Indo-European

On “Parskahayeren”, or the Language of Iranian Armenians

Written by Afsheen Sharifzadeh, a graduate of Tufts University focusing on Iran and the Caucasus. Part of this narrative stems from the author’s visits to Armenia and the Tehrani Armenian community between 2014-5. The goal of this article is to familiarize the reader with the Christian Armenian community of the Islamic Republic of Iran, with a focus on its culture and language in a historical and modern setting. 
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Christmas festivities in an Armenian kindergarten, Isfahan, Iran (1989) | Ձմեռ Պապ, Մանկապարտեզի հանդես, Նոր Ջուղա (1989)

INTRODUCTION

Armenian (self-designated Հայերեն Hayeren) is an eccentric, satem member of Indo-European and occupies its own clade within that family. Of note, it does not belong to Indo-Iranian or Balto-Slavic. Without any immediate sisters, Armenian is joined by Greek and Albanian as an extant isolate within the Indo-European family.

Modern Armenian constitutes a pluricentric language with two standardized forms. The main typological split is between Eastern Armenian (Արևելահայերեն Arevelahayeren)derived from the language of the 18th century Russified Armenian intelligentsia (Հայ մտավորականություն Hay mtavorakanut’yun) centered in Tiflis—and Western Armenian (Արևմտահայերեն Arevmtahayeren), the contemporaneous language of the Ottoman Armenian elite centered in Constantinople. These two standardized forms represent poles in a spectrum comprised of various intergrading dialects that once spanned a putative homeland from Sivas to Baku, disregarding the historical Armenian diaspora (Սփյուռք Sp’yurrk’) which at its height reached as far as London and Java. Until the 19th century, Armenian constituted a diglossia whereby literature was composed in the archaic, otherwise unintelligible Classical Armenian language (Գրաբար Grabar)—now limited to liturgy—while the spoken languages (Աշխարհաբար Ashkharhabar) belonged to the Eastern and Western varieties detailed above. The two spoken varieties are only moderately mutually intelligible without training.

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Distribution of Western (orange hue) and Eastern (green hue) Armenian varieties, prior to the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Today Eastern Armenian is the official language of post-Soviet Armenia (green, #1); Western Armenian holds no official status and is classified as a “definitely endangered language.”

The Armenian varieties encountered in Iran belong to the Eastern subgroup, as do the dialects of Georgia, Nagorno-Karabagh, and Russia. However Parskahayeren is unique within the Eastern group in that it rejected the reformed Abeghian orthographical conventions of Soviet Armenia in 1922, and is thus confederate with its distant Western Armenian cousin in retention of the archaic Mashtotsian orthography originally used to write Classical Armenian (Grabar). Following the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the Western subgroup is now centered in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, and abroad, but was once native to the highlands dotting modern-day Turkey.

English Mashtotsian Orthography (Iran) Abeghian Orthography (Armenia, Russia, Georgia, since 1922) Eastern Armenian Pronunciation (Iran & former U.S.S.R.)
“Resurrection” յարութիւն
yarowt’iwn
հարություն
harout’youn
harut’yun
“Hope” յոյս
yoys
հույս
houys
huys
Europe” Եւրոպայ
Ewropay
Եվրոպա
‘Evropa
Yevropa
In the morning” առաւօտեան
arrawōtean
առավոտյան
arravotyan
arravotyan

In 1749-1769 the two volumes of the Barrgirk‘ Haykazian Lezvi, a dictionary of the Armenian language, were published by Mkhit’ar Sebastats’i and his Armenian Catholic congregation in Venice, Italy—making Armenian the sixth world language to have such a complete dictionary (after Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and Spanish; the first English dictionary appeared in 1755.)

Armenians refer to themselves as Հայ Hay, and to Iran as Պարսկաստան Parskastan “Persia”, from Պարսիկ Parsik “a Persian”, and hence the root of the terms Պարսկական Parskakan “Persian (non-human adjective)”, Պարսկահայություն Parskahayut’yun “Iranian Armenian community”, Պարսկերեն Parskeren “Persian language”, and Պարսկահայերեն Parskahayeren “Language of the Iranian Armenians”.

