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Anatolian languages

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Geographic distribution:
formerly in Anatolia

ISO 639-5:

Anatolian languages

Linguistic classification:
Indo-European Anatolian

Hittite Palaic Luwian Lydian

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). 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).


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."

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.


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. 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. Luwian does not always have the same meaning. 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 are Milyan, Proto-Luwian, and Lycian. Proto-Luwian descends to Cuneiform and Hieroglyphic Luwian. The tree uses two meanings for Luwian, the whole group, and just Cuneiform and Hieroglyphic, and this ambiguity is reelected in the history of the word.

Cuneiform Luwian

Cuneiform Luwian (Melchert's CLuwian) is recorded in 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. Benjamin Fortson hypothesizes that "Luvian was employed in rituals adopted by the Hittites." 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 southern and western Anatolian range overlapping that of Hittite and CLuwian. Some HLuwian tablets 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: "With the exception of digraphic seals, the two scripts were never used together." There are some differences of language, but whether the two varieties are one language or two has not been finally established. The two writing systems can both have recorded 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 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.

HLuwian appears as early as the 14th century BC in names and titles on seals and sealings at Hattusas. 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, 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 Hattusas. These states using HLuwian disappeared at the Late Bronze Age collapse about 1200 BC. 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.


Lycian (called "Lycian A" when Milyan was a "Lycian B") was spoken in classical Lycia, in southwestern Anatolia. It is attested from 172 inscriptions, 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; however, the writing system must have required time for its development and implementation.

The name of Lycia appears in Homer 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, 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", although they probably did not begin late.


Previously considered a variety of Lycian, as "Lycian B".


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. Inscriptions first appeared in the 7th 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. 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 Lutescan 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, 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.


Anatolia was heavily Hellenized following the conquests of Alexander the Great, and it is generally thought that by the end of the 6th century CE, 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 with 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 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)


Anatolian languages Wikipedia

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