Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Hurrian dictionary is now available

A new year is soon here and we're bringing some presents. We're happy to announce that the Hurrian dictionary is now public under the languages section. There are hundreds of Hurrian words available to browse!

Monday, December 30, 2019

The Etruscan dictionary is now available!

We've just released the Etruscan dictionary under the languages section. It consists of 500+ lemmata from the available Etruscan epigraphic data. The commentary might be meagre at the moment, but we will be enriching it all the time. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Avestan dictionary is now available!

Avestan is a language of great historical importance. It was the language of Zoroaster and the religious scriptures produced by him. It's also the most archaic language of the Iranian subgroup of Indo-European. We have finally managed to compile a dictionary that is now available in the languages section.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Lycian dictionary is now available

There's a new public Lycian dictionary available under the languages section. Lycian was one of the languages attested in Turkey during the first millenium BCE. With this addition we hit a milestone, covering all major known Anatolian Indo-European languages! 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

New article: Anatolian cereals

We've got a new article called "Anatolian cereals: A survey on Anatolian early farming" by G. Tardivo. Consider this as an addenda to "Prometheus or Amirani part 2" focused on farming vocabulary. The introduction of a new lifestyle, brings along the vocabulary used, which in this case is cereals, bread and cakes.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Anatolian cereals

A survey on Anatolian early farming,
by Giampaolo Tardivo

In this brief, some analytical data on the early civilization in Anatolia and its farming development, also its expansion on neighbouring places. How cereals and their lexical denomination bound together a very wide area.

Keywords: Pre-Greek, Hurrian, North Caucasian, Hattic, Anatolia, Anatolian, Caucasus, farming, cereals

Egyptian pyramids and Sumerian ziggurat still are in our mind since then. Both places (Egypt and Mesopotamia) are considered the pillars of civilization. No one dare to diminish their relevance as part of human development. Beside those two geographical areas, another place has drawn thr attention of scientists: Anatolia. 

Anatolian civilizations could be more ancient and no less developed than their Egyptian and Mesopotamian counterpart. There are all the prerequisite elements to start with, and historically speaking, several substrata languages that deserve our attention. Unfortunately, written record is so scanty, that is why a lot of elaboration needed. However, there is no reason to be afraid of. There are a lots of good reasons to look at the Anatolian plateau, especially when GRAIN – and CEREALS in general – domestication had its birthplace. 

Lexically, cereal cultivation is a key factor, nevertheless, it explains how close languages could be. Such perspective is evident in Sagona & Zimansky:

Some of the latest ideas on the Neolithic have responded to the question of whether language moved with the first farmers. This is an issue that has engaged not just archæologists, but linguists and geneticists too. With regard to Anatolia and Europe it specifically concerns the matter of whether the Indo-European family languages spread with the first farmers. Despite some earlier strident views, there appear no consensus.1

The main problem is “what language early farmers spoke at the time”, and it is a very crucial point. After the decipherment of Hittite, scholars were focused on Indo-European family whilst other ænigmatic question appear on their eyes. Further, it not less relevant that, as Cook wrote: 

In particular, it can provide crucial evidence as to whether a given plant or animal was domesticated once and once only, or at variety of times and places One case where genetics establishes a unique domestication as a variety of wheat known as einkorn. Domesticated einkorn was already being cultivated in what is now southeastern Turkey in the ninth millennium B.C. A comparison of the DNA of numerous lines of domesticated and wild einkorn is monophyletic – in other words, that all lines of the domesticated form go back to a common ancestor that sets them apart from the wild forms. This is enough to establish that einkorn was domesticated only once. The second thing shown by the genetic study of einkorn is that the domesticated form is closest to the wild lines found in a specific region to the west of the city of Diyarbakir. This gives us a bonus: we now have a good idea where einkorn was domesticated. Barley is a similar case. Here too it turns out that domesticated barley is monophyletic (though the analysis is complicated by the tendency of cultivated barley to cross with local wild forms). And here again identifying the closest form of wild barley helps to locate the domestication, though less precisely – this time in the region of Palestine. […] In wild wheat and barley a process of “shattering” causes the seeds to fall to the ground as they ripen, thus impeding effective harvesting by humans. In domesticated forms, by contrast, mutation in one or two genes are enough to solve the problem to mutual satisfaction. […] It was through being clever that humans adapted to those plants and animals with which they struck up relationship: it is clever to harvest grain, clever to dig storage pits, clever to sow seed at the right time of the year, and so forth.2

It is not a coincidence that southeast Anatolia correspond to Hurrian settlements, or at least, to Hurrian area. It is crystal clear now, an investigation on Hurrian lexical item could promote a legacy between two sides of Anatolia region: the Ægean sea and Caucasus mountains.

In Hurrian language there was a word with an unspecific meaning: gangaduḫḫi ‘nom d’une préparation culinaire / a kind of food’, and the first element to spot in is the ending in -uḫḫi [adjectif dérivatif de kangadi], like:

ašte ‘woman’,
aštuḫḫi ‘feminine, female’

The first step is to split up kangadi < * kan-gadi < * kan(V)-gadi. From this perspective, the second element (* -gadi-) appear more clear, simply because kade ‘grain’ is already attested. Further, dgate-e-na [PLUR., KUB XLV 47 III 8] is ‘attribute de Nikkal / Nikkal’s attribute’.

Such form is pretty common both in time and space, it probably is the same of Hattic kait [gait] ‘Getreide / corn, grain, cereals’, and in this case, two aspects would be considered:

  1. Palatalized consonant [kjat], or 
  2. A very archaic form. 
Nevertheless, a well preserved form is seen all around Anatolia region, starting from northern Caucasian languages, as shown in the scheme:

Lezgian & Tabasarangad (gatu, gata, gatar)corn
Agulk’et’ear of corn
Tsakhurkate / k’et’ulybread with fillings
Lezgian: “OBL. base *k:[ɨ]ta- (cf. Tsakhur gɨte). 3rd class in Tsakhur, but 4th class in Rutul. In Agul there occurred an assimilation in glottalisation. Vocalism is not quite clear.”.

On the other side of the Anatolian peninsula, specifically in the Ægean area, a couple of words shows striking relationship, like ἀγαθίς, -ίδες · σησαμίς, γατειλαί · οὐλαί. Even from synchronic analysis, it is correct to address ἀ- > Ø-. Despite some botanic differences between (οὐλαί) ‘barley’ and (σησαμίς) ‘sesame’, both them could be grouped as ‘grain (in ὐ general)’. This is strong indication that cereal cultivation spread out from specific area, and then it stretched from Caspian to Ægean sea. About Crete, according to Saro Wallace:

 “Cereals (predominantly barley, emmer, and einkorn) appear at a number of Late Bronze age sites, indicating common use in the diet, Bread wheat (Tritticum æstivum), despite its long history in Crete, appears more rarely – including in a pure deposit from Late Minoan II Knossos – suggesting it was a specialised crop for which particular zones of land were set apart […]. It would have demanded more nutrients from the soil than some of the other cereals in use: the practice of crop rotation might have helped to get the best out of land supporting” 3 .

