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The Hittite language is the dead language once spoken by the Hittites, a people who once created an empire centered on ancient Hattusa (modern Boğazk÷y) in north-central Turkey. The language was used from approximately 1600 BC (and probably before) to 1100 BC. There is some attestation that Hittite and related languages were still spoken for a few hundred years after that.
Hittite is one of the earliest known Indo-European languages, although marked differences in its structure and phonology have lead some philologists to argue that it should be classified as a sister language to the Indo-European languages, rather than a daughter language.
The language's name
"Hittite" is a modern name, chosen after the (still disputed) identification of the Hattusa kingdom with the Hittites mentioned in the Old Testament.
In multi-lingual texts found in Hittite locations, passages written in the Hittite language are preceded by the adverb nesili (or nasili), "(speech) of Nesa", the second capital of the Empire. In one case, the label is Kanisumnili, "that which is spoken in Kanes", an alternate name for the same city.
The process of deciphering the Hittite language began during the early 20th century. In 1902, J°rgen Alexander Knudtzon postulated that a language he had found amongst the diplomatic correspondence of the Amarna Letters was Indo-European. However, his theory was disregarded at the time. Later, in 1906, Hugo Winckler (who was the first to excavate the Hittite capital at Hattusas), realized that many of the tablets he was digging up were written in the standard Akkadian cuneiform script, but were in an as yet unknown language. However, the syllabic values attributed to the signs of this script still enabled the text to be read. As a result, in 1916 Bedřich Hrozný concluded that the language of the tablets was indeed related to Indo-European by making a series of Etymological reconstructions. Although his methodology was flawed and some of his reconstructions were incorrect. He provided the impetus enabling the successful decipherment of the language, which was helped to a greater extent by the discovery of bilingual tablets in Akkadian and Hittite.
Classification and relatives
Hittite is one of the Anatolian languages. The closely related Luwian language was also in use in the Hittite empire, as a monumental language . Hittite proper is known from cuneiform tablets and inscriptions erected by the Hittite kings. The script known as "Hieroglyphic Hittite" has now been shown to have been used for writing Luwian, rather than Hittite proper. Later Anatolian languages such as Lydian and Lycian are attested in former Hittite territory. These tongues may be descended from Luwian.
In the Hittite and Luwian languages there are many loan words, particularly religious vocabulary, from the non-Indo-European Hurrian and Hattic languages. Hattic was the language of the Hattians, the local inhabitants of the land of Hatti before being absorbed or displaced by the Hittites. Sacred and magical Hittite texts were often written in Hattic, Hurrian, and Akkadian, even after Hittite became the norm for other writings.
Features of the language
As one of the oldest attested Indo-European languages, Hittite is interesting largely because it lacks several features exhibited by other "old" Indo-European languages such as Lithuanian, Sanskrit, and Greek.
Genders and cases
There are only two genders in Hittite, a common gender and a neuter gender. The Hittite nominal system consists of the following cases: Nominative, Vocative, Accusative, Genitive, Old Dative (or Allative), Locative, Instrumental and Ablative.
Hittite preserves some very archaic features lost in other Indo-European languages. In Hittite, laryngeals still appear. These sounds, whose existence had been hypothesized by Ferdinand de Saussure on the basis of vowel quality in other Indo-European languages in 1879, were not preserved as separate sounds in any attested Indo-European language until the discovery of Hittite. In Hittite, at least some of the laryngeals are written, usually as h. Hittite differs in this respect from any other Indo-European language, and the discovery of laryngeals in Hittite was a remarkable confirmation of de Saussure's hypothesis.
The preservation of the laryngeals, and the lack of any evidence that Hittite shared grammatical features possessed by the other early Indo-European languages, has led some philologists to believe that the Anatolian languages split from the rest of Proto-Indo-European much earlier than the other divisions of the proto-language. Some have proposed an "Indo-Hittite" language family or superfamily, that includes the rest of Indo-European on one side of a dividing line and Anatolian on the other.
- Hittite grammar
- Hethitologie Portal Mainz (in German)
- ABZU - a guide to information related to the study of the Ancient Near East on the Web
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