The ancient languages of Asia Minor

The ancient languages of Asia Minor. Ed. by Roger D. Woodard. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Pp. xx, 185. ISBN 9780521684965. $32.

Reviewed by Wolfgang Schulze, University of Munich

This volume is part of the series drawn from the famous collection The Cambridge encyclopedia of the world’s ancient languages (WAL). WAL covers forty-four languages, eleven of which are described in the present collection. This selection concentrates on languages in the region defined by the editors as Asia Minor: This includes the Asian parts of present-day Turkey as well as Armenia and Georgia. Specifically, Asia Minor covers three genetic domains: (i) Indo-European (e.g. Armenian, Anatolian, and non-Anatolian), (ii) Southern Caucasian (e.g. Old Georgian), and (iii) Hurro-Urartian. Unfortunately, this volume neglects (Proto-)Hattic, a language documented mainly in Hattic-Hittite bilingual texts and Hattic passages in Hittite sources. Another language that should be included in this context is Caucasian Albanian, a precursor of Udi (a Southeast Caucasian minority language in Northern Azerbaijan). However, Caucasian Albanian became known only after the volume was edited—namely, in 2009, when Jost Gippert, Wolfgang Schulze, and others deciphered and published newly discovered texts of this ancient language (from roughly 500 AD). Except for these two languages, this volume covers all of the relevant remains of the languages of Asia Minor, thus providing an extremely valuable text and source book.

Contrary to other volumes of the same series (e.g. The ancient languages of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Aksum), the authors of the individual sections of this book faced the problem that only some of the languages have a broader documentation: Languages such as Palaic, Carian, Lycian, and Phrygian lack comprehensive sources. Hence, their description cannot be anything but fragmentary. This aspect is mirrored by the fact that the overall length of the individual chapters differs considerably. For instance, some twenty pages are devoted to Classical Armenian, but only five to Carian and six to Palaic.

This book starts with a brief introduction by the editor (1–5), followed by a description of the Indo-European languages that were present in Anatolia. Hittite is described first, because it is the best documented and hence best known language in this region (by Calvert Watkins; 6–30). The subsequent chapters on Luvian (31–39), Palaic (40–45), Lycian (46–55), Lydian (56–63), and Carian (64–68) are authored by H. Craig Melchert. The chapter on Phrygian by Claude Brixhe (69–80) concludes this section. Gernot Wilhelm turns to the Hurro-Urartian cluster (Hrurrian, 81–104; and Urartian, 105–23). The two Transcaucasian languages, Classical Armenian by James P.T. Clackson (124–44) and Old Georgian by Kevin Tuite, 145–65), complete the core of this volume, followed by an appendix on the cuneiform script and indices.

The degree of certainty regarding grammatical and lexical issues as well as quality and quantity of the documented sources reinforce the contents of the individual chapters. For instance, the descriptions of Classical Armenian and Old Georgian are necessarily condensed, but not at all lacking. Other descriptions, such as the chapter on Carian, reflect nearly everything that is known about the language. However, each chapter is marked for a very careful and unbiased presentation of the relevant data. Naturally, all of the authors—pronounced experts in their fields—show preferences for certain views and analytic proposals. But these views are nearly always contrasted with alternative views and hypotheses. Hence, the individual descriptions can undoubtedly serve as a doorway to the world of these ancient languages, stimulating the reader to make additional use of the extensive bibliographical references. Many readers will enjoy that they can now easily check what is known about a given language without having to consult the often disperse and far-flung literature.

The format of the individual descriptions comes close to what has been called basic linguistic theory. In most cases, the descriptive tools are theory-neutral, although many articles show a certain preference for labels borrowed from language typology. This allows readers not acquainted with the idiosyncratic descriptive labels typical for some domains to easily understand a given analysis. This positive effect is further supported by a very reader-friendly format that includes easy-to-read tables, charts, and figures. In fact, this volume (as it is true for its companion volumes) is edited in a way that makes it a joy to browse through the chapters and discover details about the fascinating world of ancient languages in Asia Minor.