Carian language

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A broken plate with carved signs
Inscription in Carian of the name 𐊨𐊣𐊠𐊦𐊹𐊸, qlaλiś[1]
RegionAncient southwestern Anatolia
Eraattested 7th–3rd century BCE[2]
Early forms
Carian script
Language codes
ISO 639-3xcr

The Carian language is an extinct language of the Luwic subgroup of the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European language family, spoken by the Carians. The known corpus is small, and the majority comes from Egypt. Circa 170 Carian inscriptions from Egypt are known, whilst only circa 30 are known from Caria itself.[3]

Caria is a region of western Anatolia between the ancient regions of Lycia and Lydia, a name possibly first mentioned in Hittite sources. Carian is closely related to Lycian and Milyan (Lycian B), and both are closely related to, though not direct descendants of, Luwian. Whether the correspondences between Luwian, Carian, and Lycian are due to direct descent (i.e. a language family as represented by a tree-model), or are due to the effects of a sprachbund, is disputed.[4]


Map showing locations where Carian inscriptions have been found—in Caria proper, Mainland Greece, and Egypt.

Carian is known from these sources:[5][6]

  • Nearly 40 inscriptions from Caria including five Carian-Greek bilinguals (however, only for two of them the connection between the Carian and Greek text is evident)
  • Two inscriptions from mainland Greece: a bilingual from Athens and a graffito from Thessaloniki
  • 60 funeral inscriptions of the Caromemphites, an ethnic enclave at Memphis, Egypt, five of them bilingual (Carian-Egyptian); two inscriptions from Sais in the Nile delta are also bilingual
(The Caromemphites were descendants of Carian mercenaries who in the first quarter of the sixth century BCE came to Egypt to fight in the Egyptian army, as told by Herodotus, Histories, II.152-154, 163-169.)
  • 130 graffiti from Abydos, Thebes, Abu Simbel, and elsewhere in Egypt
  • Coin legends from Mylasa, Kasolaba, Kaunos, and elsewhere in Caria, and Telmessos in Lycia[7]
  • Words stated to be Carian by ancient authors.
  • Personal names with a suffix of -ασσις (-assis), -ωλλος (-ōllos) or -ωμος (-ōmos) in Greek records


Prior to the late 20th century the language remained a total mystery even though many characters of the script seemed to be from the Greek alphabet. Using Greek phonetic values of letters investigators of the 19th and 20th centuries were unable to make headway and erroneously classified the language as non-Indo-European.

A breakthrough was reached in the 1980s, using bilingual funerary inscriptions (Carian-Egyptian) from Egypt (Memphis and Sais). By matching personal names in Carian characters with their counterparts in Egyptian hieroglyphs, John D. Ray, Diether Schürr, and Ignacio J. Adiego were able to unambiguously derive the phonetic value of most Carian signs. It turned out that not a single Carian consonant sign has the same phonetic value as signs of similar shape in the Greek alphabet. By 1993 the so-called "Ray-Schürr-Adiego System" was generally accepted, and its basic correctness was confirmed in 1996 when in Kaunos (Caria) a new Greek-Carian bilingual was discovered, where the Carian names nicely matched their Greek counterparts.[8]

The language turned out to be Indo-European, its vocabulary and grammar closely related to the other Anatolian languages like Lycian, Milyan, or Lydian. A striking feature of Carian is the presence of large consonant clusters, due to a tendency to not write short vowels. Examples:

sb = 'and' cf. Milyan sebe, 'and'
ted = 'father' cf. Lycian tedi-, Lydian taada-, 'father'
en = 'mother' cf. Lycian ẽni, Lydian ẽnaś, 'mother'
Ktmno, k̂tmño (Carian personal name) Greek Hekatomnos (cf. Hecatomnus of Mylasa)
Psmaśk, Pismaśk, Pismašk (Egyptian personal name) Psamtik (cf. Greek Psammetikhos I, II, III, IV)
Kbid-, Kbd- (name of a Carian city) cf. Lycian χbide (Greek Kaunos)

The Carian alphabet[edit]

The sound values of the Carian alphabetic signs are very different from those in the usual Greek alphabets. Only four vowels signs are the same as in Greek (A = α, H = η, O = ο, Y = υ/ου), but not a single consonant is the same. The reason for this might be that the Carians originally developed an alphabet consisting of consonants only (like the Phoenician and Hieroglyphic alphabets before them), and later added the vowel signs, borrowed from a Greek alphabet.

