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The Eastern Branch

The Eastern Middle Iranian languages were used in the east of Iran up to the Chinese Turkistān (present-day Xinjiang) as well as the north-west of Iran up to the Black Sea until the 7th Century AH/13th Century AD owing to the migrations of some of the Iranian tribes. The most important Eastern Middle Iranian languages included: a) Bactrian or Balkhi; b) Khwārazmian; c) Soghdian; and d) Sakan.

i. Bactrian: Bactrian or Balkhi was the language of the Kushānas who had established a small kingdom in the north of the present-day Afghanistan in the early centuries of the Christian Era that had later on spread up to the north of India. This language that had survived until the 4th Century AD was the only Iranain language to have been written in a script derived from Greek. The Greek-Bactrian script was of two kinds: inscriptional and textual. A piece of work has also been discovered in the Chinese Turkistān (present-day Xinjiang) in the Bactrian language and the Manichean script that was in all probability written in the 2nd or 3rd Century AH/8th or 9th Century AD, or in other words, after the death of the Bactrian language.

Works in the Bactrian language have been discovered in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Chinese Turkistān.

ii. Khwārazmian: Khwārazmian was the language of Khwārazm (present-day Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan). The Khwārazmian language was written in a script derived from Aramaic (also containing “hozvāresh”) that is now referred to as the Aramaic-Khwārazmian script. Surviving works in this script belong to the 3rd or the 2nd Centuries BC until the 1st Century AH/7th Century AD. Some writers from the Islamic Era have included certain Khwārazmian words or sentences in their works in a script derived from Arabic. For instance, Biruni in the “Āthār al-Bāqiyah” and the “Saydanah”; Zamakhshari in the “Moqaddamah al-Adab”; Khwārazmi in the “Yatimah al-Dahr”; Zāhedi in the “Qaniyah al-Maniyah” as well as some others have followed this trend.

iii. Soghdian: This language which was originally the language of the people of Samarqand and the Zarafshān Valley (present-day Tajikistan) is one of the most important Eastern Middle Iranian languages, used by the Iranian and non-Iranian merchants throughout the Silk Road as the common language until the 7th Century AH/13th Century AD. The scripts used for writing the Soghdian language included: a) The Soghdian script (derived from Aramaic) containing “hozvāresh”, used for writing religious and non-religious texts and for writing Buddhist texts in particular; b) The Manichean script that was employed for writing the Manichean texts with some modifications; and c) The Syriac script (derived from Aramaic, used for writing Christian texts. A piece of work has also been discovered in the Soghdian language and the Brahmi script (which was one of Indian origin). Most of the Soghdian texts have been discovered in the Chinese Turkistan (present-day Xinjiang) and some have also been discovered in Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Tibet, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia.

iv. Sakan :The Sakan language was spoken in the eastern part of Soghd. The surviving works in this language – which have been found in the Chinese Turkistan – comprises two different dialects: the north-western dialect or “Tomshoqese”, and the eastern dialect referred to as “Khotanese”. The Tomshoqese dialect was older than the Khotanese and very few works have been found in this dialect. On the other hand, the Khotanese dialect was spoken in the kingdom of Khotan until the 5th Century AH/3rd Century AD and is mainly found in the surviving Buddhist works. The script in which, both, the Tomshoqese and the Khotanese have been written is a kind of the Brahmi script.

v. Other Languages: Besides the aforementioned languages there are certain evidences that are indicative of the existence of other Eastern Middle Iranian languages such as the language used in the Ashokan inscriptions (3rd Century BC) which have been inscribed in the Aramaic script and have been found in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as in the Bokharan, the Sarmatian, and the Ganjaki languages.


* source: Rezaie Baghbidi , Hasan " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp.547 - 548

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