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Name Origin. The Hittites took their name from the autochthonous, non-Indo-European, inhabitants of Anatolia which called themselves Hatti.

Overview. Hittite is the oldest attested Indo-European language. It was spoken in north-central Turkey in the second millennium BCE, and is known, mainly, from 25,000 tablets recovered from Hattusas (Bogazkoy), the ancient capital of the Hittites. It belongs to the Anatolian branch which, is thought, was the first to have separated from other Indo-European languages.

Classification. Indo-European, Anatolian.

Distribution. In the north-central region of the Anatolian Peninsula (now Turkey).

Status. Extinct. Attested between 1650-1200 BCE.


Periods. Hittite is divided into three periods that coincide with the three main divisions of Hittite history:

Old Hittite (1600-1500 BCE) spoken in the Old Hittite Kingdom, founded by Hattusilis I, a period of rapid military expansion.

Middle Hittite (1500-1375 BCE) spoken in the Middle Kingdom when the Hittites were under pressure from nomadic peoples attacking them from the north.

Neo-Hittite (1375-1200 BCE) is  the language of the Neo-Hittite Kingdom when the Hittites reached their apogee until they suddenly collapsed due to the invasion of the "Peoples of the Sea".

Oldest Documents

  1. 19thc. BCE. A few Hittite loanwords appear in letters from Assyrian merchants (Kültepe tablets).

  1. c. 1650 BCE. Text of Anittas. Telling the events preceding the foundation of the Hittite state.


Vowels. Hittite has four short and four long vowels: i, i:, e, e:, a, a:, u, u:.

Consonants. Hittite preserved two (out of three) archaic 'laryngeal' Proto-Indo-European (PIE) consonants that disappeared in other Indo-European languages. The PIE 'laryngeals' h1, h2, h3 were predicted by some linguists but their existence was not confirmed until the discovery in Hittite of two h-type sounds (corresponding hypothetically to PIE h2 and h3) whose exact place of articulation is tentatively considered in the pharynx by some authors though others think they are glottal, or even velar, sounds.

    Hittite also preserved the Indo-European labio-velar sounds that disappeared in almost all of the languages of the family. In contrast to this conservative phonological tendency, Hittite lost the aspirated stops of Indo-European, completely.


Script and Orthography.

The Hittite scribes inscribed clay tablets with a cuneiform syllabary, current in Mesopotamia at the time, similar to that used for Old Babylonian, adding, when required, some Sumerian and Akkadian logograms. In transliteration:

  1. long vowels are represented with a macron: ī, ē, ā, ū.

  2. [ts] is transliterated z.

  3. [s] is transliterated by many authors but here we use s instead.

  4. [ħ] is transliterated ḫḫ or hh. The latter is used here.

  5. [ʕ] is transliterated  or h. The latter is used here.

  6. [j] is transliterated y.


  1. Nominal. Hittite nouns, adjectives and pronouns were inflected for case, gender and number.

  1. case: nominative, vocative, accusative, instrumental, genitive, ablative, dative-locative, directive or allative (motion to a place), ergative. In Neo-Hittite, the vocative was lost, the directive merged with the dative-locative, and the ablative with the instrumental.

  1. gender: animate (masculine and feminine), inanimate (neuter). It lacks the traditional gender division between masculine-feminine of many Indo-European languages.

  1. number: singular, plural.

  1. pronouns: personal, possessive, demonstrative, interrogative-relative, indefinite.

  2. Personal pronouns have full and enclitic forms. Their case system is reduced respect to nouns and adjectives; 1st and 2nd person pronouns have only: nominal, oblique (conflation of accusative + dative-locative), genitive and ablative. Oblique personal pronouns have enclitic forms (those between brackets).


  1. The third person uses only enclitic forms which are inflected in the nominative, accusative and dative-locative. They have different forms for animate and inanimate. Forms between brackets are attested in Neo-Hittite.


  1. Hittite possessive pronouns are enclitics that are suffixed directly to the possessed noun. Here, we show only those for the singular persons because they are the best attested.

  1. Hittite has two demonstrative pronouns. 'This': kās (animate), (inanimate). 'That': apās (animate), apāt (inanimate). The interrogative and relative pronoun is kuis. An indefinite pronoun is kuiski ('someone').

