Anatolian languages

Ethnicity Anatolians
formerly in Anatolia
Linguistic classification Indo-European
  • Anatolian
Proto-language Proto-Anatolian
Glottolog anat1257[1]

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


The list below gives the Anatolian languages in a relatively flat arrangement, following a summary of the Anatolian family tree by Robert Beekes (2010).[2] This model recognizes only one clear subgroup, the Luwic languages. Modifications and updates of the branching order continue, however. A second version opposes Hittite to Western Anatolian, and divides the latter node into Lydian, Palaic and a Luwian Group (instead of Luwic).[3]


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."[4]

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. All cuneiform Hittite came to an end at 1200 with the destruction of Hattusas and the end of the empire.[5]


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

The term Luwic was proposed by Craig Melchert as the node of a branch to include several languages that seem more closely related than the other Anatolian languages.[6] This is not a neologism, as Luvic had been used in the early 20th century to mean the Anatolian language group as a whole, 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 fragmentary attestations might be discovered in the future.

Luvian and Luvic have other meanings in English, so currently Luwian and Luwic are preferred. Before the term Luwic was proposed for Luwian and its closest relatives, scholars used the term Luwian Languages in the sense of "Luwic Languages". For example, Silvia Luraghi's Luwian branch begins with a root language she terms the "Luwian Group", which logically is in the place of Common Luwian or Proto-Luwian. Its three offsprings, according to her, are Milyan, Proto-Luwian, and Lycian, while Proto-Luwian branches into Cuneiform and Hieroglyphic Luwian.[7]


The Luwian language is attested in two different scripts, Cuneiform script and Anatolian hieroglyphs. While the earlier scholarship tended to treat these two corpora as separate linguistic entities,[8] the current tendency is to separate genuine dialectal distinctions within Luwian from orthographic differences. Accordingly, one now frequently speaks of Kizzuwatna Luwian (attested in cuneiform transmission), Empire Luwian (cuneiform and hieroglyphic transmission), and Iron Age Luwian / Late Luwian (hieroglyphic transmission), as well as several more Luwian dialects, which are more scarcely attested.[9]

The cuneiform corpus (Melchert's CLuwian) is recorded in glosses and short passages in Hittite texts, mainly from Boğazkale. About 200 tablet fragments of the approximately 30,000 contain CLuwian passages. Most of the tablets reflect the Middle and New Script, although some Old Script fragments have also been attested. Benjamin Fortson hypothesizes that "Luvian was employed in rituals adopted by the Hittites.".[10] A large proportion of tablets containing Luwian passages reflect rituals emanating from Kizzuwatna.[11] On the other hand, many Luwian glosses (foreign words) in Hittite texts appear to reflect a different dialect, namely Empire Luwian.[12] The Hittite language of the respective tablets sometimes displays interference features, which suggests that they were recorded by Luwian native speakers.

The hieroglyphic corpus (Melchert's HLuwian) is a corpus recorded in Anatolian hieroglyphs, reflecting Empire Luwian and its descendant Iron Age Luwian.[13] Some HLuwian texts were found at Boğazkale, so it was formerly thought to have been a "Hieroglyphic Hittite." The contexts in which CLuwian and HLuwian have been found are essentially distinct. Annick Payne asserts:[14] "With the exception of digraphic seals, the two scripts were never used together."

HLuwian texts 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 that can be carved or painted. There are also seals and sealings. A sealing is a counter-relief impression of hieroglyphic signs carved or cast in relief on a seal. The resulting signature can be stamped or rolled onto a soft material, such as sealing wax. The HLuwian writing system contains about 500 signs, 225 of which are logograms, and the rest purely functional determinatives and syllabograms, representing syllables of the form V, CV, or rarely CVCV.[15]

HLuwian texts appear as early as the 14th century BC in names and titles on seals and sealings at Hattusa. Longer texts first 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 BC as part of the Late Bronze Age collapse, but the concept of a "fall" of the Hittite Empire must be tempered in regard to the south, where the civilization of a number of Syro-Hittite states went on uninterrupted, using HLuwian, which Payne calls Iron-Age Luwian and dates 1000–700 BC. Presumably these autonomous "Neo-Hittite"" heads of state no longer needed to report to Hattusa. 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.[16]


Lycian (called "Lycian A" when Milyan was a "Lycian B") was spoken in classical Lycia, in southwestern Anatolia. It is attested from 172 inscriptions,[17] 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. In addition to the 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 in Lycian, Greek, and Aramaic. The longest text, the Xanthus stele, with about 250 lines, was originally believed to be bilingual in Greek and Lycian; however the identification of a verse in another, closely related language, a "Lycian B" identified now as Milyan, renders the stele trilingual. The earliest of the coins are before 500 BC;[18] however, the writing system must have required time for its development and implementation.

The name of Lycia appears in Homer[19] but more historically, in Hittite and in Egyptian documents among the "Sea Peoples", as the Lukka, dwelling in the Lukka lands. No Lycian text survives from Late Bronze Age times, but the names offer a basis for postulating its continued existence.

Lycia was completely Hellenized by the end of the 4th century,[20] after which Lycian is not to be found. Stephen Colvin goes so far as to term this, and the other scantily attested Luwic languages, "Late Luwian",[21] although they probably did not begin late.


Milyan was previously considered a variety of Lycian, as "Lycian B", but it is now considered a separate 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.[22] Inscriptions first appeared in the 7th century BC.


Sidetic was spoken in the city of Side. It is known from coin legends and bilingual inscriptions that date from the 5th century to the 2nd century BC.


The Pisidic language is a member of the extinct Anatolian branch of the Indo-European language family spoken in Pisidia, a region of ancient Asia Minor. Known from some thirty short inscriptions from the first to second centuries CE, it appears to be closely related to Lycian and Sidetic.