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AcloseviewofSt.StephanosMonasteryՍուրբՍտեփանոսվանքJolfaIran
Monastery of St. Stephen the Protomartyr (Սուրբ Ստեփանոս վանք, Մաղարդավանք Surb Step’anos vank’, Maghardavank’; كليساى استفانوس مقدس Kelisā-ye Estefānūs-e Moghaddas) East Azerbaijan province, Iran (1330 A.D.)

ARMENIAN HISTORY IN IRAN

The link between Armenia and Persia is about as old as the foundation of the Persian Empire in the 3rd century B.C., but the modern Armenian-Iranian yoke has its genesis in the late medieval period. It should be noted that no pre-genocide Armenian colony (Գաղութ Gaghut’) has enjoyed the extent of affluence, relevance, and repute in its host society as the Armenian diaspora of Persia. Iran has served as a stage for momentous developments in Armenian matters, in certain contexts even eclipsing the territories considered to be at the core of Historical Armenia (Մեձ Հայք Medz Hayk’) in power and consequence.

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Khoja Petros Velijaniants’ (left) financed the St. Bethlehem Church (Սուրբ Բետղեմ Surb Betghem; كليساى بيت اللحم Kelisā-ye Bayt ol-Lahm) in Isfahan, Iran in 1628. His family opposed the rule of the Shafraz family in New Julfa, but they lost and left for Surat, India in 1638. 

In a strategic move against the Ottomans that was meant to evacuate Nakhchivan, in 1604-5 Shah ʿAbbās I transplanted over 60,000 Armenian families (Բռնագաղթ Brrnagaght’), many of whom perished, into the inner regions of Iran. But the Shah had a unique vision for a cohort of exceptionally skilled businessmen from the prosperous Armenian town of Julfa (Ջուղա Jugha; جلفا Jolfā) on the river Araks. Indeed among his most intriguing and rewarding schemes in statecraft was the establishment of a world-class commercial district headed by a semi-autonomous Armenian merchant oligarchy of Julfan extraction in his new capital city, Isfahan, wherefrom Iranian silk was traded for European silver. In this exclusive, custom-built trading colony called New Julfa, the Armenians lived in symbiosis with the Safavid state insofar as they were sanctioned by royal decree (فرمان farmān) to preserve their distinct cultural, linguistic and religious identity (Հայկականություն Haykakanut’yun “Armenianness”), while melding harmoniously with the sovereign Persislamic socio-political infrastructure.

Under the patronage of Shah ʿAbbās I and his successors, who appreciated the Armenians’ talents and expertise, New Julfa soon transformed into a thriving center of craftsmanship and international trade replete with 24 churches. Contemporary French traveler Jean Chardin wrote that, in 1673– just two generations after the Julfan Armenians’ exodus from the Caucasus to Iran– Agha Piri, the head of the Armenian Community of Isfahan and one of its richest merchants, owned a fortune greater than 2,000,000 livres tournois (the equivalent of 1,500 kg of gold). Contrast with the textile merchants Beauvais and Amiens (the wealthiest merchants in France in the same period), the wealth of these two inventoried at their deaths amounted to 60,000 and 163,000 livres tournois respectively—a figure then considered astronomical. Yet these two figures combined amounted to barely a tenth of Agha Piri’s fortune.

For more on the history of New Julfan Armenians by the same author, click here (Part I) and here (Part II)

Armenian Orthodox Church ceiling
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(Top) Interior of Vank Cathedral (Սուրբ Ամենափրկիչ վանք Surb Amenap’rkich’ Vank’; کلیسای وانک Kelisā-ye Vānk) completed 1664 A.D., New Julfa, Isfahan, Iran; (Bottom) New Julfa Armenian district, clocktower and museum (17th century), Isfahan, Iran.

