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Anatolian language

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Anatolian language

For other uses of "Anatolian", see Anatolian (disambiguation).
Ethnicity: Anatolians
formerly in Anatolia
Linguistic classification: Indo-European
  • Anatolian
Proto-language: Proto-Anatolian

The Anatolian languages are a family of extinct Indo-European languages that were spoken in Asia Minor (ancient Anatolia), the best attested of them being the Hittite language.


The leaf languages attested in the family, and one node, or branch point, (Luwic), are described briefly below. The arrangement is mainly the one summarized by Robert Beekes, representing one version of the tree below Proto-Anatolian up to 2010.[1] Modifications and updates presenting variations of the branch continue, however. A second version opposes Hittite to Western Anatolian, and divides the latter into Lydian, Palaic and the Luwian Group (instead of Luwic).[2]


Main article: Hittite language

Hittite (nešili) was the language of the Hittite Empire, dated approximately 1650 to 1200 BC, which ruled over nearly all of Anatolia during that time. The earliest sources of Hittite are the 19th century BC Kültepe texts, the Assyrian records of the kârum kaneš, or "port of Kanesh," an Assyrian enclave of merchants within the city of kaneš (Kültepe). This collection records Hittite names and words loaned into Assyrian from Hittite. The Hittite name for the city was Neša, from which the Hittite endonym for the language, Nešili, was derived. The facts that the enclave was Assyrian, rather than Hittite, and that the city name became the language name, suggest that the Hittites were already in a position of influence, perhaps dominance, in central Anatolia.

The main cache of Hittite texts is the approximately 30,000 clay tablet fragments, of which only some have been studied, from the records of the royal city of Hattuša, located on a ridge near what is now Boğazkale, Turkey, formerly named Boğazköy. The records show a gradual rise to power of the Anatolian language speakers over the native Hattians, until at last the kingship became an Anatolian privilege. From then on, little is heard of the Hattians, but the Hittites kept the name. The records include rituals, medical writings, letters, laws and other public documents, making possible an in-depth knowledge of many aspects of the civilization.

Most of the records are dated to the 13th century BC (Late Bronze Age). They are written in cuneiform script borrowing heavily from the Mesopotamian system of writing. The script is a syllabary. This fact, combined with frequent use of Akkadian and Sumerian words, as well as logograms, or signs representing whole words, to represent lexical items, often introduces considerable uncertainty as to the form of the original. However, phonetic syllable signs are present also, representing syllables of the form V, CV, VC, CVC, where V is "vowel" and C is "consonant."[3]

Hittite is divided into Old, Middle, and New (or Neo-). The dates are somewhat variable. They are based on an approximate coincidence of historical periods and variants of the writing system: the Old Kingdom and the Old Script, the Middle Kingdom and the Middle Script, and the New Kingdom and the New Script. Fortson gives the dates, which come from the reigns of the relevant kings, as 1570-1450, 1450-1380 and 1350-1200 BC respectively. These are not glottochronologic. The earliest date of attestation must be pushed back to the 19th century. All cuneiform Hittite came to an end at 1200 with the destruction of Hattusas and the end of the empire.[4]


Main article: Palaic language

Palaic, spoken in the north-central Anatolian region of Pala, extinct around the 13th century BC, is known only from fragments of quoted prayers in Old Hittite texts. It was extinguished by the replacement of the culture, if not the population, as a result of an invasion by the Kaskas, which the Hittites could not prevent.

Luwic branch

Main article: Luwian language

The term, Luwic, was proposed by Melchert as the root of a branch to include several languages that seem more closely related than the other Anatolian languages.[5] This is not a neologism, as Luvic had been used in the early 20th century to mean the Anatolian language group, or languages identified as Luvian by the Hittite texts. The name comes from Hittite luwili. The earlier use of Luvic fell into disuse in favor of Luvian. Meanwhile, most of the languages now termed Luvian, or Luvic, were not known to be so until the latter 20th century. Even more might be discovered in the future in fragmentary form.