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.[23] 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 Lycaonian, and Isaurian, as well as languages such as Mysian, Cilician, Pelasgian and Pamphylian, 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,[24] the latter of which is considered somewhat more likely by Mallory (1989), Steiner (1990) and Anthony (2007). 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.[25][26]


Anatolia was heavily Hellenized following the conquests of Alexander the Great, and it is generally thought that by the end of the 6th century AD, the native languages of the area were extinct. This makes Anatolian the first well-attested branch of Indo-European to become extinct. A few words in the Armenian language have been suggested as possible borrowings from Hittite or Luwian.

The poorly-attested Isaurian language, which was probably a late Luwic dialect,[27] appears to have been the last of the Anatolian languages to become extinct. Epigraphic evidence, including funerary inscriptions, dating from as late as the 5th century, has been found by archaeologists.[28]

The only other well-known branch with no living descendants is Tocharian, whose attestation ceases in the 8th century CE.


Hittite morphology is simpler than other early 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 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


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Anatolian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. Beekes, R S P; Cor de Vaan, Michiel Arnoud (2011). Comparative Indo-European linguistics: an introduction (2nd ed.). Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 20–22.
  3. Luraghi 1998, p. 169.
  4. Melchert, H Craig (1994). Anatolian historical phonology. Leiden studies in Indo-European, 3. Amsterdam [u.a.]: Rodopi. pp. 11–12.
  5. Fortson 2010, pp. 175–176.
  6. Melchert 2012, p. 14. "I, followed by some others, have adopted the label 'Luvic' for this group instead of the more popular 'Luvian', in order to forestall confusion with Luvian in the narrow sense of just the language represented by Cuneiform and Hieroglyphic Luvian."
  7. Luraghi 1998, p. 173.
  8. Luraghi 1998, p. 173.
  9. Yakubovich 2011, pp. 539–541; Melchert 2016; Rieken 2017, pp. 301–302;
  10. Fortson 2010, p. 186
  11. Yakubovich 2011, p. 539
  12. Rieken 2017, p. 302
  13. Yakubovich 2011, pp. 540–541
  14. Payne 2010, p. 2.
  15. Payne 2010, p. 6.
  16. Payne 2010, p. 3.
  17. Keen 1998, p. 7.
  18. Keen 1998, p. 11.
  19. "Sarpedon, king of Lycia", in Iliad 5.471f.
  20. Keen 1998, p. 175.
  21. Colvin, Stephen (2004). The Greco-Roman East: politics, culture, society. Yale classical studies, v. 31. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 45.
  22. Adiego, I.J. (2007). "Greek and Carian". In Christidis, A.F.; Arapopoulou, Maria; Chriti, Maria. A History of Ancient Greek From the Beginning to Late Antiquity. Chris Markham, Translator. Cambridge University press. pp. 759, 761. ISBN 0-521-83307-8.
  23. Craig Melchert (2004). "Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages:" (PDF). Cambridge University Press. p. Lydian p. 601–607. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-10-08.
  24. While models assuming an Anatolian PIE homeland of course do not assume any migration at all, and the model assuming an Armenian homeland assumes straightforward immigration from the East.
  25. Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin – Russell D. Gray & Quentin D. Atkinson, Department of Psychology, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.
  26. "Mapping the Origins and Expansion of the Indo-European Language Family".
  27. Frank R. Trombley and John W. Watt, The Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite (Liverpool University Press, 2000), p. 12; Linda Honey, "Justifiably Outraged or Simply Outrageous? The Isaurian Incident of Ammianus Marcellinus 14.2," in Violence in Late Antiquity: Perceptions and Practices (Ashgate, 2006), 50.
  28. Honey, "The Isaurian incident," p. 50.


  • Fortson, Benjamin W (2010). Indo-european language and culture: an introduction. Blackwell textbooks in linguistics, 19 (2nd ed.). Chichester, U.K.; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. 
  • Keen, Anthony G. (1998) [1992]. Dynastic Lycia: A Political History of the Lycians & Their Relations with Foreign Powers, c. 545–362 BC. Mnemosyne: bibliotheca classica Batavia. Supplementum. Leiden; Boston; Köln: Brill. 
  • Luraghi, Silvia (1998) [1993], "The Anatolian Languages", in Ramat, Anna Giacalone; Ramat, Paolo, The Indo-European Languages, Routledge Language Family Descriptions, London; New York: Routledge . Originally published as Le Lingue Indoeuropee.
  • Mallory, J.P. (1989). In Search of the Indo-Europeans. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. 
  • Melchert, H. Craig (2012). "The Position of Anatolian" (PDF). 
  • Melchert, H. Craig (2016). "Luwian" (PDF). 
  • Patri, Sylvain (2007). L'alignement syntaxique dans les langues indo-européennes d'Anatolie. Studien zu den Bogazkoy-Texten 49. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. ISBN 978-3-447-05612-0. 
  • Rieken, Elisabeth (2017), "The dialectology of Anatolian", in Fritz, Mathias; Joseph, Brian; Klein, Jared, Comparative Indo-European Linguistics, Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science, Berlin; New York: de Gruyter Mouton, pp. 298–308 
  • Mallory, J.P. (1989). In Search of the Indo-Europeans. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. 
  • Payne, Annick (2010). Hieroglyphic Luwian: An Introduction with original Texts. SILO: Subsidia et Instrumenta Linguarum Orientis (2nd revised ed.). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. 
  • Steiner, G. (1990). "The immigration of the first Indo-Europeans into Anatolia reconsidered". Journal of Indo-European Studies. 18: 185–214. 
  • Yakubovich, Ilya (2011), "Luwian and the Luwians", in Steadman, Sharon R.; McMahon, Gregory, The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Anatolia, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 534–547 
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