Elymian language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Region Sicily
Extinct 3rd century BC?
  • Elymian
Language codes
ISO 639-3 xly
Glottolog elym1237[1]

Elymian is the extinct language of the ancient Elymian people of western Sicily. Its characteristics are little known because of the extremely limited and fragmentary nature of the surviving texts.

The origins of Elymian and its relationships with other languages are unclear. It is widely believed to have been part of the Indo-European language family, but even that is uncertain. Within the Indo-European languages, it has been speculated that Elymian was related to either the Italic languages or the Anatolian languages (such as Hittite), although both theories are disputed.


Only a handful of Elymian texts have survived, dating from between the 6th and 4th Centuries BC. These comprise: a few proper names recorded by non-Elymian sources; inscriptions in Greek alphabet on several coins, which include the names of Elymian cities; and inscriptions in Greek on about 170 fragments of pottery (found mostly in a votive deposit at the ruined Elymian city of Segesta). These texts have been identified as Elymian, based on their evidently non-Hellenic characteristics, location and age.

The majority of textual artifacts are very short and fragmentary, comprising only a few letters. A small number of longer texts apparently contain a personal name and may have been dedicatory epigraphs. They sometimes appear to resemble Hellenic dedicatory epigraphs, in which an anthroponym in genitive form is followed by a verb literally meaning "I am" in order to convey "belonging".

A vase found at Montedoro, around 15 km southwest of Palermo, features one of the few complete inscriptions in Elymian. It has been tentatively translated to read "I [the pot] am [a gift] of Ata Tuka", or "I am [a gift] of Ata of [= son of] Tuka".[2]


Proposed classifications the Elymian language can be summarized under two main positions, both of which relate to Indo-European languages.

Some[who?] historical linguists agree that some peculiarities of that language – like non-alphabetic symbols engraved on some dedicational fragments of pots, and genitive in -ai found in almost all the complete sequences – are suggestive of a connection to the Anatolian languages, and in particular, to Hittite.

Other historical linguists[who?] classify Elymian as related to the Italic languages on the basis of other possible features.

Any resolution of the question of affiliation appears to rely on further archaeological investigations at Elymian settlements in western Sicily.


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Elymian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  2. ^ Luciano Agostiniani (1977). Iscrizioni anelleniche di Sicilia: le iscrizioni elime. L. S. Olschki. 


  • Schrijver, Peter, "Elymian", in Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe, ed. Glanville Price. Blackwell Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-631-22039-9
  • Ambrosini, Riccardo, "Italica o anatolica la lingua dei graffiti di Segesta?", in Studi e Saggi Linguistici, VIII, 1968, 160–172 (ita)
  • Agostiniani, Luciano, "Iscrizioni anelleniche di Sicilia, I: Le iscrizioni elime", Firenze, 1977 (ita)
  • Durante, Marcello, "L'enigma della lingua degli Elimi", in AA.VV., Φιλίας χάριν. Miscellanea di studi classici in onore di Eugenio Manni, 1980, III, 881–888 (ita)
  • Marchesini, Simona, "The Elymian language", in Language and Linguistic Contact in Ancient Sicily edited by Olga Tribulato, Cambridge Classical Studies, 2012, 95–114. ISBN 978-1-107-02931-6
  • Rizzo, Antonino, "Segesta", in Monetazione della Sicilia antica (it)