Throughout the Safavid and Qajar periods, Armenian-Iranians served as brokers on behalf of Persia in both commercial and political contexts due to their common faith with Christian Europe and familiarity with the languages and traditions of the peoples of both East and the West. The provost of New Julfa (Persian: كلانتر Kalāntar “Provost”; Armenian: Հայոց Թագավոր Hayots’ T’ak’avor, literally “King of the Armenians”) was chosen to hold official receptions of foreign embassies to Isfahan on the Allahverdi Khan bridge (later renamed Si-o-Se Pol), and the Armenians acted as a welcoming committee often introducing foreign visitors to the Safavid court. Hovhannes Vardapet, a native of New Julfa, introduced the first printing press into Persia from Italy (Գրահրատարակչություն Grahratarakch’ut’yun; چاپخانه Chāpkhāne), and the first book printed in Iran was the Armenian Saghmos (Սաղմոս “Psalms”) in 1638. In 1715, the last Safavid monarch Sultān Husayn sent an embassy consisting almost exclusively of Armenians to King Louis XIV’s court at Versailles, which resulted in the establishment of a permanent Persian consulate at the port of Marseille staffed by the Armenian “Hagopdjan de Deritchan.” Armenians continued to participate in national transformations through the Qajar period, and in 1850, Naser al-Din Shah’s chancellor Amir Kabir dispatched an Armenian, Mirza Davud, to Austria and Prussia to select six instructors in different fields for the modern polytechnic school that the chancellor was constructing, the Dār ul-Funūn (دار الفنون “House of the Arts”).

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Bishop Papken Tcharian, prelate of Isfahan (Սպահանի Հայոց Թեմի Առաջնորդ Spahani Hayots’ T’emi Arrachnord), leads ceremony in Surb Amenap’rkich Cathedral, New Julfa, Isfahan, Iran.

The Armenian contribution to the overall configuration of the 20th-century Iranian society, both culturally and economically, is significant. Armenians were pioneers in photography, theater, and the film industry. The first movie theater to open in Iran (Tabriz, 1916) belonged to Alex Sahinyan, an Armenian who used the hall in the French mission of Tabriz as “Cinéma Soleil,” in which Russian and European films were shown to an enthusiastic audience. They were among the first to introduce Western music and dance to the Iranian public. The popularity of modern fast-food establishments in Iran also owes much of its original success to the daring enterprise and perseverance of the Armenian businessmen who first introduced them in the Muslim society of Iran several decades ago. Armenian athletes have represented Iran in international tournaments, particularly boxing, weightlifting, soccer, and volleyball.

Orumiyeh
St_Thaddeus_Monastery_04
St. Thaddeus Monastery (Սուրբ Թադեոսի վանք Surb T’adevosi Vank’; قره كليسا  Ghara Kelisā), Māku, Iran (1329 A.D.) In the past six centuries, more than 100 Armenian ecclesiastical structures have been commissioned in Iranian Azerbaijan, a few dozen of which are still standing today.

THE ARMENIAN PRESENCE IN MODERN-DAY IRAN

Today Tehran is the center of gravity for Iran’s ~150,000 Armenians, although this is a fairly recent transformation. The traditional centers of Azerbaijan and Isfahan (since the 17th century) have been overshadowed in recent years by the tremendous growth of the Armenian population in Tehran, where more than 60 percent of the entire community resides (meaning approximately 80,000-100,000 souls). Large-scale migration from Azerbaijan, particularly following the Turkish invasion of that province in World War I, and emigration from Armenia proper following the Russian revolution, rapidly turned Tehran into a haven. The Armenians are designated two seats in the Iranian Parliament (مجلس Majles, Խորհրդարան Khorhrdaran), whereas Jews, Zoroastrians, and Assyrian-Chaldeans are each designated only one. Three prelates with jurisdiction over the three district areas of Azerbaijan, Isfahan (including southern Iran and India), and Tehran (including central and eastern Iran) head the community. They were traditionally subject to the catholicos of Echmiadzin in Soviet Armenia, but for political reasons aligned themselves with the catholicos of Cilicia in Lebanon in the 1950’s.