From the beginning, cereals played an important role, starting with the famous ‘harvester vase’; and then in Mythology with (Attic) Δημήτηρ, (Doric) Δαμάτηρ and her annual festival (Eleusinian mysteries), and a lots more. For a phonological analyses, there are no substantial variation within consonants:

voiced: g, d
voiceless plosive: k’, t’
voiceless: k, t

Meanwhile vocalic traits underwent to some development: a, e, ə, ɨ, and -e, -a, -u. Such feature led to labialization; and a protoform in *katu is very probable. To complete the explanation of gangaduḫḫi, it is gan(V) that waiting for an agreement. Even in this case, Hattic could be helpful with ḫana [ḫanal, ḫanail, ḫanau] ‘Essen, Speise (?) / food (?)’, unfortunately, with no secure translation. Starostin’s Proto-North-Caucasian reconstruction is unreliable, except for Central languages, as shown in the scheme below:

Chechen keŋ (Uslar) oats
Ingush ken
Tsakhur ginej, gɨnej , gnej bread
Karata ɣane, ɣanol
Andi ʁan
Botlikh ʁani cookie
Chamalal ʁãː

Starostin’s comment on Central group:
Nakh: “5th class in Chechen, 6th class in Ingush. Cf. also Chechen (in the Ingush-Chechen
dictionary) kena (6th class) ‘oats’.”
In Ægean area, a related word appear: ἀχαίνη ‘large loaf, baked by the women at the Thesmophoria’. The Thesmophoria was a festival and part of Eleusinian mysteries in honour of Δημήτηρ. It is not by chance, either in synchronic and diachronic system: 

ἀγαθίς, -ίδες · σησαμίς
γατειλαί · οὐλαί

The initial vowel ἀ -> Ø-, and it is more clear from Hurrian and Caucasian languages (see both schemas). Its use is not known yet, but there is a strong indication for grammatical purpose. Even for -αί- > single vowel, see Beekes 2007 (Pre-Greek. The Pre-Greek loans in Greek [PDF]). As result, all languages and group of languages: 

Hurrian: k (< g) 
Pre-Greek: χ 
Caucasian languages: k, g, ʁ, ɣ [+Velars +plosive / +Uvulars -plosive +fricative] 

Nasal sound remain unchanged, that includes nasalized vowel in Chamalal. Vowel system throughout languages is also unchanged: a, e, ɨ in middle position. It is remarkable how vowel aspect is quite stable in all occasions:

Hurrian gan- -gad- -uḫḫi
Pre-Greek ἀχαίνη ἀγαθ-ίς
Tsakhur ginej, gɨnej , gnej gɨt’y

To  resume:

Rule #1

Pre-Greek: ἀ-, Ø- 
Hurrian: Ø-
Caucasian languages: Ø-

Rule #2

Pre-Greek: -α-, -αι-
Hurrian: -a-, -a
Tsakhur: -i-, - ɨ -

Considering all possible translations, Hurrian gangaduḫḫi shows ‘a kind of food’ made out of Cereals et sim. (oats, (ear of) corn, malt, sesame, barley) or its final process (bread (with fillings), cookie). Another Hurrian word which deserve attention is warini (wa-ri-ni) ‘boulanger / baker’. First of all, the ending in -i-ni was used as NOMINA AGENTIS. A glimpse to some other words: urbarinni ‘butcher’ < urb- ‘to slaughter’ wuú-ta-ri-ni ‘pot-maker’ < wuút- ‘pot’ waa-an-ta-ri-ni ‘cook’ < waantar- ‘to cook’. After this consideration, it is possible that *warV- bear the meaning of ‘bread – or – cereal product’; and it should be not confused with verbal root waa-r- ‘to go (to), to walk’.

In Pre-Greek, according to Beekes:

βάραξ, -κος [m.] a kind of cake (Epil.). βήρηξ (Ath.; H. also βήραξ); πάραξ (Test.Epict.); βάρακες · τα προφυράματα τῆς μάζης ‘dough kneaded in advance for a cake’. Ἀττικοί δε βήρηκας · δηλοῖ δε και την τολύπην ‘it also designates the ball-shaped cake’ (H.). Typically Pre-Greek: variation β / π, suffix -ακ-.4

There are good chances here to associate war-ini with βάρ-αξ [*bar- or *war-] et sim. For a systematic combination between product and maker, an analyses in Akhwakh (Daghestanian language, Andi group) reveal that: ĩgʷara bižida ek’ʷa ‘baker’, lit.: ‘bread baking man’; apparently igʷara ‘bread’ could be related to the theme, since labio-velars gʷ > b, d ; but i- becoming problematic for phonological reason, and it is better to abandon this hypothesis. However, the equation ‘baker ← bread [maker]’ still is valid.

Last word does not involve Hurrian or any other Anatolian language. Starting with Beekes introduction:

βασυνίας ‘kind of sacrificial cake’.

from the island of Hecate, near Delos (Semos, 3). Furnée (1972: 245) adduces the variant βασυμνιάτης ‘baker of βασυνίας’, which proves Pre-Greek origin; note the suffix -υν- / -υμν- and the variation it displays.

Something similar it still is in some Daghestanian languages:

Chamalal bóʃuⁿ пирог / pie
Dargwa (Chirag) but͡s’uk’a хлебное изделие сначинкой
bread withfilling
Inkhokvari buʃne
Pre-Greek βασυνίας a sacrificial cake
A further note in Dargwa (Chirag): полукруглое / of semicircular shape.

What is relevant here, the bilabial at the beginning, and then, a labial vowel in middle position might affected the first vowel.


Even with three samples, all aspects are quite clear. Phonological Rules are applied in full, apocope as seen in other occasions, it is regular:

Pre-Greek: ἀ-, Ø-
Hurrian: Ø-, Ø-
Caucasian languages: Ø-, Ø-.
From an historical point of view, some questions may arise:

Pre-Greek Hurrian N. Caucasian languages
Sample n. 1
* * *
Sample n. 2
* *
Sample n. 3
* *

As seen in the scheme, there are some gaps in the word-lists, a lack of progressive continuity in two occasions. This is perfectly conceivable in any linguistic family (see R. Lass in “Historical linguistics and language change”), where preservation or innovation is dictated from external factors; conversely, there is no interruption in time and space with the first sample.

The idea of borrowings, due to languages contact (trading, war, third parties), has no support on the following ground: Alexander the Great's expansion never reached Caucasus, nor there are evidence of contacts between north Caucasian people and Greeks earlier in time; all those Greek words lacking of an etyma. It is difficult to explain βασυνίας ~ bóʃuⁿ by chance similarity, also war-ini ~ βάρ-αξ, when gangaduḫḫi theme bound together all three groups (Pre-Greek, Caucasian, Hurrian).

In this case, it is conceivable to consider Anatolia farming techniques as part of the most advanced civilization at the time, thus, their knowledge let them to expand to other areas, such as Crete and Caucasus, and obviously, lexical denomination still are preserved when and where it was possible. In this way, it is now possible to harmonize different disciplines, like archæology, palæobotanics, mythology, linguistics on the same subject. It is possible now to trace it back their common roots.
Considering grain (einkorn) domestication as crucial element, lexical denominations can not be
separated from.


  1. Sagona, & Zimansky, Ancient Turkey p. 41
  2. Cook pp. 30-33
  3. Saro Wallace, p. 35
  4. Beekes 2014, pp. 94-95


  • Beekes, R. S. P. 2007, Pre-Greek. The Pre-Greek loans in Greek
  • Cook, M., A brief history of the human kind, London 2003.
  • Кибрик, А. Е, & Кодзасов С. В., Сопоставительное изучение Дагестанских языков (Vol. 1. Глагол. Vol. 2. Имя. Фонетика). Москва 1990.
  • Sagona, A. & Zimansky, P., Ancient Turkey, New York 2009.
  • Starostin, S. A. & Nikolaev, S., North Caucasian Etymological dictionary, Moscow 1994.
  • Wallace, S., Ancient Crete, from successful collapse to democracy alternatives, twelfth to fifth centuries BC. Cambridge university press, Cambridge 2010.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Palaic dictionary is now available!

We've compiled the Palaic word list and published it in under the public dictionaries. Palaic was one of the Indo-European languages that branched of from Proto-Anatolian. A small number of words survive, among which there is a considerable amount of Hattian loanwords.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Pre-Greek studies volume 2 is here!

Do you remember our first volume of Pre-Greek studies by G.Tardivo called "Prometheus or Amirani"? We've just publiced part 2 which is "An updated study on the Pre-Greek substrate and its origins". You will find it under our articles in both HTML and PDF format.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Prometheus or Amirani part 2: An updated study on the Pre-Greek substrate and its origins

Prometheus or Amirani part 2.

