Carian language

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RegionAncient southwestern Anatolia
Eraattested 7th–3rd century BCE[1]
Carian script
Language codes
ISO 639-3xcr

The Carian language is an extinct language of the Luwian subgroup of the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European language family. The Carian language was spoken in Caria, a region of western Anatolia between the ancient regions of Lycia and Lydia, by the Carians, a name possibly first mentioned in Hittite sources. Carian is closely related to Lycian and Milyan (Lycian B), and both are closely related to, though not direct descendants of, Luwian. Whether the correspondences between Luwian, Carian, and Lycian are due to direct descent (i.e. a language family as represented by a tree-model), or are due to dialect geography, is disputed.[3]

Prior to the late 20th century CE the language remained a total mystery even though many characters of the script appeared to be from the Greek alphabet. Using Greek phonetic values of letters investigators of the 19th and 20th centuries were unable to make headway and classified the language as non-Indo-European. Speculations multiplied, none very substantial. Progress finally came as a result of rejecting the presumption of Greek phonetic values.[citation needed]


Carian is known from these sources:[4]

  • Personal names with a suffix of -ασσις (-assis), -ωλλος (-ōllos) or -ωμος (-ōmos) in Greek records
  • Twenty inscriptions from Caria including four bilinguals
  • Inscriptions of the Caromemphites, an ethnic enclave at Memphis, Egypt
  • Graffiti elsewhere in Egypt
  • Scattered inscriptions elsewhere in the Aegean world
  • Words stated to be Carian by ancient authors.



In the chart below, the Carian letter is given, followed by the transcription. Where the transcription differs from IPA, the phonetic value is given in brackets. Many Carian phonemes were represented by multiple letter forms in various locations. The Egypto-Carian dialect seems to have preserved semivowels w, j, and ý lost or left unwritten in other varieties. Two Carian letters have unknown phonetic values: 𐊱 and 𐋆.[5] The letter 𐊶 τ2 may have been equivalent to 𐋇 τ.

  Bilabial Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Labiovelar
Plosive 𐊷 p 𐊭 t 𐊴, 𐊛 [c] 𐊼,𐊽 k 𐊨 q [kʷ]
Prenasalized 𐋌 β [ᵐb] 𐊾 δ [ⁿd] 𐋄 ŋ [ⁿg]? 𐋀,𐋁 γ [ⁿgʷ]?
Nasal 𐊪 m 𐊵, 𐊜 n

𐊳 ñ [n̩, n̚]

Fricative 𐊬, Λ b [β~ɸ]  𐊢 d [ð~θ]

𐊰 s

𐊮,𐊯,𐤭 š [ʃ] 𐊸 ś [ç]
Affricate 𐋂 z [t͡s] 𐋇 τ [t͡ʃ]

𐊶 τ2 [t͡ʃ]?

Trill   𐊥 r    
Lateral 𐊣, 𐋎, 𐋃 l

𐊦, 𐊣 λ [l:, ld]

𐋃, 𐋉 ĺ [l]?

Approximant 𐊿 w 𐋅 j 𐊻,𐋈,𐋐 ý [ɥ]  

Phonemes attested in Egypto-Carian only.

Lateral sounds[edit]

Across the various sites where inscriptions have been found, the two lateral phonemes /l/ and /λ/ contrast but may be represented by different letters of the Carian script 𐊣/𐋎, 𐊦, and 𐋃/𐋉 depending on the location. The letter 𐋉 (formerly transcribed <ŕ>) is now seen as an Egyptian variant of 𐋃 <ĺ>.[6]


In the chart below, the Carian letter for each vowel is followed by the conventional transcription with the Greek equivalent in parentheses. An epenthetic schwa to break up clusters may have been unwritten.

Front Central Back
-R +R
Close 𐊹 i (ι) 𐊤 y (υ) 𐊲 u (ου)
Open-mid 𐊺, 𐋏 e (η) - [ə] 𐊫 o (ω)
Open 𐊠 a (α)


Nominal declension[edit]

Carian nouns are inflected for at least three cases: nominative, accusative, and genitive. The dative case is assumed to be present also, based on its relatives and the frequency of dedicatory inscriptions, but its form is quite unclear. Related Anatolian languages also distinguish between animate and inanimate noun genders.

Animate Inanimate
Case Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative -∅ -š (?) -n(?), -∅ ?
Accusative -n -n(?) ?
Genitive -ś, -s (?) -τ (?) ? ?
Dative -∅, -e, -i, -s (?) ? ?

