolete. Some of these "negative" verbs have different meanings from their "positive" counterparts.
  7. the word order in Carpathian is free, however SOV for short sentences and SVO for long ones are the most common word orders.