An updated study on the Pre-Greek substrate and its origins.
Giampaolo Tardivo, Philippos Kitselis

In the late 80s and early 90s, Colin Renfrew presented his Anatolian hypothesis. According to him, the agrarian revolution begun in Anatolia, and from there, it spread out in Europe. He supposed that these farmers were carriers of the Proto-Indo-European language, but his theory had weak support from Indo-European linguists. Some questions then arise: What language(s) was introduced in the Ægean islands and mainland Greece by these early farmers? Can we figure out the affiliations of the Minoan language? A different agrarian hypothesis will be shown in these pages, unrelated to the Indo-European and Semitic language families. It instead is featuring a new language family that encompasses the Ægean, Anatolia, Caucasus and the Near East.

Keywords: Pre-Greek, Minoan, Substrate, Anatolia, Caucasus, Near East, Hattic, Hurrian, North Caucasian, Agricultural substrate hypothesis

Download PDF

The Ægean and Anatolia from an anthropological point of view

Nine thousand (9,000) years ago farming spread to Europe through Greece and the Balkans. Today there is clear genetic evidence that those farmers arrived to Greece from Anatolia, nowadays Turkey, and the Levant through the sea (Paschou et al 2014; Fernández et al 2014; Hofmanová et al 2016). At that time Greece had a small1, scattered Mesolithic population found only in the coastal zone of the south and west (Van Andel and Runnels 1995). The demographic impact of an agrarian population arriving at Greece was considerable. Those farmers were not just waves of migrating men, but whole families (Goldberg et al. 2017) that could continue to breed and speak their mother tongue in the new lands. Yet language is very dynamic and does not necessarily depend on numbers. Newcomers carried out more advanced technology and a new way of life. The indigenous hunter gatherer societies were not the only ones to define the shape of things to come anymore2. This was the beginning of a long and complex process of colonization of new territories, together with the displacement, acculturation, and/or assimilation of indigenous Mesolithic hunter gatherers (Colledge et al 2004). However, genes and languages are not always correlated (Campbell 2015). There is a very long timespan between the migration of Anatolian farmers to Greece and the earliest attested languages of Anatolia. We have no clue what happened during those ~5000 years of unattested documentation and we have no sample of an indigenous pre-Indo-European western Anatolian language yet. Nevertheless, there are good reasons to seek an answer for the linguistic prehistory of Greece on the other side of the Ægean.

The Ægean and Anatolia from an archaeological point of view

In this occasion, archaeology and genetics come to the same conclusion. Colledge et al (2004) made a study on the archaeobotanical remains recovered from 40 aceramic Neolithic sites in the Near East and south-east Europe. They noted a similarity between the southern Levantine, Cypriot, and Ægean sites. They concluded that there is a possibility of two dispersal routes: The first route was the maritime-based colonization of Cyprus, central Anatolia, Crete, and mainland Greece from a Levantine core region; the second route was a land route from central/western Anatolia, reaching Thrace and south-east Europe. Pinhasi et al (2004, 2005) provides both archaeological and anthropological evidence for the dispersal of farmers to Greece. Apart from coming to the same conclusions as above, their following observation took our attention:
Pinhasi and Pluciennik, in their analysis of craniometric affinities between populations, point to the homogeneity between Çatal höyük and early Neolithic Greek and south-eastern European groups. This homogeneity contrasts with the pronounced heterogeneity found among other Pre-Pottery Neolithic groups in the Near East. On the basis of these results, they hypothesize that a founder population from central Anatolia (represented by specimens from Çatal höyük ) spread into south-east and central Europe.

One cannot ignore the similarities between central Anatolia and Crete. Mellaart (1962) and Dietrich (1967) were among the first to compare the material from Çatal höyük with what we know of Cretan religion and practices. Renfrew (1998) regards the presence of bread-wheat (Triticum aestivum) in stratum X at Knossos of crucial relevance, since this is absent from other early Neolithic sites but present in early levels at Çatal höyük and Can Hasan III in central Anatolia. Çilingiroğlu and Çakırlar (2013) conclude:

Strong interactions with extra-local communities, such as via obsidian exchange, resulted in the cultural relatedness of these societies with those of the contemporary Aegean and Inner-West Anatolia. The similarity of the settlement patterns, subsistence, architectural techniques and material culture in this entire region is a clear manifestation of the close interactions among early farmer-herders. Land routes, river valleys and maritime routes across Anatolia, Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean were heavily used by prehistoric communities. The long-term circulation of Melian obsidian, the colonisation of the islands of Crete, Gökçeada (Imbros), Cyprus and the simultaneous appearance of impressed pottery around 6100–6000 calBC are clear signs of the continuous and intensive use of maritime routes across the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean. Considering the current state of the archaeological record, Aegean Turkey as a geographical unit is encircled by a dual interaction zone comprising the inner Anatolian and west Aegean cultural spheres. As such, Aegean Turkey also played a key role in the mutual exchange of cultural features between inner Anatolia and Greece.
There’s so much to say about the archaeological data, that it could monopolize this paper which intended to focus on linguistics. A point has been made and it gives good indications; now it’s time to deal with the data we have on language and see if that points us to the same direction.

(Pre-)Greek and its legacy

It is well-known what emerged from Ventris and Chadwick Linear B decipherment, and it is not the case here to repeat once more their results. An early form of (pre-classical) Greek was identified. After this result, some tablets with similar symbols (Linear A) are still waiting for their decipherment. Despite several attempts to crack down the Linear A mystery, no one reached a general consensus. The island of Crete bear the name of «cradle of Europe», and no doubt, there are good reasons to say so. Marvellous buildings, beautiful frescoes, advanced technology and many more items put the Cretan civilization of the bronze age period, in the podium. A clear demarcation needs to be done about Crete – and Greece in general – and all its written record. During excavations on the island and continental Greece, tablets with animal, plants and tools pictures were found, the so-called Cretan hieroglyphics; some others are, with more stylized images, of syllabic reading, alias Linear A. On top of that, very few abrupt inscriptions in the Greek alphabet (scriptio continua) are also found (Praisos, Dreros, etc); and they are known as the Eteocretan inscriptions. All this material, in the best-case scenario, belongs to the early settlers of Crete. It is conceivable that, early settlers and newcomers were in symbiosis for centuries, and then, assimilation occurred. A question may arise: did they disappear without trace over the time? Let see what is happening after very long time of doom and darkness within Greek language. 

Greek language is classified – no doubt – as part of the Indo-European family. However, part of its lexicon and morphology shows a degree of individuality, uncommon to it. Some academics analysed the Greek language from phonological ground, and then came to the conclusion of a substrate, simply because there are words that violate those rules. Due to its geographical position, the Ægean sea is very favourable to trade and commerce with the Near Eastern and North African coast line; that means a cross-linguistic interchange begun very early in history. The Near East got populated by Afro-Asiatic (or Semitic-Hamitic) people and it is now clear that some Semitic words – time to time – entered the Greek language (loanwords); in this way, two elements (Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic) are easily identified.

Pre-Greek: Indo-European or non-Indo-European?

Aside those identifiable loanwords, Greek has a fair amount of vocabulary belonging to a language (or languages) spoken in the Helladic area before Greek. Paul Kretschmer (1896) was an excellent pioneer in this field, who spotted a striking similarity between Greek and Anatolian place names. After the decipherment of Hittite and Linear B, Indo-European hypotheses were becoming rampant  among linguists; remarkably Georgiev (1966) and Palmer (1958). Unfortunately, such an experiment never achieved its goal. The Pelasgian myth had done so much harm and was no longer taken into consideration. Hester (1964) gave, a well-deserved, final blow to the “Pelasgian” school of thought. At the same period, several attempts with Afro-Asiatic languages (Gordon 1957; 1966) gave no better results.

