Tocharian languages

Tocharian languages

Infobox Language
name = Tocharian languages
region = Tarim Basin in Central Asia
extinct = 9th century
familycolor = Indo-European
family = Indo-European
script = Tocharian script
lc1=xto |ld1=Tocharian A |ll1=none
lc2=txb |ld2=Tocharian B |ll2=none

Tocharian or Tokharian is one of the branches of the Indo-European language family. The name of the language is taken from people known to the Greek historians (Ptolemy VI, 11, 6) as the Tocharians ( _gr. Τόχαροι, "Tokharoi"). These are sometimes identified with the Yuezhi and the Kushans, while 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. Müller has associated this with the name of the Bactrian "Tokharoi".

Tocharian 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 sixth to ninth centuries; before they became extinct, their speakers were absorbed into the expanding Uyghur tribes. Both languages were once spoken in the Tarim Basin in Central Asia, now the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China.


Phonetically, Tocharian is a "centum" Indo-European language, characterized by the merging of palato-velar consonants with plain velars (*k, *g, *gh), which is generally associated with Indo-European languages of the West European area (Italic, Celtic, Germanic). In that sense, Tocharian, along with Greek and the Anatolian languages, seems to have been an isolate in the "Satem" phonetic world of Indo-European-speaking East European and Asian populations.


* (transcribed <ā>) IPA|/u/, /o/, /ɨ/ (transcribed <ä>), IPA|/ə/ (transcribed )
* Diphthongs (Tocharian B only): IPA|/əi/ (transcribed ), IPA|/oi/ (transcribed ), IPA|/əu/ (transcribed ), IPA|/au/ (transcribed <āu>)


* Stops: IPA|/p/, /t/, /c/, /k/, /kʷ/ (transcribed )
* Affricates: IPA|/ts/
* Fricatives: IPA|/s/, /ɕ/ (transcribed <ś>), IPA|/ʂ/ (transcribed IAST|<ṣ>)
* Approximants: IPA|/w/, /j/ (transcribed [y] )
* Trills: IPA|/r/
* Nasals: IPA|/m/, /n/ (transcribed IAST|<ṃ> word-finally), IPA|/ɲ/ (transcribed <ñ>)
* Lateral approximants: IPA|/l/, /ʎ/ (transcribed )

Note that the above consonantal values are largely based on the writing of Sanskrit/Prakrit loanwords. A retroflex value for IPA|/ʂ/ is particularly suspect as it is derived from palatalized IPA|/s/; it was probably a low-frequency sibilant IPA|/ʃ/ (like German spelling ), as opposed to the higher-frequency sibilant IPA|/ɕ/ (like Mandarin Pinyin spelling ).

Writing system

Tocharian is documented in manuscript fragments, mostly from the 8th century (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.

Tocharian A and B are not intercomprehensible. 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 "kuśiññe"), but since their grammars are usually treated together in scholarly works, the terms A and B have proven useful. A common Proto-Tocharian language must precede the attested languages by several centuries, probably dating to the 1st millennium BC. Given the small geographical range of and the lack of secular texts in Tocharian A, it might alternatively have been a liturgical language, the relationship between the two being similar to that between Classical Chinese and Mandarin. It must be noted however that the lack of a secular corpus in Tocharian A is by no means definite, due to the fragmentary preservation of Tocharian texts in general.

The alphabet the Tocharians were using is derived from the Brahmi alphabetic syllabary (abugida) 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.

In 1998, Chinese linguist Ji Xianlin published a translation and analysis of fragments of a Tocharian Maitreyasamiti-Nataka discovered in 1974 in Yanqi. [" [ Fragments of the Tocharian] ", Andrew Leonard, "How the World Works",, January 29, 2008] , [" [ Review of 'Fragments of the Tocharian A Maitreyasamiti-Nataka of the Xinjiang Museum, China. In Collaboration with Werner Winter and Georges-Jean Pinault by Ji Xianlin'] ", J. C. Wright, "Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies", University of London, Vol. 62, No. 2 (1999), pp. 367-370] , [" [ Fragments of the Tocharian a Maitreyasamiti-Nataka of the Zinjiang Museum, China] ", Ji Xianlin, Werner Winter, Georges-Jean Pinault, "Trends in Linguistics, Studies and Monographs"]


Tocharian has completely re-worked the nominal declension system of Proto-Indo-European. The only cases inherited from the proto-language are nominative, genitive, and accusative; in Tocharian the old accusative is known as the "oblique" case. In addition to these three cases, however, each Tocharian language has six cases formed by the addition of an invariant suffix to the oblique case. For example, the Tocharian A word "IAST|käṣṣi" "teacher" is declined as follows:

Cultural significance

The existence of the Tocharian languages and alphabet was not even guessed at, until archaeological exploration of the Tarim basin by Aurel Stein in the early 20th century brought to light fragments of manuscripts in an unknown language [Deuel, Leo. 1970. "Testaments of Time", ch. XXI, pp. 425-455. Baltimore, Pelican Books. Orig. publ. Knopf, NY, 1965.] .

