Social:Sogdian language

From HandWiki
Short description: Extinct Eastern Iranian language of Central Asia
*s{əγ}ʷδī́k ᵊzβā́k, *s{əγ}ʷδyā́u̯,
𐼑𐼇𐼄𐼌𐼊𐼋 [*𐼀𐼈𐼂𐼀𐼋] swγδyk [*ʾzβʾk]
𐼼𐼴𐼶𐼹𐼷𐼸 (𐼰𐼵𐼱𐼰𐼸) swγδyk (ʾzβʾk)
𐼼𐼲𐼴𐼹𐼷𐼰𐼴 sγwδyʾw
𐫘𐫇𐫄𐫔𐫏𐫀𐫇 swγδyʾw
Native toSogdia
RegionCentral Asia, China
Era1st millennium BCE – 1000 CE[1]
developed into modern Yaghnobi
Language codes
ISO 639-1sog
ISO 639-3sog

The Sogdian language was an Eastern Iranian language spoken mainly in the Central Asian region of Sogdia (capital: Samarkand; other chief cities: Panjakent, Fergana, Khujand, and Bukhara), located in modern-day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan[6] and Kyrgyzstan;[7][8] it was also spoken by some Sogdian immigrant communities in ancient China. Sogdian is one of the most important Middle Iranian languages, along with Bactrian, Khotanese Saka, Middle Persian, and Parthian. It possesses a large literary corpus.

The Sogdian language is usually assigned to a Northeastern group 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 Sogdia existed at least since the Achaemenid Empire (559–323 BCE).

Like Khotanese, Sogdian may have possessed a more conservative grammar and morphology than Middle Persian. The modern Eastern Iranian language Yaghnobi is the descendant of a dialect of Sogdian spoken around the 8th century in Osrushana, a region to the south of Sogdia.


During the period of the Chinese Tang dynasty (ca. 7th century CE), Sogdian was the lingua franca in Central Asia of the Silk Road,[10][11] along which it amassed a rich vocabulary of loanwords such as tym ("hotel") from the Middle Chinese /tem/ (Chinese: ).[12]

The economic and political importance of Sogdian guaranteed its survival in the first few centuries after the Muslim conquest of Sogdia in the early eighth century.[13] A dialect of Sogdian spoken around the 8th century in Osrushana (capital: Bunjikat, near present-day Istaravshan, Tajikistan), a region to the south of Sogdia, developed into the Yaghnobi language and has survived into the 21st century.[14] It is spoken by the Yaghnobi people.

Discovery of Sogdian texts

Sogdian Christian text written in Estrangelo, discovered at Turpan, 9th—11th century.

Aurel Stein discovered 5 letters written in Sogdian known as the "Ancient Letters" in an abandoned watchtower near Dunhuang in 1907, dating to the end of the Western Jin dynasty.[15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25] The finding of manuscript fragments of the Sogdian language in China's Xinjiang region sparked the study of the Sogdian language. Robert Gauthiot, (the first Buddhist Sogdian scholar) and Paul Pelliot, (who while exploring in Dunhuang, retrieved Sogdian material) began investigating the Sogdian material that Pelliot had discovered in 1908. 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 Émile Benveniste after Gauthiot's death.[26]

Various Sogdian pieces have been found in the Turfan text corpus by the German Turfan expeditions. These expeditions were controlled by the Ethnological Museum of Berlin.[26] These pieces consist almost entirely of religious works by Manichaean and Christian writers, including translations of the Bible. Most of the Sogdian religious works are from the 9th and 10th centuries.[27]

Dunhuang and Turfan 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, Divashtich. These business texts dated back to the time of the Muslim conquest, about 700.[27]

Writing system

Like all the writing systems employed for Middle Iranian languages, the Sogdian alphabet ultimately derives from the Aramaic alphabet. Like its close relatives, the Pahlavi scripts, 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 Old Uyghur alphabet, itself the forerunner of the Traditional Mongolian alphabet.

As in other writing systems descended from the Proto-Sinaitic script, there are no special signs for vowels. As in the parent Aramaic system, the consonantal signs ’ y w can be used as matres lectionis 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).[28] To distinguish long vowels from short ones, an additional aleph could be written before the sign denoting the long vowel.[28]

The Sogdian language also used the Manichaean alphabet, which consisted of 29 letters.[29]

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



Light stems

Case masc. a-stems neut. a-stems fem. ā-stems masc. u-stems fem. ū-stems masc. ya-stems fem. -stems plural
nom. -i -u -a, -e -a -a -i -yā -ta, -īšt, -(y)a
voc. -u -u -a -i, -u -iya -yā -te, -īšt(e), -(y)a
acc. -u -u -u, -a -u -u -(iy)ī -yā(yī) -tya, -īštī, -ān(u)
gen.-dat. -yē -ya -(uy)ī -uya -(iy)ī -yā(yī) -tya, -īštī, -ān(u)
loc. -ya -ya -ya -(uy)ī -uya -(iy)ī -yā(yī) -tya, -īštī, -ān(u)
instr.-abl. -a -a -ya -(uy)ī -uya -(iy)ī -yā(yī) -tya, -īštī, -ān(u)

Heavy stems

Case masc. fem. plural
nom. -∅ -∅ -t
voc. -∅, -a -e -te
acc. -tī, -ān
gen.-dat. -tī, -ān
loc. -tī, -ān
instr.-abl. -tī, -ān