It was time for a new beginning in the field of pre-Greek studies. Furnée (1972) made an effort to recollect all Greek lexical items and so did R. A. Brown (1985), who wrote an interesting book on the subject. The material was later reassessed by Beekes who released several volumes (2003; 2007; 2014) with an extensive analysis. He convincingly demonstrated that the substrate we’re dealing with is not Indo-European. Even Renfrew (1998: 241) acknowledged that3:

The Greek language is unusual among the languages of Europe in the high proportion of its vocabulary which includes words which are not only not Greek words, but apparently not part of an Indo-European vocabulary either.
But what about the “Luwian stratum” in the Greek place names? The pre-Greek place names might have Luwian equivalents, but the Indo-European origin of those names is questionable. It is more likely that they belong to a non-Indo-European stratum that was common in Greece and Anatolia. For instance, the mountain name Παρνασσός has a Luwian equivalent Parnassa, which is believed to be derived from the Luwian root parna ‘house’, a word that lacks secure cognates outside Anatolia. Comparable material is found nearby in the Mediterranean region like the Egyptian pr “house” and Hurrian pur(u)li “house”. Yakubovič (2008: 12) has given the most convincing answer to the Luwian substrate hypothesis:

In order to argue that this layer of toponyms has a Luvian or Anatolian origin, one has to demonstrate a preponderance of Luvian or Anatolian morphemes within this layer. The consonantism of the Greek -(ι)νθo suffix appears to be more archaic than that of its Anatolian counterpart -(a)nda, since /th/ could be easily reinterpreted as /t/~/d/ in the Anatolian languages that lacked phonological aspiration, whereas the opposite change in Greek would be unmotivated. The presence of the (voiceless) aspirate series in the Pre-Greek substrate is independently confirmed through the devoicing of the etymological voiced aspirates in Greek. 
With regard to the Greek suffix -(α)σσο-, de Hoz (2004: 46-47) reminds us of the existence of its allophone -(η)ττο- in Attica (for examples, see already Kretschmer 1896: 405). The dialectal variation between -σσ- and -ττ- in the inherited stratum of the Greek lexicon normally points to the etymological clusters *-kj- or *-tj-, which later developed into the affricate /ts/ or something similar. Neither the substrate suffix *-ntho- nor the substrate suffix *-tso- would have convincing comparanda in the Indo-Hittite language family.
Chadwick (1969:89) expressed his Luwian scepticism on the same grounds. Beekes (2014:3) issues a caution regarding the labelling of certain non-Greek words in Greek as Luwian. An example is Greek τολύπη “clew, ball of wool for spinning” and the clearly related Luwian/Hittite taluppa/i “lump, clod”. Both the Greek and Anatolian words lack Indo-European etymology and should be seen as non-Indo-European words that entered the Greek and Luwian/Hittite vocabulary. Furthermore, the number of confirmed Luwian loanwords in Greek is close to zero and the lexical material typically identified as pre-Greek reminds us nothing of an Indo-European language. There is of course a small number of probable Indo-European loanwords in Greek4, borrowed most probably from neighbouring languages and not from a substrate or superstrate (Hester 1964: 384). Attempts to identify concrete Indo-European pre-Greek languages appear doomed to failure5.

The linguistic landscape of the Ægean, Anatolia and Caucasus through time

The situation in the neighbouring areas, such as Anatolia and the Near East, was no less complicated. Even there, some languages were classified as non-Indo-European and non-Afro-Asiatic; a third phylum of languages must be considered.

Let's start with central Anatolian region and the lands west of it. All languages spoken there, such as Luwian, Hittite, Carian, Lycian, Palaic and Lydian, were all of Indo-European origin, except one: Hattic6. Not much is known about this language, it is poorly attested with no secure translations. It is certain that Hattic partially influenced the Hittite language, especially in the religious field. Palaic, another poorly attested Indo-European language on the north, shows traces of Hattic or related substrate. In the eastern areas (including Hatay, Adana, Tarsus and Mersin), two languages were of the third phylum: Hurrian and Urartian. Even those languages are not fully understood. The picture, as a whole, cannot exclude the island of Cyprus with the Enkomi inscriptions7.

To stitch altogether at this point, a lot of obstacles are on our path. Two ways are possible: Was there a single linguistic family spread out over the time, or were there different groups of different origins? To conclude this chapter, some scholars put the origins of the Ægean civilization further north, to the Balkan Mountains; unfortunately, with no results. In the last decade, an Anatolian origin of the Minoan civilization is considered to be more likely. Their common heritage is largely considered and in spite of the lack of linguistic material to work it out, recent excavations in the Anatolia plateau reveals the existence of urban life (~10.000 years old) and a social structure of a highly developed civilization. Based on artefacts and material culture, Anatolia is supposed to be very fertile back in the Neolithic age, further, for some reason, such as overpopulation or natural environmental changes, people moved on to more secure areas. Anatolia is an important place, it stretches the from Iranian mountains to the sea of Marmara, and from the Caucasus mountain to the fertile crescent, between the Black sea and the Mediterranean Sea. It is conceivable that, back in the remote past, a more homogeneous population settled in Anatolia, and then, spread by migrating.

In somehow, it is possible to imagine a survival in the most inaccessible area, such as Caucasus mountain. It is well known that the Caucasus mountain was during millennia, a natural refuge for people. That explains why several linguistic families are in found on both sides of the mountain chain. Those ‘families’ are unrelated each other, furthermore, we need to distinguish between Caucasian languages and languages of the Caucasus. Among indigenous Caucasian languages, 2 or 3 families are recognized:

  1. Kartvelian, consisting of only 4 languages: Georgian, Mingrelian and Laz-Svan. This language family is unrelated to any other family worldwide.

  2. North-West or Western Caucasian; divided in 2 main branches, Adyghe and Abkhaz-Abaza.

  3. Nakh-Daghestanian or North-Eastern, split up in VeiNakh (Chechen-Ingush), Avar-Andi, Tsezi, Lak-Dargwa and Lezghian groups.
Some Caucasologists disagree with this assumption, then, the North-West and North-East should be grouped together, some others would explain their common lexicon as loanwords or areal diffusion. In contrast to Caucasian languages, the “languages of Caucasus” may refer to the languages spoken by people whom settled in the area from time to time, but they are not indigenous; they belong to various language families such as:

  1. Indo-European (Russian, Armenian, Ossetian, Pontic Greek).

  2. Altaic (Azeri Turk, Nogai).

  3. Mongolian (Kalmyk).

  4. Afro-Asiatic (Assyrian Neo-Aramaic).
Such a complexity is due to historical reasons. Mountains always offer – despite the difficult environment – a secure protection from new waves of populations. This picture might explain its colourful variety. To resume all contents, from geographical position, Anatolia appear to be in the middle, close to Ægean sea and Caucasus mountain, making it a good point of dispersal.

The Pre-Greek lexicon

There are more than one Greek etymological dictionaries, notably Chantraine, Frisk and the last one is Beekes “Etymological dictionary of Greek”. Beekes dictionary is more complete, because it includes Hesychios (and other authors) glosses. Part of the dictionary is devoted to Pre-Greek words but only in synchronic manner. In Beekes’ pages, comparison is ignored on purpose, because as he says:
[The comparison] with Basque or Caucasian languages has not been considered as this is not my competence; I think it possible that there are such connections, but that must be left to others.
Even L. R. Palmer (1963) in his analyses of the Mycenaean texts wrote:

The existence in the syllabary of a system of opposition plain: palatalized: labialized to the neglect of the opposition voiceless: voiced: aspirate, which are essential to Greek, strongly suggests that the ancestral form of the syllabary was created for a non-Indo-European language. Such phonemic systems are found inter alia among Caucasian languages. 
After that, no major reference to Caucasian languages comparison has been made. Some Pre-Greek words are actually of Afro-Asiatic origin (loans), and their use it goes back to ‘Minoan time’. According to Beekes, Pre-Greek words shows variation in spelling, then, two options are possible:

  1. Time and/or geographical reason.
  2. A writing system unaware of the real pronunciation.
The second option is more credible. The creation of writing system is strictly connected with a specific language, any other language has to ‘adapt’ graphic symbols to the nearest sound in the system. A typical case is the Arabic graphic system for Persian, where some changes have been applied. Unfortunately, the Greek alphabet not only dropped three symbols: ϡ (sampi), ϙ (qoppa) ϝ (digamma); further, any other symbol was never added to. In this way, correct reading becomes difficult. Needless to say, Beekes’ synchronic analyses are available online; and it is not the case here to copy and paste few pages on the subject.