This language, now known as Tocharian, turned out to belong to a hitherto unknown branch of the Indo-European family of languages. The discovery of Tocharian has upset some theories about the relations of Indo-European languages and revitalized their study.

The Tocharian languages are a major geographic exception to the usual pattern of Centum branches, being the only one that spread directly east from the theoretical Indo-European starting point in the Pontic steppe. One theory, however, suggests that the Satem isogloss represents a linguistic innovation within the heart of the Proto-Indo-European home range, which would thus see the distribution of the Centum languages as simply representing linguistic conservatism along the eastern and western peripheries of the Proto-Indo-European home range.

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

Comparison to other Indo-European languages

ee also

*Language families and languages
*Tocharian and Indo-European Studies


*" [ Tokharian Pratimoksa Fragment Sylvain Levi] ". "The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland". 1913, pp. 109-120.
*Mallory, J.P. and Victor H. Mair. "The Tarim Mummies". London: Thames & Hudson, 2000. (ISBN 0-500-05101-1)
*Schmalsteig, William R. " [ Tokharian and Baltic] ." "Lituanus". v. 20, no. 3, 1974.
*Krause, Wolfgang and Werner Thomas. "Tocharisches Elemantarbuch". Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, 1960.
*Malzahn, Melanie (Ed.). "Instrumenta Tocharica". Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, 2007. (ISBN 978-3-8253-5299-8)

External links

* [ Conjugation tables for Tocharian A and B]
* [ Tocharian alphabet (from Omniglot)]
* TITUS: Tocharian [ alphabets] & [ Manuscripts from the Berlin Turfan Collection]
* [ Mark Dickens, 'Everything you always wanted to know about Tocharian']
* [ A Tocharian-to-English dictionary with nearly 200 words]
* [ Tocharian Online] from the University of Texas at Austin

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Tocharian languages — or Tokharian languages Two extinct Indo European languages, Tocharian A and Tocharian B, formerly spoken in the Tarim River Basin in China. Documents date back to AD 500–700. Tocharian literature, written in a northern Indian syllabary derived… …   Universalium

  • Tocharian — may refer to:* Tocharians, an ancient people who inhabited the Tarim Basin in Central Asia * Tocharian languages, two (or, perhaps, three) Indo European languages spoken by those people * Tocharian script, The script used to represent the… …   Wikipedia

  • Tocharian script — Infobox Writing system name=Tocharian script type=Abugida languages=Tocharian language time=8th century fam1=Proto Canaanite alphabet fam2=Phoenician alphabet fam3=Aramaic alphabet fam4=Brāhmī script sisters=Gupta, Pallava children= iso15924 =… …   Wikipedia

  • Tocharian — 1. noun a) An extinct branch of the Indo European language family, consisting of two languages, Tocharian A and Tocharian B, written in an abugida derived from Brahmi. b) Any member of a people who inhabited the and spoke Tocharian. 2. adjective… …   Wiktionary

  • Tocharian — /tɒˈkariən/ (say to kahreeuhn) noun 1. a member of a people, thought to be of European origin, who lived in the Tarim Basin of north western China until around 800 AD. 2. the language of this people, consisting of two dialects, Tocharian A and… …   Australian English dictionary

  • Tocharian — also Tokharian noun Etymology: Greek Tocharoi Date: 1926 1. a. a language of central Asia known from documents from the sixth to eighth centuries A.D. b. a branch of the Indo European language family containing Tocharian see Indo European… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Tocharian A — noun Date: 1926 the eastern dialect of Tocharian see Indo European languages table …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Tocharian B — noun Date: 1926 the western dialect of Tocharian see Indo European languages table …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Tocharian A — noun Eastern member of Tocharian branch of Indo European languages, extinct from ninth century. Once spoken in the Tarim Basin in Central Asia …   Wiktionary

  • Tocharian B — noun Western member of Tocharian branch of Indo European languages, extinct from ninth century. Once spoken in the Tarim Basin in Central Asia …   Wiktionary

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