Indo-European Daughter Languages: Anatolian
by Edward Dawson & Peter Kessler, 5 August 2016
The Indo-European group of languages, which laid
down the roots of many of the world's most-important modern
languages, developed from a once-small group of speakers in an
A sister feature, A History of Indo-Europeans,
Migrations and Language, covers in detail the proposed origins of
proto-Indo-European, its language shifts, and the migrations of its
speakers. Starting there would be a good way of approaching this
sequel feature (see the sidebar's 'related links').
Once the proto-Indo-European language (PIE) and its
speakers began to expand from their original homeland, proposed to
be in the Caucuses Mountains, differences in dialect would have
started to become apparent over time.
One such group were the Anatolians.
From proto-Indo-European to proto-Anatolian
They apparently were the first to separate
from the rest. This is generally accepted because they preserved
in their language what would seem to be early roots of words that
later changed amongst the remaining PIE speakers to their north,
showing that they were not part of this evolution and were therefore
isolated from it.
In fact, the Anatolian branch is such an early
split that some linguists have doubts over whether the Anatolians
were even PIE-speakers to start with. They may have formed a
'cousin' of PIE rather than a direct descendant of it.
Whether that's true or not, any split from the
other PIE groups seems to have occurred around 3500 BC at
the latest, which is the dating largely used here, but it may have
been even earlier.
Map 3 from the earlier feature on Indo-European (IE) language and
migration shows IE migration out of the Pontic-Caspian steppe by
around 3000 BC, by which time the South IEs were certainly already
detached from them and isolated from any language changes (click
or tap on map to view full sized)
Background to Arzawa Studies
A History of Arzawa
RULERS OF ANATOLIA:
Linguistics Research Center, University of Texas at Austin
Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples
Indo-European Etymological Dictionary (J Pokorny)
This division and its language now becomes categorised by linguists
as pre-Anatolian, showing that it is already divided from PIE and is
developing its own distinctive variants in language, whilst also
preserving many older usages that later change in mainstream PIE.
The length of time between the calculated
appearance of pre-Anatolian and its transformation into the
better-understood proto-Anatolian is uncertain, but it could be
anything up to a millennium. That descended form then continued to
evolve (as all language does), into three main sub-variants. How all
this happened is largely expert theory based upon some archaeological
evidence and some - rather accurate in the main - linguistic
calculation, but overall the theory is sound.
The reasons are given in detail below but, briefly,
given the historically-attested division of proto-Anatolian into its
daughter languages of Luwian and Hittite when the Hittite empire was
at its height in Anatolia in 1400 BC, then a split between Luwian and
Hittite may have occurred as much as two thousand years before that
(3400 BC). (A third language, Palaic, did not survive much beyond
That dating does suggest that the original PIE
split was earlier rather than later.
Proto-Anatolian and pre-Anatolian would have been
universally used for an indeterminate time before that, possibly a
thousand years or more. This pushes back an Anatolian/PIE split to
around at least 4400 BC - entirely within the realms of possibility.
At this stage, proto-Indo-European is conjectured to be in an archaic
state, not yet having fully evolved into the PIE that would be
spoken by all IE groups subsequent to the departure of the
Whether the split from proto-Anatolian into
Hittite, Luwian, and Palaic took place around 4400 BC or 3500
BC, proto-Anatolian retained many archaic features which were lost
among the other branches of Indo-European during the further
evolution of the language, indicating a clear separation between
the two branches at an early period in time (into south and north
Once the southern PIEs had passed over the
Caucuses Mountains and into north-eastern Anatolia itself, they
would have been isolated from their fellow IEs to the north. They
probably had to bypass more distantly-related Kartvelian speakers on
their way, sticking to a route that probably followed the western
coast of the Caspian Sea and which avoided the difficult terrain of
the inland highlands.
Once in the region of what is now Armenia,
Azerbaijan, and north-eastern Turkey, they appear to have settled
for quite some time into what was probably a semi-nomadic lifestyle
that may have found a relative gap between other more settled
groups that were heading slowly towards early civilisation. Their
new territory could be described as the proto-Anatolian homeland.
From proto-Anatolian to Hittite, Luwian, and
So how did these proto-Anatolians get from here to
occupying and ruling most of Anatolia?
Well, an examination of their language (or at least
the daughter languages that were formed out of proto-Anatolian)
suggests that they were there for a couple of millennia or so.
During that time they probably expanded westwards, gradually
creeping further into Anatolia, perhaps more so when early cities
During this time, differences emerged in how the
three main groups of proto-Anatolians were using their language.
There could have been other groups too, but they would have been
minor, and none survived to leave a trace in history. The
differences that emerged were probably due to separation between
the groups as they shifted further westwards. In time they would
become separate languages in their own right - daughter languages
Working out how this process took place is
relatively easy when using a more recent example. It seems
reasonable to assume (based on a good deal of evidence from
historical records and modern language forms) that modern Welsh
and Irish Gaelic speakers would have been mutually intelligible
around the time of the Roman invasion of Britain. Tribes from
Britain were able to migrate to Ireland at that time, and Irish
tribes had already migrated to western Britain in the two or
three centuries before that.
It has taken two thousand years of division and
language shift for Welsh and Irish to reach their current forms.
