Hittite language

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Spoken in

Asia Minor about 3500 years ago
speaker none ( language extinct )

Indo-European languages

Anatolian languages
  • Hittite
Official status
Official language in -
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3


The Hittite language , the language of the Hittites (Heth. Own name nešili or nešumnili , "Nesian, language of the people from Kaneš-Neša "), is an extinct Indo-European language that was widespread in Asia Minor and was written in cuneiform . Your oldest written documents come from the middle of the 18th century BC. And are thus the oldest evidence of an Indo-European language.

Classification and language history

Together with several other extinct languages ​​of Asia Minor , Hittite forms the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European language group. Whether the Anatolian languages ​​form the oldest Indo-European language branch and Anatolia is the original homeland (“ Anatolia Hypothesis ”), or whether their carriers immigrated to Anatolia (including the “ Kurgan Hypothesis ”) is not completely clear.

Indo-European languages

Anatolian languages (Anatolian branch)
Hittite, Lydian , Palaic ,
Luwisch , Carish , Lycian ,
Pisidian , Side table

Within the Anatolian branch, which has become extinct, Hittite is the most important language in terms of evidence. Luwian , Carian , Lycian , Pisidian and Sidetic are occasionally summarized as "Luwian languages" because they seem to be more closely related.

Hittite is not to be confused with Hattic , the language of the Hattians who inhabited central Anatolia even before the Indo-European peoples immigrated. The name Hittite was borrowed from the name of the Hattier.

After its discovery, the affiliation of Hittite (and thus also of the other Anatolian languages) to the Indo-European languages ​​was initially questioned. The reasons lie in the sometimes strongly differing grammatical manifestations of Hittite. Rather, it was assumed that Hittite is a very close relative of Indo-European and that it forms what is known as “ Indo-Hittite ”. Today the opinion is consistently held that the Hittite language and its Anatolian sister languages, like the other Indo-European languages, developed from a language that - it is assumed - around 3000 BC. BC or at least not very much earlier in the Pontic steppe north of the Black Sea the bearers of the so-called Kurgan culture were spoken of. This basic language is generally referred to as the Indo-European original language (more rarely: Indo-European basic language ). When the cultural association broke up in the following period (the reasons are still largely unknown), the common language association also broke up into individual languages ​​or language branches.

The representatives of the “Indo-Hittite hypothesis” justify peculiarities that are exclusively documented in the Anatolian branch with the fact that the speakers of the later Anatolian languages ​​were the first to break away from the common linguistic group. All other Indo-European languages ​​would then have to have replaced these peculiarities. The opposite thesis - less accepted today - justifies the differences with individual substitutions and preservations in the Anatolian environment.

The Hittite linguistic monuments and testimonies themselves are divided into three language levels or epochs, namely

  • Old Ethite (1750 to 1450 BC, to Telipinu )
  • Middle Hittite (1450 to 1380 BC, up to Šuppiluliuma I. )
  • Young Hittite (1380 to 1220 BC, until the fall of the empire)

The Young Hittite epoch can be divided into three phases.

Because of the warlike developments in the Eastern Mediterranean (" Sea Peoples ") it came after 1200 BC. BC to the disintegration of the Hittite empire into small states, which were settled by Arameans . The area eventually fell under the rule of the Assyrians , whose official language was Aramaic .

Scriptures and Discovery

As early as the end of the 19th century, French archaeologists discovered some clay tablet fragments in Ḫattuša , the former capital of the Hittite Empire, near the Turkish village of Boğazköy (today's Boğazkale ) . The texts on it were written in a legible variant of the Akkadian cuneiform script , which the archaeologists did not understand because most of them were written in an unknown language. The publications went largely unnoticed. In 1902 the Norwegian Jørgen Alexander Knudtzon suspected that the texts found were written in an Indo-European language variant. He based his thesis on the correspondence found in Tell el-Amarna between the Hittite great king and the pharaoh Amenophis IV ( Akhenaten ). In 1906 two archaeologists, the German Hugo Winckler and the Ottoman Greek Theodor Makridi Bey, discovered a plaque in Boğazkale with a longer text, both of which were already familiar with the content. It was a version of the peace treaty between the Hittite great king Ḫattušili and the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II. A copy of this text, which is considered to be the earliest attested peace treaty of mankind, is in the headquarters of the UN in New York.