Features that help identify the language as Anatolian include the asigmatic nominative (without the Indo-European nominative ending *-s) but -s for a genitive ending: 𐊿𐊸𐊫𐊦 wśoλ, 𐊿𐊸𐊫𐊦𐊰 wśoλ-s.[7] The similarity of the basic vocabulary to other Anatolian languages also confirms this e.g. 𐊭𐊺𐊢 ted "father"; 𐊺𐊵 en "mother". A variety of dative singular endings have been proposed, including zero-marked and -i/-e suffixation.[8] No inanimate stem has been securely identified but the suffix -n may be reconstructed based on the inherited pattern. Alternatively, a zero ending may be derived from the historical *-od.[8] The locative case is attested in one phrase (𐊠𐊣𐊫𐊰𐊾 𐊴𐊠𐊥𐊵𐊫𐊰𐊾 alosδ k̂arnosδ "in/from Halicarnassus(?)"), perhaps originally a clitic derived from the preverb δ "in, into" < PIE *endo.


Carian glosses attested in Stephanus of Byzantium[5]
Greek Transliterated Translation
ἄλα ala horse
βάνδα banda victory
γέλα gela king
γίσσα gissa stone
σοῦα(ν) soua(n) tomb
Examples of Carian names in Greek
Greek Transliterated Carian
(gen. patronymic)
𐊴𐊭𐊪𐊳𐊫𐊸 K̂tmñoś
Καύνιος Kaunios 𐊼𐊬𐊢𐊿𐊵 Kbdwn
Καῦνος Kaunos 𐊼𐊬𐊹𐊢 Kbid
Πιγρης Pigrēs 𐊷𐊹𐊼𐊥𐊺 Pikre
Πονυσσωλλος Ponussōllos 𐊷𐊵𐊲𐊸𐊫𐊦 Pnuśoλ
Σαρυσσωλλος Sarussōllos 𐊮𐊠𐊥𐊲𐊸𐊫𐊦 Šaruśoλ
Υλιατος Uliatos 𐊿𐊣𐊹𐊠𐊭 Wliat
Examples of Greek names in Carian
Greek Transliterated Carian
Λυσικλέους (genitive) Lysikleous 𐊣𐊿𐊰𐊹𐊼𐊣𐊠𐊰 Lùsiklas
Λυσικράτους (genitive) Lysikratous 𐊣𐊿𐊰𐊹𐊼𐊥𐊠𐊭𐊠𐊰 Lùsikratas
Ἀθηναῖον (accusative) Athēnaion 𐊫𐊭𐊫𐊵𐊫𐊰𐊵 Otonosn
Φίλιππος (nominative) Philippos 𐊷𐊹𐋃𐊹𐊷𐊲𐊰 Pilipus[6]

The Athenian Bilingual Inscription[9][10][11][12]

Σε̂μα τόδε : Τυρ[ Greek:[13] "This is the tomb of Tur...,"
Καρὸς τô Σκύλ[ακος] Greek: "the Carian, the son of Scylax"
𐊸𐋅𐊠𐊰 : 𐊰𐊠𐊵 𐊭𐊲𐊥[ Carian:[14] Śjas: san Tur[ "This is the tomb of Tur..."
[Ἀ]ριστοκλε̂ς ἐπ[οίε̄] Greek: "Made by Aristocles."

The word 𐊰𐊠𐊵 san is equivalent to τόδε and evidences the Anatolian language assibilation, parallel to Luwian za-, "this".[9] If 𐊸𐋅𐊠𐊰 śjas is not exactly the same as Σε̂μα Sēma it is roughly equivalent.

Language history[edit]

The Achaean Greeks arriving in small numbers on the coasts of Anatolia in the Late Bronze Age found them occupied by a population that did not speak Greek and were generally involved in political relationships with the Hittite Empire. After the fall of the latter the region became the target of heavy immigration by Ionian and Dorian Greeks who enhanced Greek settlements and founded or refounded major cities. They assumed for purposes of collaboration new regional names based on their previous locations: Ionia, Doris.

The writers born in these new cities reported that the people among whom they had settled were called Carians and spoke a language that was "barbarian", "barbaric" or "barbarian-sounding." No clue has survived from these writings as to what exactly the Greeks might mean by "barbarian." The reportedly Carian names of the Carian cities did not and do not appear to be Greek. Such names as Andanus, Myndus, Bybassia, Larymna, Chysaoris, Alabanda, Plarasa and Iassus were puzzling to the Greeks, some of whom attempted to give etymologies in words they said were Carian. For the most part they still remain a mystery.

Writing disappeared in the Greek Dark Ages but no earlier Carian writing has survived. When inscriptions, some bilingual, began to appear in the 7th century BCE it was already some hundreds of years after the city-naming phase. The earlier Carian may not have been exactly the same.

