Carian alphabets

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Carian kulaldis.png
Inscription in Carian of the name 𐊨𐊣𐊠𐊦𐊹𐊸, qlaλiś[1]
Script type
Time period
7th to 1st centuries BCE
Directionleft-to-right, right-to-left script Edit this on Wikidata
LanguagesCarian language
Related scripts
Parent systems
Sister systems
Lycian, Lydian, Phrygian
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Cari (201), ​Carian
Unicode alias
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and  , see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

The Carian alphabets are a number of regional scripts used to write the Carian language of western Anatolia. They consisted of some 30 alphabetic letters, with several geographic variants in Caria and a homogeneous variant attested from the Nile delta, where Carian mercenaries fought for the Egyptian pharaohs. They were written left-to-right in Caria (apart from the Carian–Lydian city of Tralleis) and right-to-left in Egypt.

Carian was deciphered primarily through Egyptian–Carian bilingual tomb inscriptions, starting with John Ray in 1981; previously only a few sound values and the alphabetic nature of the script had been demonstrated. The readings of Ray and subsequent scholars were largely confirmed with a Carian–Greek bilingual inscription discovered in Kaunos in 1996, which for the first time verified personal names, but the identification of many letters remains provisional and debated, and a few are wholly unknown.

The Carian alphabet resembles the Greek alphabet, but the exact Greek variant from which it could have originated, hasn't yet been identified. The main reason for this is that some of the Greek letters have different sound values in Carian.[5] Two hypotheses have been suggested to explain this. The first is that the Greek letters were randomly attributed to phonetic values; though some letters retained their Greek value. The second proposed by Adiego (2007), is "that the Carian alphabet underwent a strong process of cursivisation, dramatically changing the form of many letters. At a certain point this graphic system underwent a change to 'capital' letters, for which the Greek capital letters were used as models - but now only from a formal point of view, disregarding their phonetic values (...).".[4]


There is a range of graphic variation between cities in Caria, some of which extreme enough to have separate Unicode characters.[6] The Kaunos alphabet is thought to be complete. There may be other letters in Egyptian cities outside Memphis, but they need to be confirmed. There is considerable geographical variation in all letters, especially the representation of the lateral phonemes l and λ.[7] The letters with identified values in the various cities are as follows:[8]