The Carian alphabet consisted of about 34 characters:

transcription a b β d δ e γ i j k l λ Í m n ñ ŋ o p q r s ś š t τ u w y ý z 18 39
Carian sign 𐊠 Λ,𐊩 𐋊 𐊢,< 𐊾 𐊺,𐋏 𐋀 𐊹 𐋅 𐊼,𐊽 𐊴,+ 𐊣 𐊦 𐋃 𐊪 𐊵 𐊳 𐋄 𐊫 𐊷 ʘ,𐊨 ,𐊥 𐊰 𐊸 𐤧,𐤭 𐊭 𐋇 𐊲,V 𐊿 𐊤,𐋈 𐊻 𐋂 𐊱 𐋆
(rare variants) 𐊱?[9] 𐋋,𐋌,
𐊧 𐋁 𐤴 𐋎? 𐋏,𐋎 𐋉 𐊮,𐊯 Ρ,𐊬 𐊶 𐋐
IPA /a/ /β/ /ᵐb/ /ð/? /ⁿd/ /e/ /ᵑkʷ/? /i/ /j/ /k/ /c/ /l~r/ /l:~d/ /rʲ/? /m/ /n/ /ɲ/ /ᵑk/ /o/ /p/ /kʷ/ /r/ /s/ /ç/ /ʃ/ /t/ /tʃ/ /u/ /w/ /y/ /ɥ/ /ts/ ? ?
interchangeable?[10] a←e e→a j→i ℓ-variants[11] w→u ý→y

In Caria inscriptions are usually written from left to right, but most texts from Egypt are written right-to-left; in the latter case each character is written mirrorwise. Some, mostly short, inscriptions have word dividers: vertical strokes, dots, spaces or linefeeds.



In the chart below, the Carian letter is given, followed by the transcription. Where the transcription differs from IPA, the phonetic value is given in brackets. Many Carian phonemes were represented by multiple letter forms in various locations. The Egypto-Carian dialect seems to have preserved semivowels w, j, and ý lost or left unwritten in other varieties. Two Carian letters have unknown phonetic values: 𐊱 and 𐋆.[12] The letter 𐊶 τ2 may have been equivalent to 𐋇 τ.

  Bilabial Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Labiovelar
Plosive 𐊷 p 𐊭 t 𐊴, 𐊛 [c] 𐊼,𐊽 k 𐊨 q [kʷ]
Prenasalized 𐋌 β [ᵐb] 𐊾 δ [ⁿd] 𐋄 ŋ [ⁿg]? 𐋀,𐋁 γ [ⁿgʷ]?
Nasal 𐊪 m 𐊵, 𐊜 n

𐊳 ñ [n̩, n̚]

Fricative 𐊬, Λ b [β~ɸ]  𐊢 d [ð~θ]

𐊰 s

𐊮,𐊯,𐤭 š [ʃ] 𐊸 ś [ç]
Affricate 𐋂 z [t͡s] 𐋇 τ [t͡ʃ]

𐊶 τ2 [t͡ʃ]?

Trill   𐊥 r    
Lateral 𐊣, 𐋎, 𐋃 l

𐊦, 𐊣 λ [l:, ld]

𐋃, 𐋉 ĺ [l]?

Approximant 𐊿 w 𐋅 j 𐊻,𐋈,𐋐 ý [ɥ]  

Phonemes attested in Egypto-Carian only.

Lateral sounds[edit]

Across the various sites where inscriptions have been found, the two lateral phonemes /l/ and /λ/ contrast but may be represented by different letters of the Carian script 𐊣/𐋎, 𐊦, and 𐋃/𐋉 depending on the location. The letter 𐋉 (formerly transcribed <ŕ>) is now seen as an Egyptian variant of 𐋃 <ĺ>.[11]


In the chart below, the Carian letter for each vowel is followed by the conventional transcription with the Greek equivalent in parentheses. An epenthetic schwa to break up clusters may have been unwritten.