  1. Verbal. The Hittite verbal system is rather simple; there are only two verbal classes (mi and hi conjugation), and a fairly limited number of tenses and moods. Verbal roots are often preceded by one or more independent preposition/adverbs, called preverbs, that specify their meaning (i.e., go in, go after, go back, etc).

  1. person and number: 1s, 2s, 3s; 1p, 2p, 3p.

  1. voice: active, middle or medio-passive.

  1. tense: present (used also for the future and historical present), preterite. Hittite has also a periphrastic tense, called perfect, formed with the auxiliaries 'have' or 'be' + past participle. The mi and hi conjugation have their own set of endings in the singular of the active voice but there is no functional difference between them. The plural active endings as well as the middle voice endings are the same for both conjugations:


  1. aspect: perfective, imperfective. The perfective is unmarked, the imperfective is marked by adding a suffix (-ske/a) to the stem to which the present or past personal endings are added.

  1. mood: indicative, imperative. The Indo-European subjunctive and optative were not pre–served in Hittite.

  1. non-finite forms: infinitive, verbal noun, past participle, supine, gerundive.

  2. The infinitive is formed by adding -wanzi/-manzi to the root except for some verbs of the mi-conjugation which add, instead, -anna/-ānna.

  3. Verbal nouns can be formed by adding -war or -atar to the root.

  4. The past participle is formed by adding the suffix -ant to the root; it usually has a passive sense and works as an adjective.

  5. The so-called supine is formed from imperfective verbs, and combines with the verbs dai- ('set') and tiya- ('proceed') to express the beginning of an action (e.g., "they began fighting").

  6. A gerundive, ending in -la and expressing necessity or obligation, is attested in a few documents.                               


The unemphatic word order of Hittite is Subject-Object-Verb. Adjectives agree with their noun in gender, number and case. Personal pronouns may be dropped. Clitics are frequently employed, including among them enclitic pronouns. A remarkable innovation of Hittite is the use of split ergativity in which inanimate nouns that are subjects of transitive verbs are inflected in the ergative case and not in the nominative.


Hattic, the non-Indo-European language of the native inhabitants of Anatolia, left its mark in the Hittite lexicon through many borrowings in the religious and cultic sphere. Another non-Indo-European language, Hurrian, also influenced the Hittite lexicon in these same cultural areas.

Basic Vocabulary

father: attas

mother: anna

fire: pahhur

water: wātar

sea: aruna

earth: tēkan

tree, wood: tāru

hair: tetanas

head: harsar

eye: sākuwa/sakaui

tooth: kagas/gagas

hand: kissar

knee: gēnu

foot: patas

heart: kir


The texts preserved in Hittite are of a very diverse nature. Some are historical including edicts, annals and treaties, diplomatic correspondence, an autobiography, and legends about the early kings. Others are administrative and legal, and many are religious including hymns and prayers, performance of rituals and festivals, oracles and omens. There also a few popular songs, and translations and reinterpretations of Akkadian, Hurrian and Hattic compositions. Some of the most remarkable literary texts are:

The Kumarbi cycle

Several related texts, based in Hurrian mythology, telling the deeds of god Kumarbi who after seizing the kingship of the gods from his father Anu lost it before his son, the storm-god Teshub. In a vain attempt to recover the throne, Kumarbi procreates Ullikummis a gigantic stone man.

The Myth of Telepinu

It is based on a Hattic myth. Telepinu, the god of fertility and agriculture, disappears mysteriously bringing catastrophe to the universe until, after several attempts, he returns back and fertility is restored.

Siege of Urshu

Part legend, part history, the text describes the unsuccessful attempt of an early Hittite king to capture the city of Urshu due to the incompetence of his officers.

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -'Hittite'. C. Watkins. In The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor, 6-30. R. D. Woodward (ed). Cambridge University Press (2008).

  2. -A Comparative Grammar of the Hittite Language. E. H. Sturtevant. Yale University Press (1951).

  3. -Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. A. Goetze & J. Prichard. Princeton University Press (1955).

  4. -The Hittites and their Contemporaries in Asia Minor. J. G. Macqueen. Thames & Hudson (1996).

  5. -Hittite Online. S. E. Kimball, W. P. Lehmann & J. Slocum. Linguistics Research Center. The University of Texas at Austin. Available at:


  7. -'Hittite'. In Ancient a compendium of world-wide writing systems from prehistory to today. Lawrence Lo. Available online at:

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