The actual deciphering of the material and the postulation of affinity with the Indo-European languages but only the Czech Bedrich Hrozný 1915 succeeded . That year he first published a report entitled The Solution to the Hittite Problem in the communications of the German Orient Society . Two years later the book The language of the Hittites, their structure and their affiliation to the Indo-European language tribe was published .

The text corpus contains u. a. extensive religious and legal texts, including a kind of constitution , which Telipinu around 1500 BC Chr. Fixed. On the majority of the clay tablets found in Boğazkale, everyday things are also noted, e.g. B. Stock lists. They owe the high proportion of names for everyday things in the known vocabulary.

Phonetics and Phonology

Because the Hittites used the adapted Akkadian cuneiform script and it is predominantly syllabic in nature, the exact phonetics and phonology can often no longer be researched with complete certainty. However, by means of the etymology and also the variants of the writing within Hittite, some meaningful statements can be made with regard to the respective word forms.


  bilabial alveolar palatal velar labiovelar laryngeal
stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth.  
Plosives p b t d     k G k w g w  
Affricates     ts                
Fricatives     s                
Nasals   m   n              
Vibrants       r              
lateral  approximants       l              
central approximants   w       j         h 2 , h 3

The half-vowels [w] and [j] appear in diphthongs with [a] and [aː].

The discovery of Hittite caused a sensation that some of the so-called laryngals (larynx sounds, such as [h]), which had previously only been hypothetically developed for the Indo-European basic language ( laryngeal theory ), actually in the Hittite texts in a significant way received and reproduced in writing (transcription symbol ḫ ).


  front central back
ung. ger. ung. ger. ung. ger.
closed i         u
medium e         o ?
open     a      

(A distinction between o (cuneiform characters u) and u (cuneiform characters ú) in Hittite is controversial.)




Hittite is a language that usually inflects through exits, the inflection of which is partially supported by the ablaut of the root . Mainly suffixes , possibly with ablaut, are used for derivation , in some cases a reduplication . The nasal figuring inherited from the Indo-European basic language appears synchronously in the variants -né- , -én- , -nó- and -ón- , each ablaut with -n- , and -nén- ablaut with -nen- .

Case, number and gender

Instead of three grammatical genders , feminine , masculine and neuter , as is usual in the early Indo-European languages, Hittite distinguishes only two, namely the genus commune ( utrum ) and the genus neuter ( neuter ), which, however, only in the A distinction can be made between nominative and accusative. The names originate from a time in which the thesis - today largely disproved - that in Hittite feminine and masculine were merged into a common (Latin communis ) gender. Today it is believed that Hittite has retained a much older distinction. According to this, the Indo-European basic language differentiated only between animate persons or things thought to be animate ( Animata ) and inanimate things ( Inanimata ). In Hittite these are continued almost unchanged as the genus commune and the neuter genus. In most of the other Indo-European languages, the animata were later divided into feminine (female) and masculine (male). This grammatical distinction between sex (natural gender) is alien to Hittite.

Eight cases are accepted for the case system : nominative , accusative , vocative , genitive , dative / locative , allative , ablative and instrumental .

There are three numbers in Hittite , singular , distributive and collective . In the distributive and the collective, a distinction is only made between the nominative and the accusative. As a rule, communia (i.e. nouns in the genus commune) form the distributive plural, neutras, on the other hand, are a collective. Deviations from this behavior are also regular.

The following overview shows the regular endings.

Case / number Singular Plural collective
Nominative c. -it irregular
Accusative c. -n -uš irregular
Nominative / accusative n. -n , outputs irregular -a
Vocative c. -i, -a , exits -it
Genitive c./n. -aš -aš , older: -an
Dative / locative c./n. -i -aš
Allative c./n. -a -aš
Ablative c./n. -az
Instrumental c./n. -it

Verb morphology

For verbs there are two numbers (singular and plural), two diatheses (active and mediopassive ), two tenses ( present and past ) and two modes ( indicative and voluntary in the 1st person, imperative in the 2nd and 3rd person) . Four verbal nouns can be derived from the verbs ( verbal noun , infinitive , supinum and participle ).

