Phrygian language

Phrygian language

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The Phrygian language ˈ was the Indo-European language of the Phrygia
In antiquity, Phrygia was a kingdom in the west central part of Anatolia, in what is now modern-day Turkey. The Phrygians initially lived in the southern Balkans; according to Herodotus, under the name of Bryges , changing it to Phruges after their final migration to Anatolia, via the...

ns, spoken in Asia Minor
Asia Minor
Asia Minor is a geographical location at the westernmost protrusion of Asia, also called Anatolia, and corresponds to the western two thirds of the Asian part of Turkey...

 during Classical Antiquity
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

 (ca. 8th century BC to 5th century AD).

Phrygian is considered to have been closely related to Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

The similarity of some Phrygian words to Greek ones was observed by Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 in his Cratylus
Cratylus was an ancient Athenian philosopher from late 5th century BC, mostly known through his portrayal in Plato's dialogue Cratylus. Little is known of Cratylus or his mentor Heraclitus . According to Cratylus at 402a, Heraclitus proclaimed that one cannot step twice into the same stream...



Phrygian is attested by two corpora, one from around 800 BCE and later (Paleo-Phrygian), and then after a period of several centuries from around the beginning of the Common Era
Anno Domini
and Before Christ are designations used to label or number years used with the Julian and Gregorian calendars....

 (Neo-Phrygian). The Paleo-Phrygian corpus is further divided (geographically) into inscriptions of Midas (city) (M, W), Gordion, Central (C), Bithynia
Bithynia was an ancient region, kingdom and Roman province in the northwest of Asia Minor, adjoining the Propontis, the Thracian Bosporus and the Euxine .-Description:...

 (B), Pteria
Pteria may refer to:*Pteria a town in ancient Cappadocia * Pteria a genus of bivalve molluscs, the winged oysters...

 (P), Tyana
Tyana or Tyanna was an ancient city in the Anatolian region of Cappadocia, in modern south-central Turkey. It was the capital of a Luwian-speaking Neo-Hittite kingdom in the 1st millennium BC.-History:...

 (T), Daskyleion (Dask), Bayindir (Bay), and "various" (Dd, documents divers). The Mysian inscriptions seem to be in a separate dialect (in an alphabet with an additional letter, "Mysian-s").

The last mentions of the language date to the 5th century CE and it was likely extinct by the 7th century CE.

Paleo-Phrygian used a Phoenician-derived script (its ties with Greek are debated), while Neo-Phrygian used the Greek script.


Its structure, what can be recovered from it, was typically Indo-European
Indo-European languages
The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

, with nouns declined
In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles to indicate number , case , and gender...

 for case (at least four), gender (three) and number (singular and plural), while the verbs are conjugated
Grammatical conjugation
In linguistics, conjugation is the creation of derived forms of a verb from its principal parts by inflection . Conjugation may be affected by person, number, gender, tense, aspect, mood, voice, or other grammatical categories...

 for tense, voice, mood, person and number. No single word is attested in all its inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

al forms.

Phrygian seems to exhibit an augment
Augment (linguistics)
In linguistics, the augment is a syllable added to the beginning of the word in certain Indo-European languages, most notably Greek, Armenian, and the Indo-Iranian languages such as Sanskrit, to form the past tenses.-Indo-European languages:...

, like Greek and Armenian, c.f. eberet, probably corresponding to PIE *e-bher-e-t (Greek ephere with loss of the final t), although comparison to examples like ios ... addaket 'who does ... to', which is not a past tense form (perhaps subjunctive), shows that -et may be from the PIE primary ending *-eti.


p b t d k ɡ
Nasal m n
Fricative/affricate s ts dz
Approximant w l r j

It has long been claimed that Phrygian exhibits a Lautverschiebung of stop consonants, similar to Grimm's Law
Grimm's law
Grimm's law , named for Jacob Grimm, is a set of statements describing the inherited Proto-Indo-European stops as they developed in Proto-Germanic in the 1st millennium BC...

 in Germanic and, more to the point, sound laws found in Proto-Armenian, I.e. voicing of PIE aspirates, devoicing of PIE voiced stops and aspiration of voiceless stops. This hypothesis has been rejected by Lejeune (1979) and Brixhe (1984).

The hypothesis had been considered defunct throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but has been revived in the 2000s, with Woodhouse (2006) and Lubotsky (2004) arguing for evidence for at least partial shift of obstruent series, i.e. voicing of PIE aspirates (*bh > b) and devoicing of PIE voiced stops (*d > t).

The affricates ts and dz developed from velars before front vowels.


Phrygian is attested fragmentarily, known only from a comparatively small corpus of inscriptions.
A few hundred Phrygian words are attested; however, the meaning and etymologies of many of these remain unknown.