Front Central Back
-R +R
Close 𐊹 i (ι) 𐊤 y (υ) 𐊲 u (ου)
Open-mid 𐊺, 𐋏 e (η) - [ə] 𐊫 o (ω)
Open 𐊠 a (α)



Nominal declension[edit]

Carian nouns are inflected for at least three cases: nominative, accusative, and genitive. The dative case is assumed to be present also, based on related Anatolian languages and the frequency of dedicatory inscriptions, but its form is quite unclear. All Anatolian languages also distinguish between animate and inanimate noun genders.

case Singular Plural
animate inanimate animate inanimate
Nominative -Ø (-n?) -š (?) -Ø (?)
Accusative -n
Genitive / Possessive -ś, -s(?) -τ (??)
Dative -s(?), -Ø(?), -e(?), -o(?), -i(?) -τ (?)
Locative -o (?),[11] -δ (??)
Ablative / Instrumental -δ (?)[13]

Features that help identify the language as Anatolian include the asigmatic nominative (without the Indo-European nominative ending *-s) but -s for a genitive ending: 𐊿𐊸𐊫𐊦 wśoλ, 𐊿𐊸𐊫𐊦𐊰 wśoλ-s.[14][clarification needed][need quotation to verify] The similarity of the basic vocabulary to other Anatolian languages also confirms this e.g. 𐊭𐊺𐊢 ted "father"; 𐊺𐊵 en "mother". A variety of dative singular endings have been proposed, including zero-marked and -i/-e suffixation.[15] No inanimate stem has been securely identified but the suffix -n may be reconstructed based on the inherited pattern. Alternatively, a zero ending may be derived from the historical *-od.[15] The ablative (or locative?) case is suspected in one phrase (𐊠𐊣𐊫𐊰𐊾 𐊴𐊠𐊥𐊵𐊫𐊰𐊾 alosδ k̂arnosδ "from/in Halicarnassus(?)"), perhaps originally a clitic derived from the preverb δ "in, into" < PIE *endo.


Of the demonstrative pronouns s(a)- and a-, 'this', the nominative and accusative are probably attested:[16]

s(a)- a-
Singular Singular
animate inanimate animate inanimate
Nominative sa san an (?) ann (?)
Accusative snn an (?)

The relative pronoun k̂j, k̂i, originally 'who, that, which', has in Carian usually developed into a particle introducing complements.[17] Example:

iturowś / kbjomś / k̂i en / mw[d]onś k̂i
[This is the stele] of Ithoros (Egyptian woman's name, genitive), who [is] the mother (en, nominative) of Kebiomos (genitive), who is 'Myndonian'(?) (inhabitant of the Carian city of Myndos: ethnonym, genitive).

The verb[edit]

No undisputable verbal forms have yet been discovered in Carian. If verbal conjugation in Carian resembles the other Anatolian languages, one would expect 3rd person singular or plural forms, in both present and preterite, to end in -t or -d, or a similar sound. A few candidates have been proposed: ýbt, 'he offered', not, 'he brings / brought', ait, 'they made', but these are not well established.

In a Carian-Greek bilingual from Kaunos the first two words in Carian are kbidn uiomλn, corresponding to Greek ἔδοξε Καυνίοις, 'Kaunos decided' (literally: 'it seemed right to the Kaunians'). The first word, kbidn, is Carian for 'Kaunos' (or, 'the Kaunians'), so one would expect the second word, uiomλn, to be the verbal form, 'they decided'. Several more words ending in a nasal are suspected to be verbal forms, for example mδane, mlane, mλn (cf. uio-mλn), 'they vowed, offered (?)', pisñ, 'they gave (?)'. However, to make such nasal endings fit in with the usual Anatolian verb paradigm (with 3rd person plural preterite endings in -(n)t/-(n)d, from *-onto), one would have to assume a non-trivial evolution in Carian from *-onto into -n, -ñ (and possibly -ne?).[18]


Virtually nothing is known of Carian syntax. This is chiefly due to two factors: first, uncertainty as to which words are verbs; second, the longer Carian inscriptions hardly show word dividers. Both factors seriously hamper the analysis of longer Carian texts.

