The Lycian Language

H. Craig Melchert, a professor of linguistics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has done much work on the Lycian language and has written the first and only comprehensive dictionary in English: Dictionary of the Lycian Language.  (I haven't had a chance to read it).  Until this book was written, there were very few materials about the Lycian language and its grammar and vocabulary and knowledge was poor.  However, it was known that Lycian was most likely a later form of Luwian - a language that was spoken in western Asia Minor before the arrival of the Hittites.  This fact seems to rule out the Greek belief that Lycians were originally immigrants of Crete. Their language was of Indo-European origin evidenced by its Indo-European cognates, which make about 20% in all Anatolian languages.

The Lycian alphabet may have came into use in the early 6th century BC, around the same time as that of the Greeks. It was definitely in use by the 5th-4th centuries BC. The Lycian alphabet is clearly related to the Greek alphabet, but the exact nature of the relationship is uncertain. Some letters it had in common with Greek, but others were unique and included nasal sounds like \~n and \^e.  Several letters appear to be related to symbols of the Cretan and Cyprian writing systems.  The Lycian script has 29 letters, 6 of which are vowels.

The nasal vowels of the Lycian language increased the number of vowels almost three times from Luwian, which had only three vowels.  That is why most endings of nouns and verbs in Lycian have nasal vowels instead of the "vowel + -n" of Luwian. The noun cases remained the same, as well as the verb system (although researchers still argue about a strange -eni ending in the 3rd person plural of verbs). Pronouns also changed slightly, though Lycian declension of pronouns developed all similar features of "new" Anatolian languages, including Lydian.  Two original Anatolian laryngeal sounds were also preserved.

Two types of Lycian language existed - Lycian A and B.  These differ in the reflection of the letter s.  It was preserved in Lycian B but turned into h in Lycian A.  Lycian B is also known as Milyan and dates to the first millennium BC.

Most Lycian sentences start with the coordinative particles me- or se- and the word order is believed to be basically verb-subject-object.

The Lycian script was written left to right with frequently used word-dividers.

More info about the Lycian language.

The bilingual inscription known as the 'Xanthos Obelisk' and the 'Letoon Trilingual' Stele, were instrumental in beginning to decipher the unsolved puzzle of the Lycian language. 

Lycian inscription on the Xanthos ObeliskThe 'Xanthos Obelisk' is not actually an obelisk at all but a 5th century BC pillar tomb at Xanthos that has suffered a lot of damage.  An inscription coveres all four side of the stone and is the longerst Lycian inscription known (250 lines on all four sides).  Linguistically it falls into three parts: beginning on the south side it continues onto the east side and part of the north side in the normal Lycian language.  It then follows with a twelve-lined poem in Greek, but the rest of the north side and the whole of the west side is filled with a strange form of Lycian, perhaps ceremonial, which appears elsewhere only on a tomb in Antiphellos.  This inscription is believed to be a narrative account of the dead hero's exploits.  More photos of the Xanthos Obelisk.

The 'Letoon Trilingual' Stele dates to 358 BC and was the more important of the two important inscriptions in beginning to understand the Lycian language, a decree made to Pixodares, who was the satrap of Caria and Lycia and contains texts in Aramaic, Greek and Lycian.  It is now displayed in the Fethiye Museum

Here is a sample from the Letoon Trilingual:


Letoon Trilingual eke:trmmisi:khssadrapazate:pigesere:

"When Pigesere son of Katamla(Hecatomnus) was Satrap of Trmmisa(Lycia) and Iera and Natrbbiyemi were archons of the Lycians and Erttimeli was magistrate of Arnna (Xanthos), the citizens and squires of Arnna resolved to erect an altar for the King of Caunus and King Arkazuma." 


A Lycian Glossary

Notes for Glossary:
T - a special Lycian sound usually marked as Greek "theta" [q]
B - a special sound usually marked as Greek "beta" [b]
L - a sound of Lydian transcribed as Greek "lambda"
M - a nasal [m] sound
ã, ê - nasal vowels of Lycian
ñ - the nasal [n] sound