The Pre-Greek affiliations

Pre-Greek language is linked – in somehow – with more Eastern languages, some of them still spoken in Northern Caucasus. This kind of research initiated by Tardivo is ex-novo, there are no previous major studies, except a shallow attempt to compare Georgian with Greek, a complete failure in the matter. All North Caucasian languages lack of written sources, at least, from the ancient times. Only Caucasian Albanian has left some words from the medieval era, but there are no attestations earlier than 18th century CE. It might sound very unusual to see a connection between the Ægean sea and Caucasus mountain, but many Pre-Greek words have an exact counterpart in North Caucasian languages; even their phonological features are working in the same way. Furthermore, it is possible to trace the same word in Hattic and/or Hurro-Urartian languages. Previous attempts to connect Hattic with Western Caucasian languages were deeply criticized outside Russia and the same happened for the comparison between Hurro-Urartian and Nakh-Daghestanian languages. At the end, a deal with Greek substrata never took place. There are two options in the field, in the worst scenario, those words could be interpreted as loanwords; a survival over time. Some Pre-Greek, Hurro-Urartian and/or Hattic words are still in use within Greek8. It is well known that, substrata elements cover up different parts of the lexicon, from trees to place names, from theonyms to everyday life. This search is working on both ways, there are common roots – or they are supposed to be – among all those languages. A relevant point is the written system for Hattic, Hurrian and Urartian; mainly cuneiform, and in some cases, the Phoenician alphabet that was in use for Hurrian. Some words show very long history, like δεύω ‘make wet’, which is seen also in Hattic with tepune, tewuʃuneʃ (tewuuniʃ) ‘Opfer [?], Trankopfer / drinking offering’, and then in Hurrian teb- / tew- ‘to pour, to cast’. It is possible that a common root in *tew(u)-, with basic concept of ‘to pour liquid, make wet’. Furthermore, the same word is found in Akhwakh with =et’w- ‘to drop, to drip, to flow’, in Bezhta with =ot’ ‘to spill, to flow’, and in Tindi with t’ot’ ‘to drip’. Almost all Daghestanian languages (except three) have class-marker, that is why =... appear in adjectives, verbs, etc. Nevertheless, it is clear that there is no opposition between voiced - voiceless, this aspect is manifest in Pre-Greek too, like in κόρυθος ~ κόρυδος, as well as with Nakh-Daghestanian languages:

Avar: d, n, t’
Lezgian: d, tː
Archi: d, n
Tabasaran: d
Chechen: d, Ø
Andi, Tsez and Dargwa: n
Lak: n, t’

A clear sample is ‘winter’:

Lezghian: q’ɰd
Agul and Tabasaran: q’ʔurd
Archi: q’ʔótːaqʔ

All authors (Palmer, Brown, Beekes) agree on this aspect for Pre-Greek, then, if extended to the group as a whole, the result is unchanged.

Another very common case is α-. According to Beekes: 

The definition is ‘initial vowel that is present or absent in (nearly) identical forms’; we cannot say whether the vowel disappeared or was added under certain circumstances; still another possibility is that it represents a kind of laryngeal sound, that was sometimes heard as a vowel and sometimes not. The vowel is in most cases an ἀ-”.

It is the case of ἀκορνοί ~ κόρνοψ ‘locust’ within Pre-Greek. Once again, the same Rule is ἀ- observed in diachronic system. A sample of that is:

ἄχυρον ‘chaff’, Hurrian ḫarw-/ ḫarb- ‘chaff’
ἀπέλλαι ‘assembly’, Urartian u̯eli ‘people, crowd’
ἀγάλλω ‘to exhult in’, Hurrian ḫela ‘glory, glorify’

It is quite evident how apocope affected both, synchrony and diachrony, therefore it should not be ignored. Even with the North Caucasian languages comparison, this rule is unchanged. The theonym ἀκακαλίς, according to R. A. Brown:

ἀκακαλίς of the oriental tamarisk (Dsk. 1, 89)’.
ἀκακαλλίς ‘narcissus (Eumakh. ap. Ath. 15, 681e)’.
ἀκακαλίς ‘juniper (Ps. - Dsk. 1, 75)’.
κακαλίς = ‘νάρκισσος (H., κ 292)’.

This word has no known etymology. The sequence -κ-__-κ- is a clear pointer of its non-Indo-European origin, as is also the fluctuation between -λίς, -λλίς and the prothesis and/or aphesis of initial α-. In mythology Akakallis is one of Pasiphæs’s daughters, thus indicating the strong links between this word and Crete9. In the Daghestanian area, almost all languages have a similar word for it, especially Tsez and Hinuq gagali ‘flower’. Two facts are relevant:

  1. Voiced ~ voiceless opposition is ignored in any form, both in δεύω and in ἀκακαλίς.
  2. In the case of ἀκακαλίς, ἄχυρον, ἀπέλλαι and ἀγάλλω, vocalic apocope is applied in full.
As seen, the rules are unchanged and there is strong suspicion of a common heritage, a proto-language, or, in the worst scenario, close areal contacts. Despite that, some problems may arise when rules are becoming unbearable, like in ἄχνη ‘straw’. Words with syllabic structure VC¹C²V, once apocope is applied to, a problem may arise. In this case, another option must be taken into consideration: Metathesis. In Linguistics, metathesis is seen as a mispronunciation or a misunderstanding of the correct spelling. Recent research, conducted by E. Hume (1998), Blevins & Garrett (1998; 2004), and some others on different languages, show how metathesis works; and it is not due to ‘casual speech’, it is a reassessment of syllabic structure instead. It is the case of ἄχνη ‘straw’, which has a perfect counterpart with Daghestanian languages, such as:

Avar: náku
Andi: niku
Akhwakh: níxo
Khinalug: nuk
Udi: neq ‘chaff’,
Bezhta: naχo, naχu ‘straw’

There are no rules violated here. Apocope of ἄ- is regarded in full, and the syllabic structure working in metathesis.

Pre-Greek: VC¹C²V
Daghestanian languages: C²VC¹V

The second system (C²VC¹V) is more archaic, and from this point of view, Pre-Greek might have elaborate a metathesis form. Words must be distinguished and classified by set, such phonological feature is very relevant, in order to allocate and correctly classify every single word. In Beekes’ Pre-Greek description, vowels aspect shows a poor system, it is based only on three main vowels: a, i, u. This short-listed numbers are typical of North Caucasian languages. However, one aspect is deeply neglected for this kind of languages: Consonants co-articulation. Even with a limited number of vowels, co-articulation increase their combination. As result, it also, is possible to trace it back their original syllabic set. The most relevant aspect are theonyms. It is true that, Greeks absorbed quite a few deities of Pre-Greek origin; some others were replaced or abandoned. The case of Akakallis is not isolated, another goddess bear a Pre-Greek name, ῾Ρέα (῾Ρῆ, ῾Ρέιη). She was Chrono’s sister and spouse, and this is a strong indication of her name; because in some Daghestanian languages, season names are:

Andi: rejba
Akhwakh: riʔibo
Chamalal: réːbu
Tindi: reːb ‘springtime’
Avar: riʔí ‘summer’