The only texts for which the structure is well understood, are funeral inscriptions from Egypt.[19] Their nucleus is the name of the deceased. Personal names in Carian were usually written as "A, [son] of B" (where B is in the genitive, formally recognizable from its genitival ending -ś). For example:

psmaśk iβrsiś
= Psammetikhos [the son] of Imbarsis [was here] (graffito from Buhen)

In funeral inscriptions the father's name is often accompanied by the relative pronoun k̂i, "who, who is":

irow | pikraś k̂i
= [Here lies] Irōw [Egyptian name] who is [the son] of Pigres [Anatolian name] (first part of a funeral inscription from Memphis)

The formula may then be extended by a substantive like 'grave', 'stele', 'monument'; by the name of the grandfather ("A, [son] of B, [son] of C"); other familial relations ("mother of ..., son of ...", etc.); profession ("astrologer, interpreter"); or ethnicity or city of origin. Example:

arjomś ue, mwsatś k̂i, mwdonś k̂i, tbridbδś k̂i
= stele (ue) of Arjom, who is [the son] of Mwsat, who is a Myndonian (born at the city of Myndos), who is [the son] of Tbridbδ (inscription on a funeral stele from Memphis)


Carian glosses attested in Stephanus of Byzantium and Eustathius[12]
Greek Transliterated Translation
ἄλα ala horse
βάνδα banda victory
γέλα gela king
γίσσα gissa stone
κόον koon sheep
σοῦα(ν) soua(n) tomb
Examples of Carian names in Greek
Greek Transliterated Carian
(gen. patronymic)
𐊴𐊭𐊪𐊳𐊫𐊸 K̂tmñoś
Καύνιος Kaunios 𐊼𐊬𐊢𐊿𐊵 Kbdwn
Καῦνος Kaunos 𐊼𐊬𐊹𐊢 Kbid
Πιγρης Pigrēs 𐊷𐊹𐊼𐊥𐊺 Pikre
Πονυσσωλλος Ponussōllos 𐊷𐊵𐊲𐊸𐊫𐊦 Pnuśoλ
Σαρυσσωλλος Sarussōllos 𐊮𐊠𐊥𐊲𐊸𐊫𐊦 Šaruśoλ
Υλιατος Uliatos 𐊿𐊣𐊹𐊠𐊭 Wliat
Examples of Greek names in Carian
Greek Transliterated Carian
Λυσικλέους (genitive) Lysikleous 𐊣𐊿𐊰𐊹𐊼𐊣𐊠𐊰 Lùsiklas
Λυσικράτους (genitive) Lysikratous 𐊣𐊿𐊰𐊹𐊼𐊥𐊠𐊭𐊠𐊰 Lùsikratas
Ἀθηναῖον (accusative) Athēnaion 𐊫𐊭𐊫𐊵𐊫𐊰𐊵 Otonosn
Φίλιππος (nominative) Philippos 𐊷𐊹𐋃𐊹𐊷𐊲𐊰 Pilipus[11]

The Athenian Bilingual Inscription[20][21][22][23]

Σε̂μα τόδε : Τυρ[ Greek:[24] Sema tode Tyr — "This is the tomb of Tur...,"
Καρὸς τô Σκύλ[ακος] Greek: Karos to Skylakos — "the Carian, the son of Scylax" ()
𐊸𐋅𐊠𐊰 : 𐊰𐊠𐊵 𐊭𐊲𐊥[ Carian:[25] Śjas: san Tur[ "This is the tomb of Tur..."
[Ἀ]ριστοκλε̂ς ἐπ[οίε̄] Greek: Aristokles epoie — "Made by Aristocles."

The word 𐊰𐊠𐊵 san is equivalent to τόδε and evidences the Anatolian language assibilation, parallel to Luwian za-, "this".[20] If 𐊸𐋅𐊠𐊰 śjas is not exactly the same as Σε̂μα Sēma it is roughly equivalent.

Language history[edit]

The Achaean Greeks arriving in small numbers on the coasts of Anatolia in the Late Bronze Age found them occupied by a population that did not speak Greek and were generally involved in political relationships with the Hittite Empire. After the fall of the latter the region became the target of heavy immigration by Ionian and Dorian Greeks who enhanced Greek settlements and founded or refounded major cities. They assumed for purposes of collaboration new regional names based on their previous locations: Ionia, Doris.

