An insatiable appetite for ancient and modern tongues

Overview. Lycian was an Anatolian language closely related to, and a probable descendant of, Luvian. It was spoken in the second half of the first millennium BCE alongside Carian and Lydian.

Classification. Indo-European, Anatolian, West Anatolian.

Distribution. Lycian was spoken in southwestern Anatolia (modern Turkey) between the Gulf of Fethiye and the Gulf of Antalya.

Status. Extinct. Attested between 500-100 BCE.


Varieties. Lycian A and Lycian B (Milyan). Lycian A is standard Lycian while Lydian B, found only in a couple of inscriptions in verse, is more archaic.

Main Documents.

  1. more than 100 funerary texts on stone.

  1. the stele of Xanthos, a propagandistic document of the ruling dynasty.

  1. the Letton stele, a long, trilingual (Lycian-Greek-Aramaic) inscription, found in a temple near Xanthos dedicated to the goddess Leto.

  1. about 200 coin inscriptions.


Vowels (8). high i, u and mid-low e, a, plus nasalized varieties of each (, ũ, , ã). The high nasal vowels were not distinguished in the script.


Consonants. Lycian had several voiceless stops. Two of them were undoubtedly [p] and [t]. Other phonemes, transliterated as, k, q, and x, might have been velar stops or fricatives. The nature of the rare sound transliterated as τ is also unclear, it was perhaps a palatal stop. More frequent was the palatal affricate [ts] which is transliterated z.

    Lycian had three voiceless fricatives and the same number of voiced ones. The voiceless fricatives were [θ] (dental), [s] (alveolar) and [h] (glottal). The voiced fricatives, [β] (bilabial), [ð] (dental) and [ɣ] (velar), were represented in the Lycian script by b, d and g, respectively.

    The set of nasals, liquids and glides was the usual (m, n, r, l, w, y). The letters transliterated as m̃ and ñ were, probably, allophones of the nasals in syllabic-final positions or, according to a different view, syllabic nasals. Consonant gemination was frequent.


Lycian was written in a form of the Greek alphabet, read from left to right and containing 29 letters.


  1. Nominal. Lycian nouns were inflected for case, gender and number.

  1. case: nominative, accusative, ablative-instrumental, dative-locative, genitive. Lycian, like other Anatolian languages, employs a modified adjective to mark possession replacing, in many instances, the genitive case. As consonants are rarely found in final position, there is often no formal distinction among case-markers.

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

  1. number: singular, plural.

  1. Verbal. The Lycian verbal system was rather simple, it had only two verbal classes (mi and hi conjugation), and a fairly limited number of tenses and moods.

  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.

  1. mood: indicative, imperative. The Indo-European subjunctive and optative no longer exists in Lycian.

  1. non-finite forms: infinitive, past participle.                     


The unmarked word order in Lycian seems to be Verb-Subject-Order (VSO), in contrast to that of other Anatolian and Indo-European languages that is mainly SOV. Nevertheless, most extant Lycian texts exhibit OVS order due to the particular style of the surviving corpus. Lycian is also special in having true coordinated clauses, prepositions instead of postpositions, and proclitic conjunctions.


Around 80 % or more of Lycian vocabulary is Indo-European. Loanwords are from Greek and Iranian.

Basic Vocabulary

one: sñta

two: kbi

three: tri

mother: ẽni

daughter: kbatra

wife: lada

brother: nẽni

nephew: tuhes

eye: tawa

hand: izre

foot: pede

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -The Lycians I. The Lycians in Literary and Epigraphic Sources. T. Bryce. Museum Tusculanum Press (1986).

  2. -'Lycian'. H. Craig Melchert. In The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor, 46-55. R. D. Woodward (ed). Cambridge University Press (2008).

  3. -'La Scrittura Licia'. O. Carruba. Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, Classe di Lettere e Filosofia, 3rd series, 8: 849–867 (1978).

  4. -Der Lykische Vokalismus. I. Hajnal. Leykam (1995).

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