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A. Richard Diebold Center for Indo-European Language and Culture

Indo-European Documentation Center

Indo-European Scripts

Indo-European scripts range from the cuneiform used to write Hittite at Hattusa, borrowed from a second millennium BC North Syrian scribal school, and the hieroglyphic Luwian used on stone monuments at Hattusa and many other sites in ancient Anatolia and northern Syria, to various forms of the alphabet.

Cuneiform and Hieroglyphic Luwian are the two earliest scripts used to write an Indo-European language. Contemporary with the New Hittite Empire (thirteenth century BC) are scripts of the Aegean, Linear B on Crete used to write Mycenaean Greek, and the Cypriot syllabary which uses symbols borrowed from a Cretan script.

Not until the first millennium BC do we begin to find adaptations of the Phoenician script that evolved ultimately into our alphabet. In Anatolia, adaptations were used to write the Anatolian languages Lydian, Lycian, and Carian, as well as the Greek of the Ionian colonies and Phrygian. Phrygian inscriptions in their own Greek-like alphabet inscribe the tomb of a king named Midas. In Spain the Phoenician script was adapted in somewhat different ways to write Ibero-Celtic inscriptions, while in Italy the non-Indo-European Etruscans made their own adaptions, as did the Greeks and Romans.

In our era, less than two thousand years ago, Germanic peoples created their own version of a Latin-like alphabet to inscribe their Runes into wood; Wulfila devised a special Gothic alphabet to translate the Bible from Greek into Gothic; and the brothers Cyril and Methodius adapted the Greek alphabet to translate the Bible into Old Church Slavic, a Slavic language also identified as Old Bulgarian.

Even before the development of the Cyrillic alphabet, Armenians had devised an alphabet of their own in the fifth century AD to translate the Bible into Armenian. At the other end of the Indo-European continuum an equally independent branch of Celtic, the Irish, devised ogham for short, mysterious inscriptions on stone.