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Lydian language

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Title: Lydian language  
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Subject: Lydia, Indo-European vocabulary, Lydian language, Gediz River, Sardis
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Lydian language

Region Lydia
Era attested ca. 700–200 BC[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 xld
Linguist list
Glottolog lydi1241[2]

Lydian was an Indo-European language spoken in the region of Lydia in western Anatolia (present-day Turkey). It belongs to the Anatolian group of the Indo-European language family.

Within the Anatolian group, however, 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.[3] It is not presently known whether these represent peculiarly pre-Lydian developments in or the retention of archaic features lost in other Anatolian languages.[4] Until more satisfactory knowledge becomes available, the status of Lydian within Anatolian remains a "special" one.

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, but well-preserved inscriptions of significant length are presently limited to the 5th and 4th centuries BC, during the period of Persian domination. Lydian texts are thus effectively contemporaneous with those in Lycian.

Extant Lydian texts now number slightly over one hundred, all but a few having been found in or near the Lydian capital but fewer than thirty of the inscriptions consist of more than a few words and are reasonably complete. A majority of the inscriptions are on stone, and are sepulchral in content, but several are decrees of one sort or another and some half-dozen texts seem to be in verse, with a stress-based meter and vowel assonance at line end. Tomb inscriptions include many epitaphs, which typically begin with the words eś wãnaś ("this grave"), as well as short graffiti.

Strabo mentions that around his time (1st century BC), the Lydian language had become extinct in Lydia proper, but was still being spoken among the multicultural population of Kibyra (present-day Gölhisar) in south-west Anatolia by the descendants of the Lydian colonists who had founded the city.[5]

Writing system

The Lydian writing system, which is strictly alphabetic, is related to or derived from that of Greek and to its western Anatolian neighbors, the exact relationship still remaining unclear. The direction of writing in the older texts is either from left to right or right to left. Later texts show exclusively the latter. Use of word-dividers is variable. The more than 100 Lydian texts, written in an alphabet related to the Greek alphabet, were found chiefly at the ancient capital of Sardis. They include decrees and epitaphs, some of which were composed in verse; most were written during the 5th and 4th centuries BCE, although a few may have been created as early as the 7th century.[6]


Lydian has seven vowels: a, e, i, o, u with in addition two nasal vowels: ã, , the sound of a vowel before a nasal consonant. In the case of ã it is an. The difference between ã and is debatable; does not seem to have been a nasal [e]. e, o, ã, ẽ only occur accented. Y is used rarely to indicate an allophone of i or e, perhaps unstressed. Lydian is notable for its extensive consonant clusters, which resulted from the loss of word-final short vowels together with massive syncope; there may have been unwritten [ə] in such sequences.

m n ɲ~ŋ?
p t ts~tʃ? k
f s ʃ~ç?
v z~ð?
l r ʎ

/p t k/ were voiced before nasals and apparently before /r/.


Nouns and adjectives distinguish singular and plural forms and occur in two genders, animate and inanimate. Only three cases are securely attested: nominative, accusative, and dative-locative. There may have been other cases that remain unknown due to the paucity of material.


The basic word order is Subject-Object-Verb, but constituents may be extraposed to the right of the verb. Lydian had at least one postposition. Modifiers of the noun normally precede the noun.

Sample text and vocabulary

A notable inscription in LydianAramaic, which was among the first thirty-four found in the beginning of the 20th century by American excavators, providing a limited equivalent of the Rosetta Stone and permitting a first penetration and solidifying understanding of the Lydian language.

The first line of the text was destroyed. The eight lines of the Lydian text are :

[o]raλ islλ bakillλ est mrud eśśk [wãnaś]
laqrisak qelak kudkit ist esλ wãn[aλ]
bλtarwod akad manelid kumlilid silukalid akit n[ãqis]
esλ mruλ buk esλ wãnaλ buk esνaν
laqirisaν bukit kud ist esλ wãnaλ bλtarwo[d]
aktin nãqis qelλk fẽnsλifid fakmλ artimuś
ibśimsis artimuk kulumsis aaraλ biraλk
kλidaλ kofuλk qiraλ qelλk bilλ wcbaqẽnt

Examples of words

- Ora - Month

- Laqrisa - Wall

- - Bira - House

- Qira - Field, Ground, Immovable Property

Lydian words still in use

A Lydian word which entered modern international terminology could be labrys, "double-axe'", a non-Greek word unattested as yet in any Lydian inscription but on the subject of which Plutarch states: "the Lydians call the axe labrys".[7] Another Lydian loan word now used internationally may be tyrant "petty ruler" [1], first used in Ancient Greek sources, without negative connotations, for the late 8th-early 7th century b.c. King Gyges of Lydia, founder of the Mermnad dynasty. The name is possibly derived from his native town, called Tyrrha in Classical antiquity (modern Tire).[8]

Yet another is the element molybdenum, borrowed from Ancient Greek mólybdos, "lead", from Mycenaean Greek mo-ri-wo-do, presumably a loanword from Lydian mariwda- "dark".[9]

See also


  1. ^ Lydian at MultiTree on the Linguist List
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Lydian". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^  
  4. ^ Ivo Hajnal (2001). Introduction: "Lydian: Late-Hittite or Neo-Luwian?".  
  5. ^ N. P. Milner (1998). An Epigraphical Survey in the Kibyra-Olbasa Region conducted by A S Hall (Monograph). British Institute of Archaeology at  
  6. ^
  7. ^  
  8. ^  
  9. ^ Melchert, Craig. "Greek mólybdos as a Loanword from Lydian".  


External links

  • Lydian Concise Dictionary
  • Lydian Corpus
  • Melchert, H. Craig, Lydian corpus
  • Palaeolexicon - Word study tool of Ancient languages, including a Lydian dictionary
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