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Overview. Carian was an Anatolian language, not yet completely deciphered, that was spoken in the first millennium BCE alongside Lycian and Lydian.

Classification. Indo-European, Anatolian, West Anatolian.

Distribution. Carian was spoken in southwestern Anatolia (modern Turkey), in the territory of Caria situated between Lydia to the north and Lycia to the south.

Status. Extinct. Attested between 700-200 BCE.

Main Documents

700-400 BCE. Tomb inscriptions and graffiti left by Carian mercenaries in Egypt.

600-500 BCE. Fragmentary Carian-Greek text found in Athens.

600-500 BCE. Large Carian-Greek inscription discovered, in 1996, in Kaunos, Turkey, essential for the (partial) decipherment of the language.

400-200 BCE. Short or fragmentary texts found in Caria itself.


It is very tentative due to the scarcity of the texts.

Vowels. The vowel system seems to have been a straightforward i, u, e, o, a, even if the script has an excess of vowel symbols.

Consonants. Carian had, at least, three voiceless stops (p, t, k) which, apparently, had no voiced counterparts. It had also an affricate (transliterated τ), articulated at the dental or alveolar level.

    Its fricatives were voiceless and voiced. The first, represented by  three sibilants and, the second, perhaps, by, labial and dental phonemes. The set of nasals and liquids was the usual (m, n, r, l) but Carian had another lateral (besides l) which is transliterated as λ. The status of the glides has not been determined yet.


Carian was written in a form of the Greek alphabet, consisting of 26 letters. Texts from Egypt were read from right to left and those originated in Caria in the opposite direction. According to the source of the inscriptions, the total number and forms of the letters vary.


  1. Nominal. It is not yet possible to have a clear picture of the nominal morphology but it is quite certain that Carian had at least nominative and accusative cases, and that it employed, like other Anatolian languages, a modified adjective to mark the genitive relationship.

  1. Verbal. With only one exception, no finite verbs have yet been found.

Basic Vocabulary

father: ted

mother: en

oneself: otr-

interpreter: armon

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -'Carian'. H. Craig Melchert. In The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor, 64-68. R. D. Woodward (ed). Cambridge University Press (2008).

  2. -The Carian Language. I. J. Adiego. Brill (2007).

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