A distinction is made between two conjugation classes for verbs , the mi conjugation and the ḫḫi conjugation. They are named after the ending for the 1st person singular indicative present active. The conjugations do not differ in the plural and in the mediopassive. The following table shows the endings of the regular verbs in the indicative active present and in the past tense.

  mi conjugation active ḫḫi conjugation active Common media passive
Present Indicative
1st singular -mi -ḫḫi -ḫḫa / -ḫḫari / -ḫḫaḫari
2nd singular -ši (also: -ti ) -ti tta / -ttari (also: -tati )
3rd singular -zzi -i a / -ari / -tta / -ttari
1st plural -wēni / -wāni / -uni -wašta (also: -waštari )
2nd plural -ttēni / -ttāni (also: -šteni ) -dduma / -ddumari (also: -ddumat )
3rd plural -anzi -anta / -antari
Indicative past tense
1st singular -un / -well -ḫḫun -ḫḫat / -ḫḫati / -ḫḫaḫat / -ḫḫaḫati
2nd singular -š / -ta -ta (also: ) -ttat / -ttati (also: -tta / -at )
3rd singular -ta -š / -iš / -eš / -ta (also: -šta ) -at / -ati / -ta / -ttat / -ttati
1st plural -whom -waštat / -waštati
2nd plural -tten (also: -šten ) -ddumat / -ddudumati
3rd plural -ir -antat / -antati
Imperative / voluntary
1st singular -allu -allu / -lu -ḫḫaru / -ḫḫaḫaru
2nd singular none, -t (also: -i ) no, -i -ḫuti / -ḫut
3rd singular -tu -u (also: -štu ) -aru / -ttaru
1st plural -wēni / -wāni * -waštati
2nd plural -tten (also: -šten ) -ddumat / -ddumati
3rd plural -andu -antaru


Since the numbers in cuneiform are mostly written as numerals , the sound of many numerals has not been clarified. The number word “one” was previously read as ā- or šana- ; P. Goedegebuure, on the other hand, sees this in the šiya- , previously regarded as a pronoun , * duya- is added for “two” , teri- for “three” and * šiptam- for “seven”. The formation of ordinal numbers is not uniform. The suffix -anki is added for the formation of repeat number words .


Many words from the basic vocabulary are reproduced with logograms and are then translatable, but we do not know their pronunciation. The rest of the basic vocabulary can often be etymologically linked to other Indo-European languages. Words from areas that the Hittites only became aware of after they settled Anatolia, such as medicine, politics or architecture, are mostly borrowings from the language of those from whom the Hittites took over the respective cultural property. These languages ​​include Hattic , Indo-Iranian , Akkadian, and Hurrian .

The influence of the Luwian language is also worth mentioning . The Luwians immigrated to Anatolia at the same time as the Hittites. While there were still a few in Old Hittite, Young Hittite contained many Luwian loanwords in the basic vocabulary. Soon the Luwian language was also used in the Hittite Empire as a cult script for religious texts. In many cases, the loanwords retained the original inflection forms in Hittite and were marked with angled hooks .

The following table contains examples of loanwords in Hittite.

Hittite translation origin Word in the
original language
ēzzan taru "Streu und Holz" (a little something) Akkadian ḫamū u ḫuæābu ( loan meaning)
šallanu- raise ("make big") Akkadian rubbû ( loan meaning)
tuppi- Clay tablet Akkadian ṭuppu
wartanna- turn Indo-Iranian wartanna
Sanskrit : vartate , he turns
zalla- Trot Luwish car- / cal-
zuḫrit- grass Hurrian zuḫri

Example sentence

Syllable characters pronunciation German
nu Sumer Ninda.jpg-an e-iz-za-at-te-ni wa-a-tar-ma e-ku-ut-te-ni.   nu NINDA-an ēzzateni, wādar-ma ekuteni.   You eat bread, but you drink water.

This is the first Hittite sentence that Bedřich Hrozný was able to translate in full. It is proof that the Hittite language belongs to the Indo-European language family: e-iz-za-at-te-ni , “you eat”, is undoubtedly with the Old High German ezzan , wa-a-tar , “water”, with the Old Low German watar related.