Working with a lot of material, it is symptomatic that languages offered reciprocal solution; like in the Urartian pantheon, whose main goddess, Waruba(i)ne, she had an unexplained theonym. Her status of Ḫaldi’s wife may be part of the theonym. Two Daghestanian languages are very good candidate, Tsez and Hinukh baru ‘wife’; much more the same as Pre-Greek ὄαρ (<* ϝοάρ) ‘wife’. Based on this data, the Urartian theonym should be re-interpreted as ‘the consort’. Considering Daghestanian mythology, like Kazh, the good spirit in Avar mythology, the guardian of the hearth, family and well-being; it has the appearance of a white snake. People believe that it has the property to thrive plants. It is called Kini in Lak [language], Kine in Tsezi and Kune in Dargwa, but Tuʃedrɨʃba in Rutul, as patron of the hearth, it is invisible and celebrated on friday. According to legends, Laks has Kini, a snake with golden horns; a man is destined to happiness. According to Dargwa, Kine is represented by a tall woman with large breasts and long red hair; if she leaves the house, trouble occurs; then, it is difficult to keep it apart from Pre-Greek κινώπετον ‘venomous beast (especially serpent)’. To resume those three (or more) theonyms, it put in evidence how words from common roots are mutually intelligible, or they show traceable lexemes, whatever the direction it was. Theoretically, languages of the same family must share different aspects, that is include grammar. It is very common among languages that an original lexeme could be preserved as grammatical element; like Pre-Greek μῡρίος ‘countless, immense, infinite’ (> μυριάς ‘10.000’), Archi -mur, -wur PLUR. It is not always the case, in spite of 100 words of Swadesh’s list still are considered a basic in linguistics, any language can abandon or change any original word and replace it with a superstrata element. Access and settlement in a mountainous environment is difficult, but it does not mean – in any form – that it’s impossible. Anatolia has no less than six strata of population:
  1. Pre-Indo-European
  2. Indo-European
  3. Turkic
  4. Semitic
  5. Kartvelian
  6. North Caucasian
Historically, even the Caucasian area was affected from invasions. For this reason, part of the original North Caucasian lexicon was lost. To restore the whole original family, is not an easy task. In this way, the Pre-Greek language also shows agreement with the eastern side, that is to say the supposed Hattic and Western Caucasian languages. It is the case of ἀχαίνη ‘loaf’, much more the same as Hattic ḫana ‘meal, food’; then Chechen-Ingush ken ‘oats’, both them related to Hurrian gangaduḫḫi (<*gan-gad-uḫḫi) ‘a kind of food’. It is easy to presume that ‘oats’ was the main element, and from there, ‘bread’ or any other ‘meal’ was made out. The same process is seen with Western Caucasian languages, like ἀσπάλαθος ‘name of several types of thorn bush’, and παλίουρος ‘plant name, Christ’s thorn, Paliurus australis’; even synchronic analyses led to ἀσ- > Ø-, then the common root probably was *πάλV-; such form is found in:

Abaza: pale
Adyghe: bala ‘shrub’

The rules are unchanged, both synchronically and diachronically. Despite that, there is not a secure explanation for ἀ(C¹)- > Ø-. However, two interpretations are possible:

  1. An apocope related to time (ancient vs. innovative) or space (vernacular).
  2. Grammatical purpose. In this case it works like a- [Determinative/article] in Abkhaz.
Last, but not least, the most interesting and conservative element that enduring from antiquity: geographical names. Those names have had the long-lasting words record. A clear sample is Αχέρων or Αχερούσιος, a well-known river name, because one of the five rivers of the Greek mythology. Hence, when its rule is applied to, ἀ- > *Ø- (like in ἀπέλλαι, ἀγάλλω, etc.), its counterpart is found in Tsez with keru, kero ‘brook, ravine’.

Similar ideas

As already mentioned, the idea to look eastwards for the origins of Pre-Greek is not new. Aside from the Luwian and Semitic hypothesis only few have named alternative affinities of Pre-Greek. Specifically, Schrijver (2007, 2011) has mentioned the possible relation of the Minoan language to Hattic. Kroonen (2012) seems to align with this hypothesis, but focuses mainly on some pre-Indo-European agricultural terms in Germanic languages and Greek. He makes a very good point on the non-Indo-European loan *arwīt- ‘pea’ in Proto-Germanic, which he compares with the pre-Greek ἐρέβινϑος and ὄροβος. To this we will cautiously10 add the Cappadocian Greek άβαρα, which may come from a central Anatolian source (Hattic?). Davis (2013: 39) notes that the type of verbal morphology found in the Minoan libation formula is especially well attested in indigenous North American languages and Hattic. McCall and Fleming (2012: 237) argues that the native population of Crete shows enough biological affinities to Turkey to bolster a theory of Hattic-like speaking Minoans. However, their speculation, as they say, was based on strategic reasoning rather than on inference from specific language evidence. Petit (1995; 1997) believes that the pre-Greek language of Cyprus has Hurrian affinities, a view that is compatible with the current hypothesis and makes sense in terms of geography, but that is in need of more material. We’re not aware of any other mention of Hurrian in relation to pre-Greek in the field of linguistics11. For N. Caucasian, there is a list of lemmata compared to Pre-Greek by Nikolaev (1985). We also cited Beekes (2014) and Palmer (1963) who seem to have thought about it. Stephens (1978: 281) made a comment on the Minoan stops:

Furthermore, injective glottalized stops tend to be phonetically voiced and are always lax. Thus, the phonetic nature of such sounds would motivate their association with the lenis Greek stops, and this, of course, agrees with the use of special signs for /d/ and /b/ or /ph/. A labialized counterpart of a glottalized dental stop, to account for the d plus w signs, presents no typological difficulties, as labialization and glottalization frequently co-exist. Such phonemes occur in a number of North West Caucasian languages, such as Abkhaz, Ubykh, and Adyghe, and are also found in other areas of the world. In the Bzyb dialect of Abkhaz one even finds that the features of labialization and pharyngealization co-occur on uvulars.

Most of the above statements on North Caucasian do not qualify as an ideological alignment, but rather as observations. 


There’s no reason to pretend that there are no challenges in this study. For North Caucasian languages, there is no written record prior to Russian occupation, and the Proto-North-Caucasian reconstruction is very poor. Furthermore, their relation to known ancient languages is disputed. Material for languages such as Hattic and Urartian is limited to few hundred words, leaving us with a very poor understanding of them. None of the ancient languages have anything close to a complete Swadesh list. The most complete is Hurrian, while Pre-Greek with its relatively large inventory, has only few words that qualify into a 200-item Swadesh. There is no Rosetta stone from Mycenaean Greece combining Linear A and B or any other known language. There are bilingual inscriptions (Eteocypriot - Greek) from Cyprus, but our understanding of the native Cypriot language is so poor that it is limited to a handful of words12 whose meanings are not safely established. We're dealing with many unknown factors and a considerable time depth. Some similarities might be coincidental and conventional reconstruction methods are not easily applied under these conditions. 


We have not explored connections west of Greece and east of Turkey. We are aware that there are studies dealing with possible connections, such as Kassian (2014) who compares Hurro-Urartian with Sumerian. There are other Basque, Sardinian and Etruscan Mediterranean hypothesis, but we prefer to focus on languages that have more than lexical comparison to offer.


Both archaeology and genetics point to an agrarian migration to Greece, originating from central/western Anatolia and the fertile crescent. Several millennia later, we find Hattic spoken in central Anatolia, while Hurrian was spoken within a large part of the fertile crescent13. Caucasus is nearby and is therefore a possible refuge of people akin to these early farming societies. Linguistic data seem to incline towards the conclusions made by geneticists and archaeologists. The aforementioned migrational model can explain why Pre-Greek words have counterparts in Hattic, Hurro-Urartian and North Caucasian languages. After the Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic linguistic families’ reconstructions, a third big family might emerge from this research. The goal is to restore common roots between those languages. Thus, any finding must be within a framework of rules, the conventional Neogrammarian method that is universally accepted. Rules appear to be static and precise, any Pre-Greek word could have a counterpart with Hattic and/or Hurro-Urartian and/or North Caucasian languages; in all respect, ἀ- > *Ø- is seen in all occasions. There are more rules and lexical data, but they are not mentioned in this paper. This is a proposal for further investigation in Languages and Linguistics, from Bronze Age to present in the region between Asia and Europe.

Map showing the initial expansion of farming and some important sites related to this research.

The same map with languages related to this research and their geographical position.