This includes periods of quite intense social pressure and
breakdown - the Welsh in the sixth to eighth centuries when their
territory was under ever-present threat from growing Anglo-Saxon
supremacy in the east, and the Irish during the period of Viking
occupation of parts of the east and then the Norman invasion
If Irish and Welsh can change so much in
two thousand years, then it seems to be a safe assumption that
proto-Anatolian would experience no worse a change in two thousand
years in a region in which there seems to have been less social
pressure, no empires to threaten domination of them, and no major
invasions to face. In fact, it was the proto-Anatolians who were
doing the 'invading', migrating as they were from the Caucuses into
north-eastern Anatolia, and probably disturbing an established
tribal order along the way.
How long does a language last? If a typical modern
English speaker were to meet an Anglo-Saxon speaker from AD 1000,
they would be unintelligible to one another. That's a fairly extreme
example, though. English was fused with Norman French to become a
very different version of the language. Spanish has remained far
more stable, so two people from either end of this timescale would
be able to understand each other, albeit perhaps haltingly.
Yet another example is modern spoken Frisian. This
is so close to Anglo-Saxon that once a Frisian learns the AS
alphabet variant he can mostly read Beowulf in the clear
(even though it was composed in the sixth century AD). So you could
say the degree of change varies, between the two extremes of English
and Frisian, and depending on contact with other languages. English
at one extreme was heavily affected, and Frisian, its speakers
isolated on their islands, is almost a living fossil. So the
not-too-clear answer is anything up two two thousand years depending
How many non-Indo-European speakers the
proto-Anatolian speakers hoovered up along the way can never be
known. But it has been common practice throughout history for a new,
dynamic, and potentially aggressive group to gain precedence amongst
settled groups, eventually dominating them as a new ruling elite and
imposing a new language and customs upon them (whilst borrowing some
words along the way). The same shift can be seen clearly in Celtic
groups when faced with Germanic expansion in Europe and Britain.
Accepting a proposed period of two thousand years
for proto-Anatolian to devolve into its daughter languages of
Hittite, Luwian, and Palaic means that between 3400 BC and 1900
BC, these daughter languages were developing, and their speakers
were becoming isolated from one another - perhaps not entirely,
but they certainly developed along three different lines of
Given the extreme examples, above, of a modern
English speaker not being able to understand an Anglo-Saxon of a
thousand years ago, but a Frisian being perfectly fine with that,
one has to wonder how cross-intelligible were Hittite, Luwian,
and Palaic by the end of this period. The answer is that they
probably were, with some dialectal differences.
This map attempts to illustrate in basic terms the separate paths
taken by the Luwians, Hittites, and Pala during their westwards
migration and their progress from proto-Anatolians to
kingdom-builders (click or tap on map to view full sized)
Settling down to form kingdoms
The non-Indo-European peoples who dominated
Anatolia during the third millennium BC founded cities such as
Hattusa, Kanesh, Kussara, and Zalpa. These were organised and were
trading with the more advanced Mesopotamian states by no later than
2700 BC (see links, right).
They began to be threatened by the descendants of
the proto-Anatolians in the early eighteenth century BC, by which
time the Luwian speakers were already occupying areas of the
southern coastline of Anatolia. The Palaic speakers seem to have
followed the northern, Black Sea coastline, and the Hittites were
taking the middle route.
As mentioned, the Luwians established themselves
first, along the coastline of Anatolia and Syria at the
north-eastern corner of the Mediterranean. There they founded an
early settled state that may have been known as Luwia. As it expanded
further west along the Mediterranean coastline it divided into two
states: Arzawa and Kizzuwatna.
The Pala (Palaic speakers) seem to have been a
relatively small group. They followed the Black Sea coast to reach a
region that lies to the north of today's Ankara and there they
stayed, neighboured to the east by the non-IE Kaskans. One has to
wonder what effect they had on established native cities that they
passed. One of the most powerful, Zalpa, apparently suffered at the
hands of the Hittites by the mid-eighteenth century BC, but were
they weakened before that by the Pala? Unfortunately the historical
record says nothing about this, and the Pala disappeared fairly early,
possibly absorbed by new arrivals - the Phrygians - in the late
thirteenth century BC.
The third major group, the Hittites, migrated
through the Anatolian highlands to attack and swiftly subjugate the
cities of the Hatti. By the seventeenth century they were in charge
in central-eastern Anatolia, and they went from there to found one
of the great empires of the ancient world.
Later groups also included Lycian and Lydian, and
the descendants of the proto-Anatolians were dominant in Anatolia
until the arrival of Greek settlers in the twelfth to eighth
centuries BC (these were also Indo-Europeans, but they originated
with the northern group). Luwian survived the end of the Hittite
empire, but today all three language groups are extinct.
RULERS OF ANATOLIA:
Map of Anatolia & Environs 2000-1550 BC
Anthony, David W - The Horse The Wheel and
Language: How Bronze Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the
Modern World, Princeton University Press, 2007
Proto-Bulgarian Runic Inscriptions:
Studies in the History and Language
of the Sarmatians:
Linguistics Research Center, University
of Texas at Austin:
Indo-European Chronology - Countries and
Indo-European Etymological Dictionary
Maps and text copyright © Edward Dawson & P L Kessler.
An original feature for the History Files.