The writers born in these new cities reported that the people among whom they had settled were called Carians and spoke a language that was "barbarian", "barbaric" or "barbarian-sounding" (i.e. not Greek). No clue has survived from these writings as to what exactly the Greeks might mean by "barbarian." The reportedly Carian names of the Carian cities did not and do not appear to be Greek. Such names as Andanus, Myndus, Bybassia, Larymna, Chysaoris, Alabanda, Plarasa and Iassus were puzzling to the Greeks, some of whom attempted to give etymologies in words they said were Carian. For the most part they still remain a mystery.

Writing disappeared in the Greek Dark Ages but no earlier Carian writing has survived. When inscriptions, some bilingual, began to appear in the 7th century BCE it was already some hundreds of years after the city-naming phase. The earlier Carian may not have been exactly the same.

The local development of Carian excludes some other theories as well: it was not widespread in the Aegean, is not related to Etruscan, was not written in any ancient Aegean scripts, and was not a substrate Aegean language[citation needed]. Its occurrence in various places of Classical Greece is due only to the travel habits of Carians[citation needed], who apparently became co-travellers of the Ionians. The Carian cemetery of Delos probably represents the pirates mentioned in classical texts. The Carians who fought for Troy (if they did) were not classical Carians any more than the Greeks there were classical Greeks.

Being penetrated by larger numbers of Greeks and under the domination from time to time of the Ionian League, Caria eventually Hellenized and Carian became a dead language. The interludes under the Persian Empire perhaps served only to delay the process. Hellenization would lead to the extinction of the Carian language in the 1st century BCE or early in the Common Era.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Palaeolexicon. "The Carian word qlaλiś".
  2. ^ Carian at MultiTree on the Linguist List
  3. ^ Lajara, I.J.A.; Chatty, D. (2007). The Carian Language. Handbook of Oriental Studies. Brill. p. 17. ISBN 978-90-04-15281-6. The most direct and important sources of Carian language are obviously the inscriptions in Carian alphabet, although strangely the bulk of this epigraphic corpus does not come from Caria itself, but from various other locations in Egypt... About 170 inscriptions have been found in Egypt to date. All these texts are relatively short, given their typology (onomastic formulae in funerary texts Carians were somewhat laconic when writing epitaphs and brief graffiti). The epigraphic material found in Caria itself is far less abundant (approximately 30 inscriptions), but it includes several texts that are more extensive than those discovered in Egypt, particularly the following three: a decree from Kaunos whose precise terms are still unknown (C.Ka 2), the proxeny decree for two Athenian citizens written in Carian and Greek, also from Kaunos (C.Ka 5), and a decree enacted by the Carian satraps Idrieus and Ada, possibly concerning a syngeneia of the temple of the god Sinuri, near Mylasa (C.Si 2). To these three inscriptions now must be added the new inscriptions of Mylasa (C.My 1) and Hyllarima (C.Hy 1), the latter in fact a fragment that completes the inscription already known.
  4. ^ Melchert, H. C. 2008. 'Lycian'. In The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor, ed. R. D. Woodard, 46–55 at p. 46. Cambridge.
  5. ^ Adiego, I.J.; Chris Markham, Translator (2007). "Greek and Carian". In Christidis, A.F.; Arapopoulou, Maria; Chriti, Maria (eds.). A History of Ancient Greek From the Beginning to Late Antiquity. Cambridge University press. pp. 759, 761. ISBN 978-0-521-83307-3. {{cite book}}: |author2= has generic name (help). Translator Chris Markham.
  6. ^ Adiego (2007), The Carian Language (Handbuch der Orientalistik).
  7. ^ Koray Konuk, 'Coin legends in Carian', Appendix E in: Adiego (2007), The Carian Language (Handbuch der Orientalistik), pp. 471-492.
  8. ^ Adiego (2007), The Carian Language (Handbuch der Orientalistik), pp. 166-204.
  9. ^ Koray Konuk has implicitly suggested that 𐊱 (sign '18') may be a variant of 𐊩 b (in Adiego (2007), The Carian Language (Handbuch der Orientalistik), pp. 485-486: M36 vs. M37). This would solve the "somewhat strange" fact (Adiego, ibidem, p. 211) that in the Stratonikeia inscriptions the common letter b is absent, while 𐊱 occurs several times. A counterargument is that in several other inscriptions 𐊱 and 𐊩 are present both (for example, ibidem p. 151: C.Ka 2, line 7). The photographs of M36 and M37 (ibidem p. 525) are inconclusive.
  10. ^ Adiego (2007), The Carian Language (Handbuch der Orientalistik), p. 235-237.
  11. ^ a b c d Lajara, Ignasi-Xavier Adiego (January 2018). "A kingdom for a Carian letter". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ a b I.J. Adiego 2006, The Carian Language (HdO), 2006, Brill pp.7-12, 455
  13. ^ Adiego (2007), The Carian Language (Handbuch der Orientalistik), p. 319.
  14. ^ Adiego, I.J.; Chris Markham, Translator (2007). "Greek and Carian". In Christidis, A.F.; Arapopoulou, Maria; Chriti, Maria (eds.). A History of Ancient Greek From the Beginning to Late Antiquity. Cambridge University press. p. 760. ISBN 978-0-521-83307-3. {{cite book}}: |author2= has generic name (help).
  15. ^ a b Melchert, Craig. "Carian Noun Inflection" (PDF).
  16. ^ Adiego (2007), The Carian Language (Handbuch der Orientalistik), pp. 319-320.
  17. ^ Adiego (2007), The Carian Language (Handbuch der Orientalistik), pp. 269-275, 320.
  18. ^ Adiego (2007), The Carian Language (Handbuch der Orientalistik), pp. 321-325.
  19. ^ Adiego (2007), The Carian Language (Handbuch der Orientalistik), pp. 264-311.
  20. ^ a b Adiego, I.J.; Chris Markham, Translator (2007). "Greek and Carian". In Christidis, A.F.; Arapopoulou, Maria; Chriti, Maria (eds.). A History of Ancient Greek From the Beginning to Late Antiquity. Cambridge University press. p. 762. ISBN 978-0-521-83307-3. {{cite book}}: |author2= has generic name (help).
  21. ^ I.J. Adiego 2006, The Carian Language (HdO), 2006, Brill p. 164.
  22. ^ IG I³ 1344. At Searchable Greek Inscriptions of the Packard Humanities Institute.
  23. ^ See Leiden Conventions.
  24. ^ Written in the Athenian epichoric alphabet.
  25. ^ N.B. The Carian translates the first Greek line only.