Hyllarima Euromos Mylasa Stratonicea Kildara Sinuri Kaunos Iasos Memphis transl.[9] IPA[10] possible Greek origin
𐊠 𐊠 𐊠 𐊠 𐊠[11] 𐊠[11] 𐊠 𐊠 𐌀 𐊠 a /a/ Α
𐊡 « ? 𐋉[12] 𐋌 𐋍 𐋌?[13] 𐋌[13] β /ᵐb/ Not a Greek value; perhaps a ligature of Carian 𐊬𐊬. 𐊡 directly from Greek Β.
𐊢 (<) 𐊢 (Ϲ) 𐊢 (<) 𐊢 (Ϲ) 𐊢 (Ϲ) 𐊢 (Ϲ) 𐊢 (Ϲ) 𐊢 (< Ϲ) d /ð/? Δ D
𐋃 𐋃 <> 𐊣 𐋃 𐊣 𐊣 𐊣 𐊣 l /l~ɾ/? Λ
𐊤 𐊤 𐋐 𐊤 𐋈 𐋈 𐊤 𐊤 𐋐? 𐊤 Ε y /y/ Perhaps a modified Ϝ.
CarianR.png CarianR.png CarianR.png CarianR.png CarianR.png CarianR.png 𐊥 CarianR.png 𐊥 𐊥 r /r/ Ρ
𐋎 𐊣 𐊣 𐊣 𐊦 𐊦 𐊦 𐋏 𐊦 𐊦 λ /lː~ld/? Not a Greek value. 𐋎 from Λ plus diacritic, others not Greek
ʘ ʘ ʘ ʘ ʘ 𐊨? ʘ 𐊨? 𐊨 𐊨 ʘ 𐊨 q /kʷ/ Ϙ
Λ Λ Λ Λ 𐊬 𐊩 𐊬 Γ Λ 𐊬 Λ b /β/? 𐅃[14]
𐊪 𐊪 𐊪 𐊪 𐊪 𝈋 𐊪 𝈋 𝈋 𐊪 𐊪 𝈋 m /m/ 𐌌[15]
𐊫 𐊫 𐊫 𐊫 𐊫 𐊫 𐊫 𐊫 𐊫 o /o/ Ο
𐊭 𐊭 𐊭 𐊭 𐊭 𐊭 𐌓 𐊭 𐊭 t /t/ Τ
𐤭 𐤭 𐤭 𐤭 𐌓 𐤭 𐌓 𐊯 𐤭 𐤧 𐌃 𐊮 Ϸ š /ʃ/ Not a Greek value.
𐊰 𐊰 𐊰 𐊰 𐊰 𐊰 𐊰 𐊰 𐊰 s /s/ Ϻ
𐊱 𐊱 𐊱 𐊱 𐊱 ? ?
𐊲 𐊲 𐊲 𐊲 𐊲 V 𐊲 V 𐊲 𐊲 V V 𐊲 u /u/ Υ /u/
𐊳 𐊳 𐊳 𐊳 𐊳 ñ /n̩/
𐊴 𐊴 𐊛 𐊴 𐊴 𐊴 𐊴 𐊛 𐊴 𐊛 /c/ Not a Greek value. Maybe a modification of Κ, Χ, or 𐊨.
𐊵 𐊵 𐊜 𐊵 𐊵 𐊵 𐊜 𐊵 𐊜 𐊵 𐊵 𐊜 𐊵 n /n/ 𐌍[16]
𐊷 𐊷 𐊷 𐊷 𐊷 𐊷 𐊷 𐊷 p /p/ Β[17]
𐊸 𐊸 𐊸 𐊸 𐊸 𐊸 Θ 𐊸 𐊸 Θ ś /ç/? Not a Greek value. Perhaps from Ͳ sampi?
𝈣 𐊹- ⊲- 𐊮- 𐤧- 𐤧- 𐊹 𐊹 𐊹 i /i/ Ε, ΕΙ, or 𐌇[18]
𐋏 𐋏 𐋏 𐊺 𐊺 𐊺 𐊺 𐊺 𐊺 e /e/ Η, 𐌇
𐊽 𐊼 𐊽 𐊼 𐊽 𐊼 𐊼 𐊼 𐊼 𐊼𐊽 k /k/ Perhaps Ψ (locally /kʰ/) rather than Κ.
𐊾 𐊾 𐊾 𐊾 𐊾 𐊾 𐊾 𐊾 𐊾 δ /ⁿd/ Not a Greek value. Perhaps a ligature of ΔΔ.
𐋁?[19] 𐋁 𐋀 γ /ᵑkʷ/? Not a Greek value.
𐋂 𐋂 z /t͡s/ or /st/ Not a Greek value?
𐋄 𐋄 𐋄 ŋ /ᵑk/
𐊻 ý /ɥ/ Not a Greek value; perhaps a modification of Carian 𐊺?
𐊿 Ш w /w/ Ϝ /w/
𐋅 𐊑 j /j/ Perhaps related to Phrygian /j/, 𝈿 ~ 𐌔
𐋆 ?
𐋃 𐋉 ŕ, ĺ[7] /rʲ/? Used in Egypt for Greek ρρ.
𐋇 𐊶?[20] 𐋇 τ /t͡ʃ/ Not a Greek value. Perhaps from Ͳ sampi?


The Carian scripts, which have a common origin, have long puzzled scholars. Most of the letters resemble letters of the Greek alphabet, but their sound values are generally unrelated to the values of the Greek letters. This is unusual among the alphabets of Asia Minor, which generally approximate the Greek alphabet fairly well, both in sound and shape, apart from sounds which had no equivalent in Greek. However, the Carian sound values are not completely disconnected: 𐊠 /a/ (Greek Α), 𐊫 /o/ (Greek Ο), 𐊰 /s/ (Greek Ϻ san), and 𐊲 /u/ (Greek Υ) are as close to Greek as any Anatolian alphabet, and 𐊷, which resembles Greek Β, has the similar sound /p/, which it shares with Greek-derived Lydian 𐤡.