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St. Sarkis Cathedral (Սուրբ Սարգիս մայր տաճար Surb Sark’is mayr tachch’ar; كليساى سركيس مقدس Kelisā-ye Sarkis-e Moghaddas), Tehran, Iran.

The privileged status of Armenian is unusual in the context of the Islamic Republic, although Armenians have enjoyed unprecedented favor in a variety of contexts since their arrival to Iran in the 17th century. Quite paradoxically, Persian and Armenian are the only two languages with any official currency in today’s pluralistic Iran. Approximately 53% of Iran identifies Persian as its mother tongue, while only 0.2% speaks Armenian as a first language. The official language of education, media, and legislation is Persian, but Armenians are lawfully entitled to their own private kindergarten-12th grade schools wherein Armenian is a primary language of instruction alongside Persian (before the 20th century reforms under Reza Shah, Persian was taught as a foreign language alongside French and English; and Russian in Azerbaijan). There are approximately fifty Armenian private schools scattered throughout Iran today, whence Armenian students seeking higher education must pass a standardized national competency exam (كنكور Konkūr; Կոնկուրսի քննությունը Konkursi k’nnutyunё)—which includes Persian literature and Islamic theology—in order to integrate into national Islamic universities.

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Surb Amenap’rkich Cathedral’s Choire led by Movses Panoian, New Julfa, Isfahan, Iran (1976) |  Նոր Ջուղայի Սուրբ Ամենափրկիչ Վանք-ի Երգչախումբ; Ղեկավար : Մովսես Փանոսյան (1976)

Armenians run their own churches, schools, philanthropic organizations, sports clubs, night clubs, cultural associations and Armenian language publications including a daily newspaper based in Tehran, Alik’ Ōrat’ert’ (Ալիք Օրաթերթ “Wave Daily Newspaper”). In Tehran’s northern Vanak neighborhood, the Ararat Complex (Արարատ Միություն Ararat Miut’yun; باشگاه آرارات Bāshgāh-e Ārārāt) is a barbed-wire walled and gated, 20-acre cultural and sports complex that only Armenians are allowed to enter (by government order), and wherein patrons are exempt from the Islamic guidelines governing inter-gender public interaction, including dress code (hejāb), and alcohol is legally consumed on the premise. Nationalist factions among Iran’s Azeris (16%), Kurds (10%), Arabs (2%), Turkmen (2%) and other ethnolinguistic minorities toil vigorously with the issues of language policy and cultural oppression, but they seem wholeheartedly unaware of the status of Armenian. Perhaps this is due to their geographic location at the periphery of Iran and subsequent disconnect from the happenings of Armenian-inhabited urban centers (except in the case of Azerbaijan), or retained traditionalism in the long-standing belief that Christians can never be truly Iranian and thus constitute a quasi-foreign element in Iranian society.

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Private Armenian night club, 2015 New Year’s celebration, Tehran, Iran (Photo by Afsheen Sharifzadeh) | 2015 Ամանորի դիմավորում, Թեհրան, Պարսկաստան


ON THE ISSUE OF IRANIAN BORROWINGS IN ARMENIAN (HISTORICAL LINGUISTICS)


Armenian shares two kinds of linkages with Persian. The first is ancestral, inasmuch as the two share a quite distant common ancestor in the form of the Proto-Indo-European language. Proto-Armenian probably split from the southwestern dialects of Proto-Indo-European around 3000 B.C., while Proto-Indo-Iranian split from the northeastern dialects around 2500-2300 B.C. For more on the Kurgan Hypothesis and PIE linguistics by the same author, click here

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Persian and Armenian are genetically related languages. Pre-Armenian, Pre-Albanian, Pre-Phrygian, and Pre-Greek split off with PIE transhumance into the Balkans (and thence Anatolia, in the case of Armenian), but their origins are conflicting and their affinities with each other are problematic for a number of reasons that are outside the scope of this article (such as incongruities in Satemization and Centum superstrate; see Middle Dnieper multi-ethnic “vortex” culture for more reading).