A famous Phrygian word is bekos, meaning "bread". According to Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 (Histories 2.2) Pharaoh Psammetichus I
Psammetichus I
Psamtik I , was the first of three kings of that name of the Saite, or Twenty-sixth dynasty of Egypt. His prenomen, Wah-Ib-Re, means "Constant [is the] Heart [of] Re." The story in Herodotus of the Dodecarchy and the rise of Psamtik is fanciful...

 wanted to determine the oldest nation and establish the world's original language. For this purpose, he ordered two children to be reared by a shepherd, forbidding him to let them hear a single word, and charging him to report the children's first utterance. After two years, the shepherd reported that on entering their chamber, the children came up to him, extending their hands, calling bekos. Upon enquiry, the pharaoh discovered that this was the Phrygian word for "wheat bread", after which the Egyptians conceded that the Phrygian nation was older than theirs. The word bekos is also attested several times in Palaeo-Phrygian inscriptions on funerary stelae. It may be cognate to the English bake (PIE *bheHg-). Hittite
Hittite language
Hittite is the extinct language once spoken by the Hittites, a people who created an empire centred on Hattusa in north-central Anatolia...

, Luwian
Luwian language
Luwian is an extinct language of the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European language family. Luwian is closely related to Hittite, and was among the languages spoken during the second and first millennia BC by population groups in central and western Anatolia and northern Syria...

 (both also had an impact on Phrygian morphology), Galatian and Greek (which also exhibits a high amount of isoglosses with Phrygian) all had an impact on Phrygian vocabulary.

According to Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria
Titus Flavius Clemens , known as Clement of Alexandria , was a Christian theologian and the head of the noted Catechetical School of Alexandria. Clement is best remembered as the teacher of Origen...

, the Phrygian word bedu meaning "water" (PIE *wed) appeared in Orphic ritual.

The Greek theonym Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

 appears in Phrygian with the stem Ti- (Genitive Tios = Greek Dios, from earlier *Diwos; the nominative is unattested); perhaps with the general meaning "god, deity". Possibly, tiveya is "goddess". The shift of *d to t in Phrygian and the loss of *w
Digamma is an archaic letter of the Greek alphabet which originally stood for the sound /w/ and later remained in use only as a numeral symbol for the number "6"...

before o appears to be regular. Stephanus Byzantius records that according to Demosthenes
Demosthenes was a prominent Greek statesman and orator of ancient Athens. His orations constitute a significant expression of contemporary Athenian intellectual prowess and provide an insight into the politics and culture of ancient Greece during the 4th century BC. Demosthenes learned rhetoric by...

, Zeus was known as Tios in Bithynia
Bithynia was an ancient region, kingdom and Roman province in the northwest of Asia Minor, adjoining the Propontis, the Thracian Bosporus and the Euxine .-Description:...


Another possible theonym is bago-, attested as the accusative singular bag̣un in G-136. Lejeune identified the term as *bhagom, in the meaning "a gift, dedication" (PIE *bhag- "to apportion, give a share"). But Hesychius of Alexandria
Hesychius of Alexandria
Hesychius of Alexandria , a grammarian who flourished probably in the 5th century CE, compiled the richest lexicon of unusual and obscure Greek words that has survived...

 mentions a Bagaios, Phrygian Zeus and interprets the name as , "giver of good things".

See also

  • Paleo Balkan languages
  • Ancient Macedonian language
    Ancient Macedonian language
    Ancient Macedonian was the language of the ancient Macedonians. It was spoken in the kingdom of Macedon during the 1st millennium BCE and it belongs to the Indo-European group of languages...

  • Thracian language
    Thracian language
    The Thracian language was the Indo-European language spoken in ancient times in Southeastern Europe by the Thracians, the northern neighbors of the Ancient Greeks. The Thracian language exhibits satemization: it either belonged to the Satem group of Indo-European languages or it was strongly...

  • Dacian language
    Dacian language
    The extinct Dacian language may have developed from proto-Indo-European in the Carpathian region around 2,500 BC and probably died out by AD 600. In the 1st century AD, it was the predominant language of the ancient regions of Dacia and Moesia and, possibly, of some surrounding regions.It belonged...

  • Greek language
    Greek language
    Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

  • Alphabets of Asia Minor
    Alphabets of Asia Minor
    Various alphabetic writing systems were in use in Iron Age Anatolia to record Anatolian dialects and the Phrygian language. Previously several of these languages had been written with logographic and syllabic systems....

Further reading

  • Woodhouse, Robert. "An overview of research on Phrygian from the nineteenth century to the present day". Studia Linguistica Universitatis Iagellonicae Cracoviensis, Volume 126 (2009), 167-188, DOI 10.2478/v10148-010-0013-x.

External links