  • Adiego, Ignacio-Javier. Studia Carica. Barcelona, 1993.
  • Adiego, I.J. The Carian Language. With an appendix by Koray Konuk, Leiden: Brill, 2007.
  • Adiego, Ignasi-Xavier. "Carian identity and Carian language". In: 4th Century Karia. Defining a Karian identity under the Hekatomnids. Istanbul: Institut Français d'Études Anatoliennes-Georges Dumézil, 2013. pp. 15–20. (Varia Anatolica, 28) []
  • Blümel, W., Frei, P., et al., ed., Colloquium Caricum = Kadmos 38 (1998).
  • Giannotta, M.E., Gusmani, R., et al., ed., La decifrazione del Cario. Rome. 1994.
  • Ray, John D., An approach to the Carian script, Kadmos 20:150-162 (1981).
  • Ray, John D., An outline of Carian grammar, Kadmos 29:54-73 (1990).
  • Melchert, H. Craig. 2004. Carian in Roger D. Woodard, ed., The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 609–613.
  • Откупщиков, Ю. В. "Догреческий субстрат. У истоков европейской цивилизации" (Otkupschikov, Yu. V. "Pre-Greek substrate. At the beginnings of the European civilization"). Leningrad, 263 pp. (1988).
  • 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

Further reading[edit]

  • Hitchman, Richard. "CARIAN NAMES AND CRETE (WITH AN APPENDIX BY N. V. SEKUNDA)." In Onomatologos: Studies in Greek Personal Names Presented to Elaine Matthews, edited by Catling R. W. V. and Marchand F., by Sasanow M., 45-64. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2010.

External links[edit]