Adiego (2007) therefore suggests that the original Carian script was adopted from cursive Greek, and that it was later restructured, perhaps for monumental inscription, by imitating the form of the most graphically similar Greek print letters without considering their phonetic values. Thus a /t/, which in its cursive form may have had a curved top, was modeled after Greek qoppa (Ϙ) rather than its ancestral tau (Τ) to become 𐊭. Carian /m/, from archaic Greek 𐌌, would have been simplified and was therefore closer in shape to Greek Ν than Μ when it was remodeled as 𐊪. Indeed, many of the regional variants of Carian letters parallel Greek variants: 𐊥 CarianR.png are common graphic variants of digamma, 𐊨 ʘ of theta, 𐊬 Λ of both gamma and lambda, 𐌓 𐊯 𐌃 of rho, 𐊵 𐊜 of phi, 𐊴 𐊛 of chi, 𐊲 V of upsilon, and 𐋏 𐊺 parallel Η 𐌇 eta. This could also explain why one of the rarest letters, 𐊱, has the form of one of the most common Greek letters.[21] However, no such proto-Carian cursive script is attested, so these etymologies are speculative.

Further developments occurred within each script; in Kaunos, for example, it would seem that 𐊮 /š/ and 𐊭 /t/ both came to resemble a Latin P, and so were distinguished with an extra line in one: 𐌓 /t/, 𐊯 /š/.


Limestone stela depicting a false door, cornice above. There are Carian inscriptions. Late Period. From Saqqara, H5-873, Egypt. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London

Numerous attempts at deciphering the Carian inscriptions were made during the 20th century. After World War II, most of the known Carian inscriptions were collected and published, which provided good basis for decipherment.

In the 1960s the Russian researcher Vitaly Shevoroshkin showed that earlier assumptions that the script was a syllabic or semisyllabic writing system was false. He devoted many years to his study, and used proper methodology. He made it clear that Carian was indeed alphabetically written, but made few significant advances in the understanding of the language. He took the values of letters resembling those of the Greek alphabet for granted, which proved to be unfounded.[9]

Other researchers of Carian were H. Stoltenberg, O. Masson, Yuri Otkupshchikov, P. Meriggi (1966), and R. Gusmani (1975), but their work was not widely accepted.

Stoltenberg, like Shevoroshkin, and most others, generally attributed Greek values to Carian symbols.[22]

In 1972, an Egyptologist K. Zauzich investigated bilingual texts in Carian and Egyptian (what became known as 'Egyptian approach'). This was an important step in decipherment, that produced good results.[23]

This method was further developed by T. Kowalski in 1975, which was his only publication on the subject.[24]

The British Egyptologist John D. Ray apparently worked independently from Kowalski; nevertheless he produced similar results (1981, 1983). He used Carian–Egyptian bilingual inscriptions that had been neglected until then. His big breakthrough was the reading of the name Psammetichus (Egyptian Pharaoh) in Carian.

The radically different values that Ray assigned to the letters initially met with scepticism. Ignasi-Xavier Adiego, along with Diether Schürr, started to contribute to the project in the early 1990s. In his 1993 book Studia Carica, Adiego offered the decipherment values for letters that are now known as the ‘Ray-Schürr-Adiego system’. This system now gained wider acceptance. The discovery of a new bilingual inscription in 1996 (the Kaunos Carian-Greek bilingual inscription) confirmed the essential validity of their decipherment.


Carian was added to the Unicode Standard in April, 2008 with the release of version 5.1. It is encoded in Plane 1 (Supplementary Multilingual Plane).

The Unicode block for Carian is U+102A0–U+102DF:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+102Ax 𐊠 𐊡 𐊢 𐊣 𐊤 𐊥 𐊦 𐊧 𐊨 𐊩 𐊪 𐊫 𐊬 𐊭 𐊮 𐊯
U+102Bx 𐊰 𐊱 𐊲 𐊳 𐊴 𐊵 𐊶 𐊷 𐊸 𐊹 𐊺 𐊻 𐊼 𐊽 𐊾 𐊿
U+102Cx 𐋀 𐋁 𐋂 𐋃 𐋄 𐋅 𐋆 𐋇 𐋈 𐋉 𐋊 𐋋 𐋌 𐋍 𐋎 𐋏
U+102Dx 𐋐
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

𐊡𐋊𐋋𐋌𐋍 are graphic variants, as are 𐊤𐋈𐋐, 𐋎𐊦𐋏, 𐊺𐋏, 𐊼𐊽, 𐋂𐋃, 𐋁𐋀, and possibly 𐋇𐊶.