The local development of Carian excludes some other theories as well: it was not widespread in the Aegean, is not related to Etruscan, was not written in any ancient Aegean scripts, and was not a substrate Aegean language[citation needed]. Its occurrence in various places of Classical Greece is due only to the travel habits of Carians[citation needed], who apparently became co-travellers of the Ionians. The Carian cemetery of Delos probably represents the pirates mentioned in classical texts. The Carians who fought for Troy (if they did) were not classical Carians any more than the Greeks there were classical Greeks.

Being penetrated by larger numbers of Greeks and under the domination from time to time of the Ionian League, Caria eventually Hellenized and Carian became a dead language. The interludes under the Persian Empire perhaps served only to delay the process. Hellenization would lead to the extinction of the Carian language in the 1st century BCE or early in the Common Era.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carian at MultiTree on the Linguist List
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Carian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Melchert, H. C. 2008. ‘Lycian’. In The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor, ed. R. D. Woodard, 46–55 at p. 46. Cambridge.
  4. ^ Adiego, I.J.; Chris Markham, Translator (2007). "Greek and Carian". In Christidis, A.F.; Arapopoulou, Maria; Chriti, Maria (eds.). A History of Ancient Greek From the Beginning to Late Antiquity. Cambridge University press. pp. 759, 761. ISBN 978-0-521-83307-3.. Translator Chris Markham.
  5. ^ a b I.J. Adiego 2006, The Carian Language (HdO), 2006, Brill pp.7-12, 455
  6. ^ a b Lajara, Ignasi-Xavier Adiego. "A kingdom for a Carian letter". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ Adiego, I.J.; Chris Markham, Translator (2007). "Greek and Carian". In Christidis, A.F.; Arapopoulou, Maria; Chriti, Maria (eds.). A History of Ancient Greek From the Beginning to Late Antiquity. Cambridge University press. p. 760. ISBN 978-0-521-83307-3..
  8. ^ a b Melchert, Craig. "Carian Noun Inflection" (PDF).
  9. ^ a b Adiego, I.J.; Chris Markham, Translator (2007). "Greek and Carian". In Christidis, A.F.; Arapopoulou, Maria; Chriti, Maria (eds.). A History of Ancient Greek From the Beginning to Late Antiquity. Cambridge University press. p. 762. ISBN 978-0-521-83307-3..
  10. ^ I.J. Adiego 2006, The Carian Language (HdO), 2006, Brill p. 164.
  11. ^ IG I³ 1344. At Searchable Greek Inscriptions of the Packard Humanities Institute.
  12. ^ See Leiden Conventions.
  13. ^ Written in the Athenian epichoric alphabet.
  14. ^ N.B. The Carian translates the first Greek line only.


  • Adiego, Ignacio-Javier. Studia Carica. Barcelona, 1993.
  • Adiego, I.J. The Carian Language. With an appendix by Koray Konuk, Leiden: Brill, 2007.
  • Adiego, Ignasi-Xavier. "Carian identity and Carian language". In: 4th Century Karia. Defining a Karian identity under the Hekatomnids. Istanbul: Institut Français d'Études Anatoliennes-Georges Dumézil, 2013. pp. 15-20. (Varia Anatolica, 28) []
  • Blümel, W., Frei, P., et al., ed., Colloquium Caricum = Kadmos 38 (1998).
  • Giannotta, M.E., Gusmani, R., et al., ed., La decifrazione del Cario. Rome. 1994.
  • Ray, John D., An approach to the Carian script, Kadmos 20:150-162 (1981).
  • Ray, John D., An outline of Carian grammar, Kadmos 29:54-73 (1990).
  • Melchert, H. Craig. 2004. Carian in Roger D. Woodard, ed., The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 609–613.
  • Откупщиков, Ю. В. "Догреческий субстрат. У истоков европейской цивилизации" (Otkupschikov, Yu. V. "Pre-Greek substrate. At the beginnings of the European civilization"). Leningrad, 263 pp. (1988).
  • THOMAS W. KOWALSKI (1975), LETTRES CARIENNES: ESSAI DE DECHIFFREMENT DE L’ECRITURE CARIENNE Kadmos. Volume 14, Issue 1, Pages 73–93, DOI 10.1515/kadm.1975.14.1.73

Further reading[edit]

  • Hitchman, Richard. "CARIAN NAMES AND CRETE (WITH AN APPENDIX BY N. V. SEKUNDA)." In Onomatologos: Studies in Greek Personal Names Presented to Elaine Matthews, edited by Catling R. W. V. and Marchand F., by Sasanow M., 45-64. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2010.

External links[edit]