  1. According to Colledge et al (2004), in the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene Anatolia, hunter-gatherers were too, largely absent or present in only small numbers.
  2. It should be noted that the relationship between hunter-gatherers and farming communities on the mainland is controversial (see Halstead 1996, Tringham 2000) therefore it will not be analysed here.
  3. It should be noted that Renfrew considers those pre-Greek words to be loans from Minoan, not an earlier language spoken in the mainland.
  4. Those are a minority, unrelated to what we typically call pre-Greek.
  5. Those are often based on imprecise sound laws or false etymologies.
  6. Also, the possibly related Kaskian language.
  7. Petit (1995; 1997) suspects a Hurrian language or similar being spoken in pre-Greek Cyprus.
  8. γέφυρα, ξίφος, τιτάν, πελώριος to name a few.
  9. Brown, op. cit., pp. 26-27.
  10. The attestation of the Cappadocian word is recent (19th century) and does not allow safe conclusions about its origins. There are no known cognates in other languages of the near east.
  11. Comparisons of Greek literature and it’s parallels in Hurrian mythology exist; see e.g. Güterbock (1948) and Campbell (2013).
  12. Those are: ke-ra-ke-se-tu-lo-se “well born”, -o-ko-o “patronymic suffix”, pa-po-no “ethnonym/Paphian”, e-ro-ko-ro “king”, ma-to-ri “city”, o-i-te “and, or”, a-na “this”.
  13. Frahm, E.E., 2010 has a very good summary of the different hypothesis on the Hurrian homeland. 


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Palmer, L.R., 1963. The Interpretation of Mycenaean Greek Texts.(Illustr.). At the Clarendon Press.

Paschou, P., Drineas, P., Yannaki, E., Razou, A., Kanaki, K., Tsetsos, F., Padmanabhuni, S.S., Michalodimitrakis, M., Renda, M.C., Pavlovic, S. and Anagnostopoulos, A., 2014. Maritime route of colonization of Europe. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(25), pp.9211-9216.

Petit, T., 1995. Amathous (autochthones eisin). De l'identité amathousienne à l'époque des royaumes (Vlll-IV" siècles), Sources. Travaux historiques, pp.43-44.

Petit, T., 1997. La langue étéocypriote ou l '"amathousien": Essai d'interprétation grammaticale. Archiv für Orientforschung, pp.244-271.

Pinhasi, R., Pluciennik, M., Bentley, A., Bocquet Appel, J., Bulbeck, D., Perls, C., Zilho, J., Pinhasi, R. and Pluciennik, M., 2004. A Regional Biological Approach to the Spread of Farming in Europe: Anatolia, the Levant, SouthEastern Europe, and the Mediterranean 1. Current Anthropology, 45(S4), pp.S59-S82.

Pinhasi, R., Fort, J. and Ammerman, A.J., 2005. Tracing the origin and spread of agriculture in Europe. PLoS Biol, 3(12), p.e410.

Renfrew, C., 1998. Word of Minos: the Minoan contribution to Mycenaean Greek and the linguistic geography of the Bronze Age Aegean. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 8(02), pp.239-264.

Schrijver, P.C.H., 2011. 'La langue hattique et sa pertinence possible pour les contacts linguistiques préhistoriques en Europe occidentale'. Contacts linguistiques dans l’Occident méditerranéen antique, pp.241-255.

Schrijver, P.C.H., 2007. Keltisch en de buren: 9000 jaar taalcontact (pp. 1-32). Utrecht University.

Stephens, L. and Justeson, J.S., 1978. Reconstructing "Minoan" Phonology: The Approach from Universals of Language and Universals of Writing Systems. Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-), 108, pp.271-284.

Tringham, R. 2000. “Southeastern Europe in the transition to agriculture in Europe: Bridge, buffer, or mosaic” in Europe’s first farmers. Edited by D. Price, pp. 19–56. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Van Andel, T.H. and Runnels, C.N., 1995. The earliest farmers in Europe. Antiquity, 69(264), pp.481-500.

Yakubovič, I.S., 2008. Sociolinguistics of the Luvian language. ProQuest.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Ehe śoṣi! Hello world! The Tocharian A dictionary is now public!

Tocharian A dictionary
We have just added a Tocharian A dictionary in the languages section. It is fully browsable and material additions/updates are ongoing!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Language and genes: Let's think twice about it

We live in a period of time where information about anything is available to anyone. That includes papers in linguistics and genetics. Just because a person can read them, doesn’t mean that he/she can fully comprehend, process and evaluate the information given. Both linguistics and genetics are advanced sciences that require special studies and great commitment, it is not just something one can pick up in no time. They are also relatively new sciences, which means that there has been a period where those two fields have been maturing and are still maturing allowing views that were later found to be obsolete. Does that ring a bell? Maybe that many things in those fields are still open to everyone’s interpretation/selection?

You’ve definitely come across many blog/forum posts regarding languages and genes. With the rise of nationalism in our times, many have attempted to relate ethnic groups with each other, based on scarce linguistic or genetic data. Sometimes we know close to nothing about the language of a population, yet a common gene from a very small sample size is enough to make dithyrambic statements about it.

Even in the academic world the eagerness of explaining the relationship between languages and genes is a fact. For example, Cavalli-Sforza et al.’s (1992: 5620) concluded that “events responsible for genetic differentiation are very likely to determine linguistic diversification as well”. This view is not shared by most historical linguists for two reasons:

  1. A person has only one set of genes, while that person (or a population) can be multilingual, representing multiple languages.
  2. Individuals or whole communities can abandon one language and adopt another. People cannot abandon their genes nor adopt new ones.
Language shift (replacement) is common and there is no deterministic connection between languages and gene pools. Languages become extinct in populations that survive genetically while language replacement and extinction are frequent. Let’s have a look at some examples from both linguistics and genetics. A typical example of language adaptation/abandonment is seen in the near east. Many populations dropped their mother tongue for Arabic. Az-Zubayr ibn Al-Awam conquered Egypt with just 12000 men around 640 CE. The numbers of an invading army are in most cases not comparable to the local population. It is questionable if all those Arabs stayed in Egypt, but even if that is the case they were a tiny minority compared to the native Egyptian population, whose descendants today speak Arabic. The regions where Hurrian and Urartian were spoken are today inhabited by people who speak languages belonging to 3 different language families (Indo-European, Turkic and Semitic). On the reverse the same region exhibits some interesting cases. The J2 Y-haplogroup has a high frequency (and is even dominant) in populations speaking languages belonging to 5 different language families namely: Indo-European (Greeks/Cypriots, Italians, Albanians, Armenians, Kurds, Aromanian/Vlachs, Ossetians), North-East Caucasian (Ingush, Chechen), South Caucasian (Georgians, Laz), Semitic (Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, Jews) and Turkic (Anatolian Turks, Azeri, Kumyks). The original bearers of this haplogroup spoke a language predating all the above and in most cases unrelated to any of those families. The genetic lineage of a population, exceeds the life-time of a language. The vast majority of populations that once spoke a dead language did not die out, but rather shifted to other languages. While the current Greek speaking Cretans of the Lasithi plateau are genetically identical to their Minoan ancestors, the Minoan language is long gone along with any unknown to us related languages. On the reverse again, Saami people, despite having parallels with Siberian peoples in mythology, dermatoglyphics and some cultural features, show almost no genetic relations to Siberian populations. The examples are so many, ranging from the notorious “Hungarian case” to the current language situation in the Americas. We can practically go on forever!

Nevertheless, all the examples above do not prohibit a relation between languages and genes. Significant contributions from linguistic-genetic collaboration are possible. Territories sparsely inhabited can be settled by a large number of newcomers. Although this does not happen too often, a group of people may come to uninhabited territories and nobody else comes there after them. Such events occurred way back in human history, while their frequency was reduced after the adoption of an agricultural lifestyle which in turn lead to permanent settlement and population growth.

One thing is certain and that is the fact that both linguistics and genetics will continue to intrigue people. They are going to talk about it and spread their interpretation and understanding, even when they do not master any of these sciences.

Further reading/listening

Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi Luca, Eric Minch, and J. L. Mountain. "Coevolution of genes and languages revisited." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 89.12 (1992): 5620-5624.

Campbell, Lyle. "Do Languages and Genes Correlate?." Language Dynamics and Change 5.2 (2015): 202-226.

