Elymian language

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Region Sicily
Extinct 3rd century BC?
Language codes
ISO 639-3 xly
Linguist list
Glottolog elym1237[1]

The Elymian language is the extinct language of the ancient Elymian people of western Sicily. The limited and fragmentary nature of the surviving sources makes it very difficult to identify its affinities with other regional languages; it has been speculated that the Elymian was related to the Italic languages, though this interpretation is disputed. Some scholars believe that Elymian was an Indo-European language. Furthermore, there are other academic scholars that have claimed it has affinities with eastern Indo-European languages, like Hittite.

Only a handful of Elymian texts have survived. These comprise a few placenames and personal names; several coins inscribed in Greek script with the names of Elymian cities; and around 170 fragments of pottery inscribed in Greek script, the most part found in a votive deposit of the ruined Elymian city of Segesta. These were written using Greek letters, as noted, but the inscriptions express a non-Hellenic language. All of the texts date to between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. The majority are very short and fragmentary (only a few letters), with the small number of longer texts apparently containing a name, that were dedicatory epigraphes, sometimes followed by the verbal form "I am". In fact, like all other dedicatory epigraphes from the Greek world, we expect to find an anthroponym in genitive form, followed by the verb "I am" in order to mean "belonging". A vase found at Montedoro, around 15 km southwest of Palermo, features one of the few complete inscription in Elymian. Tentatively translated, it may be read as "I [the pot] am [a gift] of Ata Tuka", or "I am [a gift] of Ata of [= son of] Tuka".[citation needed]

The problem of the identification of the Elymian language can be summarized under two main positions. Some[who?] historical linguists agree that some peculiarities of that language, like non-alphabetic symbols engraved on some dedicational fragments of pots, and genitive in -ai found in almost all the complete sequences, are aspects of its non-Hellenic Eastern origin, Anatolian or Hittite. Other historical linguists classify the Elymian as Indo-European on the basis of some labile so-interpreted affinities with Italic languages. At this point, the problem of its linguistic affiliation can receive new light only with the carrying out of archaeological investigations in Elymian settlements in western Sicily.


  1. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Elymian". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Schrijver, Peter, "Elymian", in Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe, ed. Glanville Price. Blackwell Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-631-22039-9
  • Ambrosini, Riccardo, "Italica o anatolica la lingua dei graffiti di Segesta?", in Studi e Saggi Linguistici, VIII, 1968, 160-172 (ita)
  • Agostiniani, Luciano, "Iscrizioni anelleniche di Sicilia, I: Le iscrizioni elime", Firenze, 1977 (ita)
  • Durante, Marcello, "L'enigma della lingua degli Elimi", in AA.VV., Φιλίας χάριν. Miscellanea di studi classici in onore di Eugenio Manni, 1980, III, 881-888 (ita)
  • Marchesini, Simona, "The Elymian language", in Language and Linguistic Contact in Ancient Sicily edited by Olga Tribulato, Cambridge Classical Studies, 2012, 95-114. ISBN 9-781-10702-931-6
  • Rizzo, Antonino, "Segesta", in Monetazione della Sicilia antica on Wikipedia (https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monetazione_della_Sicilia_antica) (ita)