The second link is cultural, as manifested in the form of several hundred loanwords borrowed from Old Iranian (Old Persian, Median, Avestan), Middle Iranian (Parthian, Middle Persian, Manichaean Parthian) into Classical Armenian, and to a far lesser extent, Modern Persian into Modern Eastern Armenian . The degree of Iranian borrowing throughout all registers of the language is so profuse that in the mid-19th century experts both in Armenian and in Iranian, foremost among whom were Paul de Lagarde and F. Müller, concluded that Armenian belongs to the Iranian group of Indo-European languages. That opinion prevailed until 1875, when H. Hübschmann pioneered a methodological principle whereby Iranian borrowings were separated in chronological layers from an Armenian core. That is to say, Old and Middle Iranian borrowings have effectively entered the ‘core’ of the Armenian language from the ‘periphery’, in that they have long since ceased to be perceived as loanwords and have become nativized phonologically. Analogously, the vast majority of loans are not readily recognizable to speakers of Modern Persian—in essence rendering this second linkage inoperative in the joint social memory of Iranians and Armenians.

Although Zoroastrianism was the predominant religion among Armenians for nearly 800 years before Christianization, conditions favorable to a fruitful cultural interchange between Armenians and Iranians existed almost exclusively during the rule of the Parthian (Iranian) Arsacids over Armenia (Արշակունիների արքայատոհմ Arshakunineri ark’ayatohm; سلسله اشكانيان Selsele-ye Ashkāniān). During that period the culture of the Parthian feudal aristocracy, being superior to that of the Armenians, exerted profound influence on the highlands. Accordingly, most of the linguistic borrowings came into Armenian from the Northwest Iranian language of the Parthians in a way comparable to the overwhelming French influence on English after the Norman conquest, although there are significant contributions from Southwest Iranian during the Sassanian period.

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The Church of the Holy Cross at Aghtamar (Աղթամարի Սուրբ Խաչ եկեղեցի Aght’amari Surb Khach yekeghets’i), Lake Van, is based on ideas of 7th century Armenian architecture but the sculpture program is novel. The southwest façade (Top) features a sculpted scene of Jonah and the Whale in which the whale looks conspicuously like the Iranian mythological bird Simorgh (Middle Persian: senmurw → Armenian սիրամարգ siramarg “peacock”). The cross-legged figure on cushions draws from Islamic tradition. On the western façade (bottom right), Prince Gagik, commissioner of the Church, is depicted presenting a 3-dimensional model of the Aghtamar Church to Christ; Gagik is depicted taller than Christ and wearing a silk cloak with birds in randles—reminiscent of Sassanian silks (bottom left). As late as the 11th century, Aghtamar draws on Iranian signs of kingship and authority.

Nevertheless, the breadth of Iranian contributions to the Armenian stock has not been paid adequate attention in Armenian historiography. The reluctance of Armenians to acknowledge the contributions of the pre-Islamic but still inextricably Iranian world to their language, traditions, and material productions, and subsequent preference for the blanket term “pagan” (հեթանոսություն het’anosut’yun) in dealing with pre-Christian matters, has three causes. First, traditionalist and secular but still Armenochristian intelligentsia remain sensitive to the long standing history of massacre and subjugation, often but not always in the context of being a Christian minority in a Muslim society. The popularization of the term “pagan” in place of “Zoroastrian”, “Parthian”, “Persian”, “Iranian” or “Mithraist” accomplishes the goal of distancing the Republic of Armenia’s national heritage from the cultural property claimed by the neighboring Persislamic political apparatus. Second, the term “pagan” is reinforced by its currency in Christian doctrine and clerical texts; notwithstanding, the Iranianisms in the Armenian stock seem to be selectively trivialized, even vis-à-vis the more remote Urartian or Ancient Greek contributions. Finally, there exists a pervasive essentialist attitude among intellectuals and laypeople alike that any non-Christian agent in the Armenian national narrative cannot be truly “Armenian”—as according to prevalent social ideals—and thus constitutes a quasi-foreign element in the otherwise continuous chronicle of a supposedly homogeneous people.