ada- (a fine)
aha- A (to sit) [IE *es- 'to sit', Hittite as-]
ahãma A (beloved) [Hittite assija- 'to love']
aitãta- (eight)
ala (beyond, upon) [IE *alyo- (other), Lydian aLa- (other)]
alb- (clear, white) [IE *albho- 'white']
amu, êmu, êmi, -mu (I, me, my) [IE *me' 'my, me', Hittite ammuk 'me, I']
arawemi- (released, liberated) [Hittite arawa- (free)]
asati, astti- B (to sit) [IE *es- 'to sit', Hittite as-]
cetu (imperative), ciciciti (present) B (to put, to lie) [IE *k'ei- 'to lay, to lie', Hittite kikki-]
ci, cezi, cedi B, cehi A (he, that) [Hittite ka's (this)]
cumezeine A (to pay) [IE *k'eu- 'to shine', Luwian kummi- 'clear']
cupriti, cuprimi B (?, but something positive) [IE *kupro- 'to desire']
da- B (to give) [IE *do'- 'to give']
dde- A, de- B (up to, until)
ddelupeli- B (earthenware) [Luwian taluppi- 'clay']
ddenewe- (thin)
ddewe- (a city)
dewi- B, ddawa- A (constant) [Hittite tawana- 'constant']
dezi B (strong) [Hittite tassijawar 'strength']
ebe- (this, he, that) [IE *ebho- (that), Hittite apa-, api- (that)]
ecãnc- (a death), ece- (dead people)
epeqzze- (posterity)
epide (ready) [Hittite appa'i- (to be ready)]
epirije- A (to appropriate) [IE *arjo- 'a master', Hittite araija- 'to assume']
epñ (after, for, back)
eri- (from, out of)
erite A (he managed, he won), inf. erijeinela (to win) [Hittite ara'i- 'to stop, to prevail']
esbedi (cavalry) [IE *ekwo- (a horse)]
esêne-, asa'na- B (blood) [IE *esór-, *esr- (blood), Common Anatolian (CA) *eshar- (blood), Luwian ašhar- (blood)]
êke (how)
ênê (under)
hãkka- A (to demand) [Hittite sanh- 'to attempt']
hebeli- (a river) [IE *Hap- 'a river, water', Hittite ap- 'water']
hla- (to glorify) [IE *k'leu- (to hear; fame), Slavic*slaviti (to glorify)]
hri- (above) [CA *ser- (up), Luwian šarri (top)]
hrppi, hri (above, for)
izre- (a hand) [IE *g'hesr- (a hand), CA *khesro- (a hand), Luwian iššari- (a hand)]
kbane A (to surrender)
-ke (and) [IE *-kwe (and), Lydian -k]
kerþþi- (a city)
kiki- (to beat, to punish) [IE *ghéi- 'to be empty']
klusa B (hostility, a quarrel) [Hittite halluwa'i- 'to be at odds']
kpparãma A (sold) [Latin ops 'wealth', Hittite happara'i- 'to sell']
kride- (a heart) [IE *kerd- (a heart), Hittite kir-, kardi-, Palaic kart- (a heart)]
kTTãna, kTTa A (relatives) [CA *has- 'to give birth']
kttba- (harm)
kudrehila A (a name of a servant) [Luwian hutarli- 'a servant']
kudi (where)
kultti A (he will beat?) [Hittite hulla'i- 'to win']
kzzãta B [Hittite hassant- 'a son']
laBra- B (a stone plate) [Luwian lawar- (to break)]
laka- B (a battle) [Hittite lahha- 'a campaign']
lebi, lelebi B (an agressor?) [IE *lebh- 'to grasp']
lihbezi A (a bodyguard) [Hittite lipsa'i- 'to repel']
luga- B (to burn down) [IE *leuk- 'to shine, light', Hittite lukk- 'to put light on']
mahañ A (a god)
mãmre B (to die?) [IE *mer-, Hittite mer- 'to die']
maskkM (wealth, good) [Hieroglyphic masahani- 'to help']
me- (here; an introductory particle)
medi, metu (to destine?) [IE *me- 'to aim at']
meri- B (a man, a warrior?) [Hittite *mari-]
mireñ- (a man)
mla-, mle- (an offspring, a clan) [IE *ml- 'to appear']
mrBBa- B (a word) [Avestan mru-, mrav- 'to speak', CA *maruwa-]
mrskka- B (to falsify) [Hittite marsahh- 'to falsify']
mukssa (a prayer) [Hittite mukessar 'a prayer']
muni B (a ritual mask) [Hittite munna'i- 'to hide, to conceal']
ne- (direct object particle)
nei, na-, nija-, neitala B (to lead, a leader) [Sanskrit nayati 'he leads', Hittite nija- 'to lead']
nênije- B (to lead) [Hittite nannija- 'to turn out']
ni- (not) [IE *n- (negative particle), Luwian ni-, niš- (not)]
nice... nice (neither..., nor...)
ñke (how, when)
ñte, ñtepi (in, inside) [IE *en- (in, inside)]
ñuñtãta- (nine) [IE *newn (nine)]