Luvian and Luvic have other meanings in English, so currently Luwian and Luwic are preferred. Luwian does not always have the same meaning. For example, Luraghi's Luwian branch begins with a root language, "Luwian Group", which logically is in the place of Common Luwian or Proto-Luwian. Its three offsprings are Milyan, Proto-Luwian, and Lycian. Proto-Luwian descends to Cuneiform and Hieroglyphic Luwian.[6] The tree uses two meanings for Luwian, the whole group, and just Cuneiform and Hieroglyphic, and this ambiguity is endemic to the history of the word.

Cuneiform Luwian

Cuneiform Luwian (Melchert's CLuwian) is recorded glosses and short passages in Hittite texts, mainly from Boğazkale, written in Cuneiform script. About 200 tablet fragments of the approximately 30,000 are dedicated to giving Hittite rituals in CLuwian. The dates are generally the Middle and New Hittite periods. None is found from after 1200 BC. Fortson hypothesizes that "Luvian was employed in rituals adopted by the Hittites."[7] The circumstances of their doing so remain obscure, whether they were Hittites writing in Luwian, or Luwians writing in Hittite, or bilinguals, has not been established. It is clear, however, that Hittite and Luwian were distinct languages by the middle of the 2nd millennium BC.

Hieroglyphic Luwian

Hieroglyphic Luwian (Melchert's HLuwian) is a slightly less senior form of Luwian written in a native script, the Anatolian hieroglyphs. The script had a range overlapping on that of Hittite and CLuwian: southern and western Anatolia. Some of it was found at Boğazkale, on which account it was formerly thought to have been "Hieroglyphic Hittite." The contexts in which CLuwian and HLuwian have been found are essentially distinct. Payne asserts:[8] "With the exception of digraphic seals, the two scripts were never used together." There are some differences of language. Whether the two varieties are one language or two has not been finally established. They can both have been part of the same dialect continuum.

HLuwian instances are found on clay, shell, potsherds, pottery, metal, natural rock surfaces, building stone and sculpture, mainly carved lions. The images are in relief or counter-relief. In addition to the texts are seals and sealings. A sealing is a counter-relief impression of a relief signature placed on a seal. The signature can be stamped or rolled onto a soft material, such as sealing wax, but the insignias also can be carved or painted. The HLuwian writing system contains about 500 signs, 225 of which are logograms, and the rest determinatives and syllabograms. Syllables are of the form V, CV, or rarely CVCV.[9]

HLuwian appears as early as the 14th century BC, but only in names and titles from seals and sealings at Hattusas. Texts appear in the 13th century. Payne refers to the Bronze Age HLuwian as Empire Luwian. All Hittite and CLuwian came to an end at 1200, but the concept of a "fall" of the Hittite Empire must be tempered for the south. The civilization of a number of city-states went on uninterrupted, using HLuwian, which Payne calls Iron Age Luwian, and dates 1000-700 BC. Presumably the heads of state no longer needed to report to Hattusas. These states are called "Neo-Hittite," even though the languages were HLuwian, and New Hittite disappeared at 1200 with the end of the Neo-Empire. HLuwian caches come from ten city states in northern Syria and southern Anatolia: Cilicia, Charchamesh, Tell Akhmar, Maras, Malatya, Commagene, Amuq, Aleppo, Hama, and Tabal.[10]


Main article: Lycian language

Lycian, or Lycian A, was spoken in classical Lycia. It is attested from 172 inscriptions,[11] mainly on stone, from about 150 funerary monuments, and 32 public documents. The writing system is the Lycian alphabet, which the Lycians modified from the Greek alphabet. The letters do not always stand for the same sounds as in Greek. A specious transliteration based on the Greek correlations results in an incomprehensible pseudo-language. In addition to the 172 other inscriptions are 200 or more coins stamped with Lycian names. Of the texts, some are bilingual in Lycian and Greek, and one, the Létôon trilingual, is trilingual in Lycian, Greek, and Aramaic. The longest, the Xanthus stele, has about 250 lines. The latter was originally believed to be bilingual in Greek and Lycian, but the perception of a verse in another, closely related language, termed Lycian 2, later Lycian B or Milyan, changed the perception to trilingual.