Burlak, Svetlana. "Languages, DNA, relationship and contacts." Вестник Российского государственного гуманитарного университета 5 (106) (2013).

Klein W., “Language and Genetics”, Research Perspectives of the Max Planck Society (2010)

Mallory J.P., "Indo-European Dispersals and the Eurasian Steppe", Penn Museum Silk Road Symposium, March 2011, retrieved January 5 2017

Language and genes

Can you guess the mother tongue of these people and the language their ancestors were speaking 80 generations back?

Language and genes

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Major update in the Proto-Indo-European dictionary

Proto-Indo-European roots and their outcome in various languages
We've made a major update to the Proto-Indo-European dictionary. More than 250 roots have been updated/revised, while ~ 2100 new roots have been introduced. There might be few duplicates, but we're going to merge them soon.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Urartian dictionary is available!

As promised, a browsable Urartian dictionary is now available in the public dictionaries section. We have collected a huge number of sources making this dictionary the most complete you will find online. We still have work to do regarding the commentary, the Hurrian equivalents, the loans from and to Armenian, personal names, toponyms and the affixes.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Palaeolexicon version 3 is here!

We have a new website which will improve your overall experience, especially on small devices! Be sure to check the following new features:

  • Optimized for better mobile and tablet experience.
  • Improved search engine looking for relevant terms e.g. wife > married woman.
  • Reversed meaning - word index.
  • Heurestics AI helping you to spot fast related words across languages. Read more about it here.
  • A table of (macro-) Altaic phonology was added.
  • New languages layout allowing you to switch from grid and tree view.
  • Updates on some of the language articles. 
  • The result grids can now be controlled with the keyboard (Arrow buttons and ENTER).
Last but not least we have posted a new article called: Pre-Pre-Greek: Traces of a hunter gatherer substrate in Greek.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Pre-Pre-Greek: Traces of a hunter-gatherer substrate in Greek

The Greek language is a gold mine of substrate words, consisting of  > 1000 non-Indo-European words. Among those there are two large distinct groups: a) Pre-Greek1 words that are restricted to Greece proper and the Aegean (incl. Asia Minor), b) Mediterranean words that are shared with Latin, Armenian, Akkadian and other languages of the near east. There is however one more small group of words that have been marked by Furnée, Beekes and others as ‘European’. Those have no Indo-European root, but do occasionally appear in other Indo-European languages2. What is striking about those words is that they could belong to the vocabulary of a hunter-gatherer.

Let us have a look on few examples:

  • βάσκιοι ‘bundles of firewood
  • βόνασος ‘aurochs
  • γλοιός  ‘glutinous substance, gum’, CS glěnъ ‘slime’, OHG klenan ‘stick, smear’, Latin glittus ‘sticky
  • γράβιον ‘torch, oak-wood’, Ru. grab ‘horn-beam’, OPr. wosigrabis
  • γῡ́πη  ‘cavity in the earth, den, corner’, γύπας/γύψ  ‘hut, den, nest of young birds, a habitation below the earth, caverns’, connected with a Gm. word for ‘room, cave, etc’ ON kofi , OE cofa, MoHG koben, etc.
  • τρύφ-/θρυπ- ‘fragment, softness, wantonness’, Latv. drubaža ‘piece, fragment’, OIr. drucht ‘drop’, ON drjupa ‘to drip
  • καμασήν ‘name of a fish’, Lith. šãmas ‘sheatfish’, Latv. sams
  • καπνός ‘smoke, steam’, Lith. kvãpas ‘breath, smell’, Goth. af-ƕapnan ‘to extinguish’ - could however be Pre-Greek and not European.
  • καρβάτιναι ‘shoes of unprepared leather’, Lith. kùrpė ‘shoe’, Cz. krpě, ON hriflingr, OE hrifeling, OIr. cairem ‘shoe maker
  • καρπός ‘fruit, fruits of the earth, corn, yields’, Latin carpo ‘to pluck (off)’, Lith. kerpu ‘to cut with scissors’, OHG herbist ‘autumn’ < *karpistrobest time to pluck
  • κλαγγή ‘(shrill) sound, cry of an animal’, ON hlakka ‘to cry’, Latin clango
  • κρόμμυον ‘onion, Allium Cepa’, MIr. crim, OE hramsan, MoHG rams, Lith kermùšė ‘wild garlic’, Ru.čeremšá ‘Allium ursinum
  • σκάπτω ‘to dig, dig out, work the earth’, scabō ‘to scratch’, OHG ‘scaban’, Lith. skabiu ‘to scoop out with a chisel
  • τραπέω ‘to tread’, ἀτραπός ‘foot-path’, PGrm *trappon, MLG trappen ‘to stamp


  1. By the term Pre-Greek we refer to a substrate of one or more non-Indo-European languages spoken before the arrival of the first proto-Indo-European speakers to Greece. This substrate might be a so called agricultural substratum, carried by the first farmers who settled in Greece approximately 9000 years ago. Pre-Pre-Greek as the title reads would be the language spoken before what we refer to as Pre-Greek.
  2. The fact that a word appears in several Indo-European languages does not make it Indo-European, as it might not fit the Proto-Indo-European phonology and morphology.

Further reading

Beekes, Robert Stephen Paul, and Lucien Van Beek., Etymological dictionary of Greek. Leiden: Brill, 2010.
Furnée, Edzard J.  Die wichtigsten konsonantischen Erscheinungen des Vorgriechischen: mit einem Appendix über den Vokalismus. Mouton, 1972.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Alexarchos of Macedon, the word maker (350-290 BC)

If you think that spending hours for language studies constitutes a modern priviledge/habit, you're wrong! Apparently there were lunatics like you (and all of us) in the ancient world. One of them was Alexarchos of Macedon, a scholar and (unfortunately) an officer. Worst of all, he was son of Antipater and brother of Cassander, the king of Macedon. Why is that so bad you will ask? Well, you're about to find out.

According to Athenaeus (3.54) citing Herakleides Lembos, this guy was very keen on creating his own words and ways of speech. Here's exactly what he says:

Such a man was Alexarchos, the brother of Cassander, who was king of Macedonia and who built the city called Ouranopolis. Heracleides Lembos speaks concerning him in the seventh book of his Histories, and says “Alexarchus, who founded the city Ouranopolis, imported many peculiar words and forms of speaking into the language: calling a cock ὀρθροβόας (he that crows in the morn/right time),  and a barber βροτοκέρτης (one who cuts men) and a drachma he called ἀργυρὶς (a piece of silver) and a chœnix he called ἡμεροτροφὶς (what feeds a man for a day) and a herald he called ἀπύτης (someone with a loud voice). Once he wrote a letter to the magistrates of the Cassandrians in this form: αλέξαρχος ὁ μάρμων πρόμοις γαθεῖν. τοὺς ἡλιοκρεῖς οἰῶν οἶδα λιποῦσα θεωτῶν ἔργων κρατήτορας μορσίμῳ τύχᾳ κεκυρωμένας θεοῦ πόγαις χυτλώσαντες αὐτοὺς, καὶ φύλακας ὀριγένεις.” But what that letter means think that even the Pythian Apollo himself could hardly tell. 

Now imagine; an ambitious man, brother of your king, whose dialect was only surpassed in horridness by Eleian and Pamphylian, sends you a letter with his own language "innovations", that YOU have to answer or comment on.

Good luck - have fun!

PS: Alexarchos words are nevertheless included in the database. It is the least we can do for him today.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Let the Hittites and the Luwians speak!

We're so excited to announce that the Hittite and Luwian dictionaries are now available for browsing! For starters we provide you the basic vocabulary (with cuneiform representations), but as time passes the dictionaries will be enriched with more words. You will find the dictionaries in the "Languages" page, under Indo-European/Anatolian. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Summer update

There are some nice updates and news available this for you week:

  1. There's a new article about the biblical Goliath and the etymology of his name. Was he a Carian?
  2. We've got a new, very useful tool available that will help you with the basic sound correspondences between major Indo-European groups.
  3. We're working on some new dictionaries, specifically cuneiform Luwian, Hittite and Ancient Macedonian.