The ideogram “ Sumer Ninda.jpg” is Sumerian - Babylonian origin, means “bread” and is pronounced in Sumerian like ninda ; it was already known to Hrozný. Its Hittite pronunciation is still unknown.

Hittite literature

With the adoption of the cuneiform script, the Hittite literature also came under the influence of the Mesopotamian culture. In order to open up the Akkadian literature, lexical lists were drawn up based on the Mesopotamian model. The archives of Ḫattuša contained both Akkadian texts such as the Sargon myth and parts of the Gilgamesh epic as well as Anatolian writings. The Hurrites mediated between Mesopotamia and Asia Minor and also left behind in Ḫattuša the myth of kingship in heaven and its continuation, The Song of Ullikummi . These writings are only preserved in the Hittite translation.

Furthermore, the myths and epics about the serpent demon Illuyanka and about the king Telipinu as well as other fragments were kept in the archives, which probably have their origins in Syria and Mesopotamia. Hymns, prayers and anecdotes (moralizing stories) as well as a soldier's song are also part of the Hittite literature.

A notable literary achievement in the history of historiography is the development of annals and biography .


  • CW Ceram : Narrow Gorge and Black Mountain. Discovery of the Hittite Empire, ISBN 3-499-16627-5
  • Johannes Friedrich : Hittite elementary book. Part 1 - Kurzgefaßte Grammar, Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, Heidelberg 1974, 2nd edition, ISBN 3-533-00591-7 (only German-language representation of the grammar, partly out of date, but still usable)
  • Warren H. Hero Jr .: Beginning Hittite. Slavica, Columbus OH 1988, ISBN 0-89357-184-9 (English-language grammar and text book)
  • Alwin Kloekhorst: Etymological Dictionary of the Hittite Inherited Lexicon. Brill, Leiden 2008, ISBN 90-04-16092-2 (currently all etymologies based on the latest research, including neighboring Anatolian languages)
  • Sylvain Patri: L'alignement syntaxique dans les langues indo-européennes d'Anatolie. ( StBoT , 49) . Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2007, ISBN 978-3-447-05612-0 .
  • Elisabeth Rieken : Hittite. In: Michael P. Streck (Ed.): Languages ​​of the Old Orient. Darmstadt 2005, ISBN 3-534-17996-X , pp. 80-127.
  • Christel Rüster, Erich Neu: Hittite Sign Lexicon. Wiesbaden 1989, ISBN 978-3-447-02794-6 .
  • Ahmet Ünal: Multilingual concise dictionary of Hittite / A Concise Multilingual Hittite Dictionary Hititçe / Çok Dilli El Sözlüğü. Hittite, English, German and Turkish dictionary / A Hittite, English, German and Turkish Dictionary / Hititçe, İngilizce, Almanca ve Türkçe Sözlük , Hamburg 2007, 2 volumes. Publishing house Dr. Kovač, ISBN 978-3-8300-3097-3 .
  • Calvert Watkins: Hittite. In: RD Woodard (Ed.): The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages. Cambridge 2004, ISBN 0-521-56256-2 , pp. 551-575.
  • Mark Weeden: Hittite Logograms and Hittite Scholarship (= studies on the Boğazköy texts, No. 56). Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden 2011, ISBN 978-3-447-06521-4 .
  • Susanne Zeilfelder: Hittite Exercise Book. Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 978-3-447-05206-1 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Category: Hittite  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: hit. SIL International , accessed January 26, 2013 .
  2. Bedřich Hrozný : The language of the Hittites, their structure and their affiliation to the Indo-European language tribe. An attempt at deciphering by Friedrich Hrozny . Hinrichs, Leipzig 1917. TU Dresden 2002 (repr.), ISBN 3-86005-319-1 .
  3. Kloekhorst 2008, ISBN 90-04-16092-2 , p. 152ff.
  4. Petra Goedegebuure: A New Proposal for the Reading of the Hittite numeral '1': sia . In: Theo van den Hout (Ed.): The Life and Times of Hattusili III and Tudhaliya IV. Leiden 2006.