The earliest of the coins are before 500 BC;[12] however, the writing system must have required even more time for its development and implementation. The name of the country appears in Homeric Lycia, but even more historically, in Hittite and as an Egyptian-recorded sea people, the Lukka, dwelling in the Lukka lands. No language survives from those Late Bronze Age times, but the names offer a basis for postulating its existence.

Lycia was completely Hellenized by the end of the 4th century,[13] after which Lycian is not to be found. Colvin goes so far as to term this, and the other scantily attested Luwic languages, Late Luwian,[14] although they probably did not begin late.


Main article: Milyan language

Previously considered a variety of Lycian. Also known as Lycian B.


Main article: Carian language

Carian was spoken in Caria. It is fragmentarily attested from graffiti by Carian mercenaries and other members of an ethnic enclave in Memphis, Egypt (and other places in Egypt), personal names in Greek records, twenty inscriptions from Caria (including four bilingual inscriptions), scattered inscriptions elsewhere in the Aegean world and words stated as Carian by ancient authors.[15] Inscriptions first appeared in the 7th century BC.


Main article: Sidetic language


Main article: Pisidian language


Main article: Lydian language

Lydian was spoken in Lydia. Within the Anatolian group, Lydian occupies a unique and problematic position due, first, to the still very limited evidence and understanding of the language and, second, to a number of features not shared with any other Anatolian language.[16] The Lydian language is attested in graffiti and in coin legends from the end of the 8th or the beginning of the 7th century BC down to the 3rd century BC, but well-preserved inscriptions of significant length are presently limited to the 5th and 4th centuries BC, during the period of Persian domination. Extant Lydian texts now number slightly over one hundred but are mostly fragmentary.

Other possible languages

There were likely other languages of the family that have left no records; these include the languages of Lycaonia and Isauria, as well as languages such as Lutescan and Pamphylian (the native language of the region in classical antiquity, as opposed to Pamphylian Greek), which are too poorly attested to construe a relationship with Anatolian.


The Anatolian branch is generally considered the earliest to split from the Proto-Indo-European language, from a stage referred to either as Indo-Hittite or "Middle PIE"; typically a date in the mid-4th millennium BC is assumed. Under the Kurgan hypothesis, there are two possibilities for how the early Anatolian speakers could have reached Anatolia: from the north via the Caucasus, and from the west, via the Balkans,[17] the latter of which is considered somewhat more likely by Mallory (1989) and Steiner (1990).

Statistical research by Quentin Atkinson and others using Bayesian inference and glottochronological markers favors an Indo-European origin in Anatolia, though the method's validity and accuracy are subject to debate.[18]


Anatolia was heavily Hellenized following the conquests of Alexander the Great, and it is generally thought that, by the 1st century BCE, the native languages of the area were extinct. This makes Anatolian the first known branch of Indo-European to become extinct. The only other well-known branch that has no living descendants is Tocharian, whose attestation ceases in the 8th century CE. A few words in the Armenian language have been suggested as possible borrowings from Hittite or Luwian.


Hittite morphology is simpler than other older Indo-European languages. Some Indo-European characteristics seem to have disappeared in Hittite, and other IE language branches had developed different innovations. Hittite contains a number of archaisms that have disappeared from other IE languages. Notably, Hittite has no gender system which distinguishes masculine and feminine; instead, it exhibits a noun-class system that is based upon an older animate/inanimate distinction. It should be noted, however, that the masculine/feminine distinction is still a matter of dispute, since there are some, such Robert S. P. Beekes, who doubt that the feminine gender originated in PIE. ("Indo-European Linguistics" 13.2.3)

See also

Ancient Near East portal



  • . Originally published as Le Lingue Indoeuropee.

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