Sogdian language

"Sogdian" redirects here. For the state, see Sogdiana.
Sogdian
Spoken in Sogdiana
Language extinction largely extinct by the 9th century, remnants evolved into Yaghnobi
Language family Indo-European
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 sog
ISO 639-3 sog
Linguasphere

The Sogdian language is a Middle Iranian language that was spoken in Sogdiana (Zarafshan River Valley), located in modern day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (chief cities: Samarkand, Panjakent, Fergana).

Sogdian is one of the most important Middle Iranian languages, along with Middle Persian and Parthian. It possesses a large literary corpus. The language is usually assigned to the Northeastern branch of the Iranian languages. No direct evidence of an earlier version of the language ("Old Sogdian") has been found, although mention of the area in the Old Persian inscriptions means that a separate and recognisable Sogdiana existed at least since the Achaemenid era (559-323 BC). Sogdian possesses a more conservative grammar and morphology than Middle Persian. The modern Iranian language Yaghnobi is the descendant of a variant of Sogdian.

Contents


History

During the Chinese Tang Dynasty Sogdian was the lingua franca along the Silk Road,[1] and the economic and political importance of the language guaranteed its survival in the first few centuries after the Islamic conquest of Sogdiana in the early eighth century AD. A dialect of Sogdian, called Yaghnobi, has survived into the 21st century. It is spoken by mountain dwellers in the Yaghnob valley.

Discovery of Sogdian Texts

The finding of manuscript fragments of the Sogdian language in Chinese Central Asia sparked the study of the Sogdian language. Robert Gauthiot, (the first Buddhist Sogdian scholar) and Paul Pelliot, (who while exploring in Tun-huang, retrieved Sogdian material) began investigating the Sogdian material that Pelliot had discovered. Gauthiot published many articles based on his work with Pelliot's material, but died during the First World War. One of Gauthiot's most impressive articles was a glossary to the Sogdian text, which he was in the process of completing when he died. This work was continued by Emile Benveniste after Gauthiot's death.[2]

Various Sogdian pieces have been found in the Turpan text corpus, by the German Turpan expeditions. These expeditions were controlled by the Museum fur Völkerkunde, in Berlin.[2] These pieces consist almost entirely of religious works by Manichaean and Christian writers. Most of the Sogdian religious works are from the 9th and 10th centuries.[3]

The Tun-huang and the Turpan were the two most plentiful sites of Manichean, Buddhist, and Christian Sogdian texts. Sogdiana itself actually contained a much smaller collection of texts. These texts were business related, belonging to a minor Sogdian king, Dewashtich. These business texts dated back to the time of the Arab conquest, about 700.[3]

Writing system

Like all the writing systems employed for Middle Iranian languages, the Sogdian script ultimately derives from the Aramaic script. Like its close relative the Pahlavi writing system, written Sogdian contains many logograms or ideograms, which were Aramaic words written to represent native spoken ones. The Sogdian script is the direct ancestor of the Uyghur script, itself the forerunner of the Mongolian script.

As in other writing systems descended from the Semitic script, there are no special signs for vowels. As in the parent Aramaic system, the consonantal signs ’ y w can stand for the long vowels [a: i: u:] respectively. However, unlike it, these consonant signs would also sometimes serve to express the short vowels (which could also sometimes be left unexpressed, as they always are in the parent systems).[4] To disambiguate long vowels from short ones, an additional aleph could be written before the sign denoting the long vowel.[4]

The Sogdian language also used the Manichean script, which consisted of 29 letters.[5]

In transcribing Sogdian script into Roman letters, Aramaic ideograms are often noted by means of capitals.

Sample Sogdian text (transliteration): MN sγwδy-k MLK’ δy-w’šty-c ’t x’xsrc xwβw ’pšwnw δrwth γ-rβ nm’cyw

Word-by-word translation: From Sogdiana's King Dewashtic to Khakhsar's Khuv Afshun, (good) health (and) many salutation...

References

  1. Weinberger, E., "China's Golden Age", The New York Review of Books, 55:17. Retrieved on 2008-10-19.
  2. a b Utz, David. (1978). Survey of Buddhist Sogdian studies. Tokyo: The Reiyukai Library.
  3. a b "Iranian Languages"(2009). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved on 2009-04-09
  4. a b
  5. Gershevitch, Ilya. (1954). A Grammar of Manichean Sogdian. p.1. Oxford: Blackwell.