8 Aug 2011

Hattic grammar and Proto-Aegean

I'm currently data-mining an excellent article about a very obscure subject, that of Hattic grammar. The article is written by Petra Goedegebuure who gave it a rather verbose title: Central Anatolian languages and language communities in the colony period: A Luwian-Hattian symbiosis and the independent Hittites (2008). It's refreshing that the author has a mature grasp of the subtleties regarding cultural identity and language. Sometimes language shifts while the culture stays largely the same; sometimes culture may alter radically with no large changes to language. A question she explores is: Can certain peculiarities of the Hattic language hint at the specifics of complex, unrecorded shifts in language and culture/cultural identity between the Hattians and the Indo-European speaking population in early Anatolia?

She gives a wealth of thorough examples showing Hattic grammar in action and my eyes have been opened. More frivolously, I believe I can now partially conjugate a Hattic verb with a modest degree of confidence: fa-nifas 'I sit', u-nifas 'you sit', an-nifas 'he/she sits', ai-nifas 'we sit' and nifas '(they) sit'. There are a camp of linguists who believe that Hattic belongs with the Abkhaz-Adyghe languages[1] that are currently restricted to the northern regions of the Caucasus mountains and I think this most likely.

A Proto-Cyprian connection?

While a few kooks carry on dreaming that Etruscan is actually related to Hattic[2], the two languages couldn't be any more alien to each other. Hattic is a prefixing language and exhibits an underlying VSO morphology (ie. verb-subject-object, as in Semitic and Egyptian languages) while Etruscan strictly uses suffixes. If there were any prefixes in Etruscan, we can expect them to be very rare, as is in fact typical of any SOV language (compare with other SOV languages like Inuktitut, Japanese and Turkish, for example). We can be certain then that the Cyprian languages, like Etruscan and Eteo-Cypriot, represented an entirely separate language group to Hattic.

Yet, there's still the potential that some traces of Hattian influence lurk in Etruscan through lexical and structural borrowings. Comparing the locations of Hattic (central Anatolia) and of Proto-Cyprian (western Anatolia & Cyprus) alone warrant the thought. And if not with Proto-Cyprian, could there have been an interaction with the older Proto-Aegean stage in the 3rd millennium BCE from which Minoan too would derive? This is why I've been feverishly recording Hattic vocabulary into my computer. Cross-correlation is delicious.


  1. Do you know of any other online resources for the Hattic lexicon?

    (That there will be very different interpretations of lexemes is obviously a given, but it would be useful to compare all the same)

  2. If you're talking about articles relating to Hattic, the obvious place to start is with a search for 'Hattic' on academia.edu or on Google Books.

    If you're looking for an online dictionary like my Etruscan one however, you may not find much. For some reason it seems that linguists and computer programmers sit on opposite ends of the room. If only they learned to cooperate more and create interesting projects online that everyone can benefit from.

  3. First of all this is an excellent article! Second, an online Hattic dictionary is not far from realization... Have a look at the news here: http://www.palaeolexicon.com

  4. Definitely an interesting website. Thanks for reminding me. I like the site owner's statement: "Meanwhile, the databases are enriched with more words being linked to each other. There's also a thought of exposing words belonging to incompleted dictionaries while doing a search. For instance there's a good number of Hattic and Lycian words hidden back there! Why not make them public?"

    This is exactly in line with my philosophy. By having the data out in the open like this and online for everyone, more and more people can offer some great ideas to enrich the linguistics field. This encourages far more productive collaboration than is possible with traditional journals which have only ever been read by a relatively small group of people.