Contracted stems

Case masc. aka-stems neut. aka-stems fem. ākā-stems pl. masc. pl. fem.
nom. (-ō), -ē -ēt -ēt, -āt
voc. (-ā), -ē (-ō), -ē (-āte), -ēte -ēte, -āte
acc. (-ō), -ē (-ō), -ē -ētī, -ān -ētī, -ātī
gen.-dat. -ētī, -ān -ētī, -ātī
loc. -ētī, -ān -ētī, -ātī
instr.-abl. (-ā), -ē (-ā), -ē -ētī, -ān -ētī, -ātī


Present indicative

Person Light stems Heavy stems
1st. sg. -ām -am
2nd. sg. -ē, (-∅) -∅, -ē
3rd. sg. -ti -t
1st. pl. -ēm(an) -ēm(an)
2nd. pl. -θa, -ta -θ(a), -t(a)
3rd. pl. -and -and

Imperfect indicative

Person Light stems Heavy stems
1st. sg. -u -∅, -u
2nd. sg. -i -∅, -i
3rd. sg. -a -∅
1st. pl. -ēm(u), -ēm(an) -ēm(u), -ēm(an)
2nd. pl. -θa, -ta -θ(a), -t(a)
3rd. pl. -and -and


  1. Sogdian at MultiTree on the Linguist List
  2. Jacques Gernet (31 May 1996). A History of Chinese Civilization. Cambridge University Press. pp. 282–. ISBN 978-0-521-49781-7. 
  3. Novák 2013, p. 11.
  4. Sigfried J. de Laet; Joachim Herrmann (1 January 1996). History of Humanity: From the seventh century B.C. to the seventh century A.D.. UNESCO. pp. 467–. ISBN 978-92-3-102812-0. 
  5. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds (2017). "Sogdian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  6. "Sogdian Language and Its Scripts | The Sogdians". 
  7. Barthold, W. "Balāsāg̲h̲ūn or Balāsaḳūn." Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2008. Brill Online. Universiteitsbibliotheek Leiden. 11 March 2008 <>
  8. Sogdia
  9. "Stamp-seal; bezel British Museum" (in en). 
  10. Rachel Lung (7 September 2011). Interpreters in Early Imperial China. John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 151–. ISBN 978-90-272-8418-1. 
  11. Weinberger, E., "China's Golden Age", The New York Review of Books, 55:17. Retrieved on 2008-10-19.
  12. Hanson, Valerie (2012). The Silk Road: A New History. Oxford University Press. p. 136. 
  13. Richard Foltz, A History of the Tajiks: Iranians of the East, London: Bloomsbury, 2019, pp. 4-5.
  14. Paul Bergne (15 June 2007). The Birth of Tajikistan: National Identity and the Origins of the Republic. I.B.Tauris. pp. 6–. ISBN 978-1-84511-283-7. 
  15. Sims-Williams, N. (December 15, 1985). "ANCIENT LETTERS". Encyclopædia Iranica. II. Encyclopædia Iranica. pp. 7–9. 
  16. Keramidas, Kimon. "SOGDIAN ANCIENT LETTER II". Telling the Sogdian Story: A Freer/Sackler Digital Exhibition Project. 
  17. "The Sogdian Ancient Letters 1, 2, 3, and 5". 
  18. Norman, Jeremy. "Aurel Stein Discovers the Sogdian "Ancient Letters" 313 CE to 314 CE". 
  19. Sogdian Ancient Letter No. 3. Reproduced from Susan Whitfield (ed.), The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith (2004) p. 248.
  20. "Ancient Letters". Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.. 
  21. Keramidas, Kimon. "SOGDIAN ANCIENT LETTER III: LETTER TO NANAIDHAT". Telling the Sogdian Story: A Freer/Sackler Digital Exhibition Project. 
  22. "Sogdian letters". History of International Relations. 5 March 2021. 
  23. Vaissière, Étienne de la (2005). "CHAPTER TWO ABOUT THE ANCIENT LETTERS". Sogdian Traders: A History. Handbook of Oriental Studies. Section 8 Uralic & Central Asian Studies. 10. Brill. pp. 43–70. doi:10.1163/9789047406990_005. ISBN 978-90-47-40699-0. 
  24. "About the Ancient Letters". Sogdian Traders. Brill. 2005. pp. 43–70. doi:10.1163/9789047406990_005. ISBN 9789047406990. 
  25. Livšic, Vladimir A. (2009). "SOGDIAN “ANCIENT LETTERS” (II, IV, V)". in Orlov, Andrei; Lourie, Basil. Symbola Caelestis: Le symbolisme liturgique et paraliturgique dans le monde chrétien. Piscataway: Gorgias Press. p. 344-352. ISBN 9781463222543. 
  26. 26.0 26.1 Utz, David. (1978). Survey of Buddhist Sogdian studies. Tokyo: The Reiyukai Library.
  27. 27.0 27.1 "Iranian Languages"(2009). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved on 2009-04-09
  28. 28.0 28.1 Clauson, Gerard. 2002. Studies in Turkic and Mongolic linguistics. P.103-104.
  29. Gershevitch, Ilya. (1954). A Grammar of Manichean Sogdian. p.1. Oxford: Blackwell.

Further reading

  • Bo, Bi, and Nicholas Sims-Williams. "The Epitaph of a Buddhist Lady: A Newly Discovered Chinese-Sogdian Bilingual". In: Journal of the American Oriental Society 140, no. 4 (2020): 803–20. doi:10.7817/jameroriesoci.140.4.0803.

External links