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The Linguistic Labyrinth of Lydian: Unraveling an Anatolian mystery

Internationalisation Fellowships


Lydian was the language of the Lydian kingdom which ruled much of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) in the Iron Age. It was a member of the Anatolian branch, itself a member of the Indo-European language family which today accounts for nearly half of the global population and includes Danish and English. Although the last Anatolian language died out around the beginning of the 1st millennium CE, the group is highly important for reconstructing the ancestor of all Indo-European languages, Proto-Indo-European, because it was the first branch to split off from the speech community. This means that it retains certain features that were changed among the predecessor of all the other Indo-European languages before they started diverging. The position of Lydian within this Anatolian branch is one of the last unsettled mysteries for its complete classification. This project seeks to put in place the missing jigsaw in the puzzle of our collective past by figuring out the exact position of Lydian in the linguistic family tree of which we are a part of.


By settling the issue of the position of Lydian, we gain not only a more complete picture of the Anatolian branch but of the Indo-European language family as a whole. It will help clarify several issues on the diversification of the Anatolian languages, facilitating the reconstruction of a proto-language. Furthermore, it will contribute to the models we can make of the prehistoric migratory paths of the Proto-Anatolian peoples into Anatolia, something which remains an enigma not yet solved by the ancient DNA studies that have revolutionized so many other aspects of the spread of Indo-European languages.


The project is unique in combining the classical approaches of philology and the comparative method with a cladistic methodological framework, where the focus lies on identifying shared innovations between a subset of a family to identify genealogical subgroups. If certain members of a larger family show identical developments and these are not found in the rest of the family, it will often indicate that these developments happened at a common pre-stage which included only those members, i.e. they form a subgroup. Naturally, it is essential to ensure that these innovations could not have come about by contact or be so trivial as to likely have happened independently in each member. Once such alternatives can be excluded, the cladistic method proves extremely useful in untangling issues of internal relations within linguistic families. The project will first examine the entire Lydian corpus to identify the innovations which Lydian itself underwent from Proto-Anatolian. These will then be compared to the other members of the family, and qualitative analysis will determine in each case if any are likely to be shared with other members of the family. The project will delve into some specific topics of immediate interest to the matter and will conclude with a general assessment of the position of Lydian within the Anatolian group.


Focusing on an ancient language and its position within the Indo-European language family, of which most European languages are a part, the project will provide a piece to the puzzle of the prehistory and origins of the peoples of Europe. It will broaden our understanding of the spread and diversification of the Indo-European languages in general, and of the Anatolian languages in particular. Since the Anatolian languages were the first to split from the language family, this has consequences for our models on the Indo-European homeland and of the potential migratory paths that led this first branch to Anatolia. Furthermore, it will have interest for those interested in ancient history, since the Lydian Empire was a major regional power in the Ancient World.