A Carian keyboard is available for use with Keyman.[25]

See also[edit]


  • Adiego Lajara, I.J. The Carian Language. With an appendix by Koray Konuk. Leiden: Brill, 2007, ISBN 978-90-04-15281-6
  • H. Craig Melchert, "Carian", in Woodward ed. The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor, 2008.
  • Davies, Anna Morpurgo, "Decipherment" in International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, William J. Frawley, ed., 2nd ed. (Oxford, 2003) I:421.
  • Everson, Michael (2006-01-12). "Proposal to encode the Carian script in the SMP of the UCS." Contains many useful illustrations and tables.
  • Schürr, Diether, "Zur Bestimmung der Lautwerte des karischen Alphabets 1971-1991", Kadmos 31:127-156 (1992).
  • Swiggers & Jenniges, in: P.T. Daniels & W. Bright (eds.), The World's Writing Systems (New York/Oxford, 1996), pp. 285–286.
  • Vidal M.C. "European Alphabets, Ancient Classical", in Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd ed., 2006.
  1. ^ Palaeolexicon. "The Carian word qlaλiś".
  2. ^ Himelfarb, Elizabeth J. "First Alphabet Found in Egypt", Archaeology 53, Issue 1 (Jan./Feb. 2000): 21.
  3. ^ Cross, Frank Moore (2018-08-14). Leaves from an Epigrapher's Notebook: Collected Papers in Hebrew and West Semitic Palaeography and Epigraphy. BRILL. p. 58. ISBN 978-90-04-36988-7.
  4. ^ a b Boyes, Philip J.; Steele, Philippa M. (2020). Understanding Relations Between Scripts II: Early Alphabets. Oxbow Books. p. 115. ISBN 978-1-78925-092-3.
  5. ^ a b - Carian "Visually, the letters bear a close resemblance to Greek letters. Decipherment was initially attempted on the assumption that those letters which looked like Greek represented the same sounds as their closest visual Greek equivalents. However it has since been established that the phonetic values of the two scripts are very different. For example the theta θ symbol represents ‘th’ in Greek but ‘q’ in Carian. Carian was generally written from left to right, although Egyptian writers wrote primarily from right to left. It was written without spaces between words."
  6. ^ Some of the others, such as 𐅝, Λ, 𐤭, 𝈣, 𐅤, ʘ, Ϲ, 𝈋, 𐊑, Ш, Ϸ, have been filled in below with similar characters from other Unicode ranges.
  7. ^ a b Lajara, Ignasi-Xavier Adiego (January 2018). "A kingdom for a Carian letter". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Adiego 2007:207ff
  9. ^ a b Ignacio-Javier Adiego Lajara, The Carian Language. Volume 86 of Handbook of Oriental Studies. BRILL, 2006 ISBN 9004152814 p179ff
  10. ^ Kloekhorst, Alwin (2009). "Studies in Lycian and Carian Phonology and Morphology". Kadmos. 47 (1–2). doi:10.1515/KADMOS.2008.011. ISSN 0022-7498. S2CID 162069445.
  11. ^ a b actually a reversed Ϡ
  12. ^ Resembles 6̨ or G̨
  13. ^ a b closer to a reverse 𐋊
  14. ^ Archaic form of Β, for example in Crete
  15. ^ Archaic form of Μ
  16. ^ Archaic form of Ν
  17. ^ Compare Lydian 𐤡, which also has the value /p/.
  18. ^ Archaic form of Η
  19. ^ if 𐋁 is equivalent to 𐋀
  20. ^ if 𐊶 is equivalent to 𐋇
  21. ^ Perhaps coincidentally, 𐊮 /š/ resembles Ϸ (sho), which was used for /š/ in the Greek-derived Bactrian alphabet.
  22. ^ Stoltenberg, H. L. (1958a) “Neue Lesung der karischen Schrift”, Die Sprache 4, 139–151
  23. ^ Ignacio-Javier Adiego Lajara, The Carian Language. Volume 86 of Handbook of Oriental Studies. BRILL, 2006 ISBN 9004152814 p187ff
  24. ^ THOMAS W. KOWALSKI (1975), LETTRES CARIENNES: ESSAI DE DECHIFFREMENT DE L’ECRITURE CARIENNE Kadmos. Volume 14, Issue 1, Pages 73–93, DOI 10.1515/kadm.1975.14.1.73
  25. ^ "Carian keyboard". SIL International. Retrieved 2023-03-09.