Old Prussian

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Prussian is an extinct Baltic language, once spoken by the inhabitants of the original territory of Prussia (the Duchy of Prussia and Royal Prussia, not to be confused with the later and much larger German state of the same name; see map and article by Marija Gimbutas below) in an area of what later became East Prussia (now north-eastern Poland and the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia) and eastern parts of Pomerelia (some parts of the region east of the Vistula River). It was also spoken much further east and south in what became Polesia and part of Podlasia with the conquests by Rus and Poles starting in the 10th century and by the German colonisation of the area which began in the 12th century. In Old Prussian itself, the language was called “Prūsiskan” (Prussian) or “Prūsiskai Bilā” (the Prussian language). According to Gimbutas, the entire area has thousands of river names that can be traced back to an original Baltic language, even though they have undergone Slavicization.

The Aesti, mentioned by Tacitus in his Germania, may have been a people who spoke Old Prussian. Tacitus describes them as being just like the Suebi (a group of Germanic peoples) but with a more Britannic-like (Celtic) language.

Old Prussian was closely related to the other extinct Western Baltic languages, Curonian, Galindian and Sudovian. It is more distantly related to the surviving Eastern Baltic languages, Lithuanian and Latvian. Compare the Prussian word seme (zemē),[1] the Latvian zeme, the Lithuanian žemė.

Old Prussian contained a few borrowings specifically from Gothic (e.g., Old Prussian ylo "awl," as with Lithuanian ýla, Latvian īlens) and even Scandinavian languages.[2] The language also has many Slavic loanwords, e.g., Old Prussian curtis "hound," just as Lithuanian kùrtas, Latvian kur̃ts come from Slavic (cf. Russian/Ukrainian хорт, khort; Polish chart; Czech chrt). There are many loanwords directly from German, the result of German colonization in the 13th century.[2]

In addition to the German colonists, groups of people from Poland,[3][4] Lithuania, France,[citation needed] Scotland,[5] England,[6] and Austria,[citation needed] found refuge in Prussia during the Protestant Reformation and thereafter. Such immigration caused a slow decline in the use of Old Prussian, as the Prussians adopted the languages of the others, particularly German, the language of the German government of Prussia. Baltic Old Prussian probably ceased to be spoken around the beginning of the 18th century due to many of its remaining speakers dying in the famines and bubonic plague epidemics harming the East Prussian countryside and towns from 1709 until 1711.[7] The regional dialect of Low German spoken in Prussia (or East Prussia), Low Prussian, preserved a number of Baltic Prussian words, such as kurp, from the Old Prussian kurpi, for shoe (in contrast to the standard German Schuh).

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