pabrati A (to turn out) [Luwian papra- 'to turn out']
pdde- (a place) [Hittite pedan, pieti, pídi (a place)]
pe- (on, upon)
pere (forward) [Slavic *pro- (forward), Sanskrit pra-  (before)]
pije-, pibije- (to give) [Hittite pai-, pija- (to give)]
pina- B (to present) [Hittite pijana'i- 'to present']
plqqka- (wide) [IE *pl-t- (wide), CA *plha- (wide), Luwian palha (wide)]
pri- (over-) [Slavic *pre- (over-), Lithuanian per (over, across)]
prije-, pruwa- (high) [IE *bhergh- > CA *phrkhu- (high), Luwian parrai- (high)]
prñna- (a house) [Luwian parna- (a house)]
prñnawa- (to build) [Luwian parna- (a house)]
puce- B (to beat) [IE peug- 'to beat, to push', Hittite pugga'i- 'to hate']
putu (let him press) [Hittite puwa'i-]
pzzi-, pssa- B (to throw) [Sanskrit asyati 'he throws', Hittite pessija- 'to throw']
qaja B (a temple?) [Latin omen, Hittite ha'- 'to believe']
qehñ A, qzze B (descendants) [Hittite hassa- 'grandsons']
qezMmi, kezM B (people) [Hieroglyphic hasami- 'people, a nation']
qidri- B (a personal name) [Hittite hatra'i- 'to write']
qirze B (a ritual share) [Hittite harsi 'bread for rituals']
qlija- (a place of worship)
qñza- B (posterity, a descendant) [Hittite hanzassa 'descendants']
qrbblali B (an altar) [Hittite harpali- 'a religious thing']
qretu (let him destroy) [Hittite harra'i- 'to destroy']
qtti- (to beat) [IE *Het- (to beat)]
sbirte B (a monument) [Hittite ispart- 'to rise, to tower']
si- (this, he)
se-si (him)
sla- B (to propitiate) [IE *selH- 'to favour']
slamati- (to keep memory)
sñta (one) [IE *sem-, *sm- (one, alone)]
ta-, tti-, stta- (to put, to set) [IE *stá- (to stand, to set), Luwian išta- (to stand)]
tabahaza A (sky) [IE *nebho-, *nebh-es- (sky), CA *ntephes- (sky), Luwian tappaš- (sky)]
tali (a priest) [Hittite tallija- 'to call gods']
tas-, tesêni B, tah-, teseti (a priest) [Hieroglyphic tasi'- 'a stele']
te-, teli (here) [Lydian tL]
tetbe B, teb- A (to spoil) [Hittite tep-aweh- 'to humiliate']
tewê B (evil) [IE *teu- 'powerful', Lydian tavs'a 'strong']
Tri- (to speak) [CA *tr- (to speak), Luwian tatar- (to damn)]
tedi- (a father) [Lithuanian te.tis (a father), Greek tetta (a father)]
teteri (four) [IE *kwetwores (four), Greek tettares]
teTTi- (paternal)
trei, trije (three) [IE *treyes (three, neuter *tri), Hittite tara- (three)]
trppali, trbbdi B (he turns), trbbi A (against) [IE *trep- 'to turn', Luwian tarpalli- 'a change']
tuta B (an army) [IE *teuta- 'people', Hittite tuzzi- 'an army']
tuwa (two) [IE *duwo, *dwo' (two), Hittite tuwa- (two)]
uni (that)
utã-, uten- (a priest)
utetu (imperative), utaci B (to bring) [IE *wedh- (to bring), CA *weth - to bring]
uwe- (a person), uwedri (a community) [IE *swe- 'self', Hittite uwa- 'a masculine']
uwêti- (writes)
wakssa- B (courage)  [Hittite wahessar 'sacred']
warasija-, wirasaja- B (an assistant) [Hittite warri- 'help']
wawa  (a bull) [CA *wawa - a bull, Hittite wawa]
wazzis- (an army), wazala- A (a warrior) [IE *wedh- 'to thrust']
wedri- (a city)
xabe- (a river) [IE *Hap- (water) CA *hap- (a river), Luwian hapi- (a river)]
xabwa- (a  sheep) [IE *owi- (a sheep), Luwian hawi- (a sheep)]
xñna (a mother)
xñta- (first) [Gaulish cintu- (first), Old Irish ce't (first)]
zajala B (a criminal) [Hittite za'i- 'to cross, to overdo']
zazati B (he puts) [IE dhe'- 'to put, to set']
zbali- (a deity) [IE *deiwo- (the sky god), Hittite šiwali- (a deity)]
zini B (a destroyer) [Hittite zinna- 'to eliminate']
ziw- (god) [IE *deiwo- (the sky god), CA *diu- (god of daylight), Luwian tiwat- (god of the sun)]
zrêtêni A (a renegade) [Hittite sarra- 'to separate']
zrigali- (a warrior)
zrqqi- B (to fight, to attack) [Hittite sarh- 'to attack', Luwian sarhija-]
zusi (Zeus) (borrowed from Greek) [IE *deiwo- (the sky god)]