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Tocharian languages

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Indo-European
Indo-European languages
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Tocharian is one of the most obscure branches of the Indo-European language group. It consisted of two languages, Tocharian A (Turfanian, Arsi, or East Tocharian) and Tocharian B (Kuchean or West Tocharian). These languages were spoken roughly from the 6th to 8th centuries, before they became extinct, their speakers being assimilated by the expanding Uighur tribes.

Both languages were once spoken in the Tarim Basin in Central Asia, now the Xinjiang province of China. The name of the language is taken from the Tocharians (Greek: Τόχαροι, "Tokharoi") of the Greek historians (Ptolemy VI, 11, 6). These are sometimes identified with the Yuezhi and the Kushans, and the term Tokharistan usually refers to 1st millennium Bactria. A Turkic text refers to the Turfanian language (Tocharian A) as twqry. Interpretation is difficult, but F. W. K. Mller has associated this with the name of the Bactrian Tokharoi.

Contents

Phonetics

Phonetically, Tocharian belonged to the "Centum" (pronounced [kentum]) branch of Indo-European languages, characterized by the merging of palato-velar consonants with plain velars (*k, *g, *gh), which is generally associated with Indo-European languages of the European area (Italic, Celtic, Germanic, Greek). In that sense, Tocharian seems to have been an isolate in the "Satem" phonetic world of Indo-European-speaking Asian populations.

Writing system

Tocharian is documented in manuscript fragments, mostly from the 7th and 8th centuries (with a few earlier ones) that were written on palm leaves, wooden tablets and Chinese paper, preserved by the extremely dry climate of the Tarim Basin. Samples of the language have been discovered at sites in Kucha and Karasahr, including many mural inscriptions.

Missing image
Tocharian.JPG
Wooden plate with inscriptions in Tocharian. Kucha, China, 5th-8th century. Tokyo National Museum.

Tocharian A and B are not intercomprehensible, and properly speaking, based on the tentative interpretation of twqry as related to Tokharoi, only Tocharian A may be referred to as Tocharian, while Tocharian B could be called Kuchean (its native name may have been kuśie), but since their grammars are usually treated together, the terms A and B have proven useful. The common Proto-Tocharian language must precede the attested languages by several centuries, probably dating to the 1st millennium BC.

The alphabet the Tocharians were using is derived from the North Indian Brahmi alphabetic syllabary and is referred to as slanting Brahmi. It soon became apparent that a large proportion of the manuscripts were translations of known Buddhist works in Sanskrit and some of them were even bilingual, facilitating decipherment of the new language. Besides the Buddhist and Manichaean religious texts, there were also monastery correspondence and accounts, commercial documents, caravan permits, and medical and magical texts, and one love poem. Many Tocharians embraced Manichaean duality or Buddhism.

Cultural significance

Missing image
QizilDonors.jpg
"Tocharian donors", with light hair and light eye color, dressed in Sassanian style, 6th century CE fresco, Qizil, Tarim Basin. These frescoes are associated with annotations in Tocharian and Sanskrit made by their painters.

The existence of the Tocharian languages and alphabet was not even guessed at, until chance discoveries in the early 20th century brought to light fragments of manuscripts in a then-unknown alphabetic syllabary that turned out to belong to a hitherto unknown branch of the Indo-European family of languages, which has been named 'Tocharian'. The one Indo-European language that seems to hold the most similarity to Tocharian is the ancient Hittite language, which ceased to be spoken around 1000 BC.

Tocharian has upset some theories about the relations of Indo-European languages and is revitalizing linguistic studies. The Tocharian languages are a major geographic exception to the usual pattern of Indo-European branches, being the only one that spread directly east from the theoretical Indo-European starting point in the Pontic steppe.

Tocharian probably died out after 840, when the Uighurs were expelled from Mongolia by the Kirghiz, retreating to the Tarim Basin. This theory is supported by the discovery of translations of Tocharian texts into Uighur. During Uighur rule, the peoples mixed with the Uighurs to produce much of the modern population of Xinjiang.


Tocharian vocabulary (sample)
Modern English Tocharian A Tocharian B Ancient Greek Latin Sanskrit *Proto-Indo-European

one
two
three
four
five
six
seven
eight
nine
ten
hundred
father
mother
brother
sister
(horse)
cow
(voice)

sas
wu
tre
śtwar
p
şk
şpt
okt
u
śk
knt
pācar
mācar
pracar
şar
yuk
ko
vak

şe
wi
trai
śtwer
piś
şkas
şukt
okt
u
śak
kante
pācer
mācer
procer
şer
yakwe
keu
vek

heis
dyo
treis
tessares
pente
hex
hepta
okto
ennea
deka
hekaton
pater
meter
(phrater)¹
(eor)¹
hippos
bous
(epos)¹

ūnus
duo
trēs
quattuor
quīnque
sex
septem
octō
novem
decem
centum
pater
mater
frāter
soror
equus
bos
vox

eka
dvi
tri
catur
paca
ṣaṣ
sapta
aṣṭa
nava
daśa
śata
pitṛ
mātṛ
bhrātṛ
svasṛ
aśva
go
vāc

*oinos
*duwo
*treyes
*qwetwor
*penkwe
*sweks
*septm
*oktou
*newn
*dekm
*kmtom
*p@2ter
*mater
*bhrater
*swesor
*ekwo
*gwou
*wekw

¹ = Cognate, with shifted meaning = Borrowed cognate, not native. = English meaning, unrelated word

See also

References

  • "The Tarim Mummies", J.P. Mallory and Victor H.Mair, Thames&Hudson, ISBN 0500051011

External links

de:Tocharische Sprache id:Bahasa Tokharia it:Tocario ja:トカラ語 nl:Tochaars pl:Języki tocharskie sv:Tochariska sprk zh:吐火罗语族

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