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According to Armenia’s folk conversion story, Gregory the Illuminator (top left; Գրիգոր Լուսավորիչ Grigor Lusavorich) was a Parthian (Iranian) Christian priest responsible for converting the Parthian (Iranian) king of Armenia, Tiridates III (top right; Տրդատ Արշակունի Trdat Arshakuni), to Christianity. Khor Virap monastery (bottom) in Ararat province, Armenia, marks the setting of these developments.

Despite an appreciable Iranian imprint, Armenian should not be viewed as a derivative language, but can be valued academically as a window to the historical linguistics of the Old and Middle Iranian worlds. Moreover the study of the Armenian loans from Iranian is of vital importance for solving problems of Old, Middle, and New Iranian linguistics, in that they:

1. Help determine the exact phonetic shape of the (Middle) Iranian words, which in the Iranian texts is often obscured by the consonantal writing systems. The Armenian alphabet, however, is fully vocalized, though it does not show the original vowel quantity.
2. Enable us to establish the exact meaning of the Iranian words.
3. Shed light on the phonetic developments that took place in the Iranian languages and thus aid in reconstructing linguistic stages not known or not sufficiently known from the Iranian evidence itself.
4. Provide evidence relating to Iranian, and especially Middle Iranian dialectological problems.
5. Finally, the Armenian language is also an important source for Iranian lexicology and lexicography as it contains many words, some of which survive right down to the present day, not attested in the Iranian languages themselves. Thus Armenian serves as a sort of fossil record to linguists for exploring Iranian paradigms that are often abstract and even innovative.

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Dzordzor Chapel (Ծոր Ծորի Սուրբ Աստվածածնի մատուռ Dzor Dzori Surb Astvatsatsin maturr), the only standing remnant of a 9th century monastic complex, West Azerbaijan Province, Iran

Iranian borrowings span all registers of the language. It should be emphasized that these borrowings were not limited to the vocabulary but also involve derivational suffixes, phraseology, and all kinds of names, and that they are from the beginning of the Armenian literary tradition inextricably mixed with the inherited vocabulary of Proto-Armenian stock. A few are detailed in the table below (composed by Afsheen Sharifzadeh):

Modern Armenian

Iranian root

English

օրինակ

ōrinak

from Parthian *awδēnak.

“Example”

շնորք, շնորհակալություն,
շնորհավորել
shnork’, shnorhakalut’yun, shnorhavorel

from Middle Persian šnwhl ‎(šnōhr, “gratitude, contentment”). Compare Manichaean Parthian ʿšnwhr ‎(išnōhr, “grace; gratitude”), Avestan ‎(xšnaoϑra-, “satisfaction”).

“Gratitude, thanks, to congratulate”

կատակ

katak

from early Parthian *kātak; compare Middle Persian kʾtk’‎(*kāyag, “game; joke”)

“Joke”

ժամանակ, ժամ

zhamanak, zham

from Parthian *žamānak ‎(“time”), from jmʾn ‎(žamān). Cognate with Middle Persian ẕmʾnk’ ‎(zamānag)

“Time; hour”

ճանապարհ, ճամփա, ճանապարհորդ

ch’anaparh, ch’amp’a, ch’anaparhord

from Iranian *čarana-parθ, composed of *čarana- ‎(“to go”) and *parθ ‎(“passage”). For the first part compare Avestan ‎(kar-), ‎(čara-), ‎(čaraya-, “to move, to go”)

“Path, road; traveller, wayfarer”

-յան

-ian

from Iranian *-yān, a postvocalic variant of the pluralization suffix *-ān, whence -ան ‎(-an).

(forming adjectives, common in Armenian surnames)

դժվար

dzhvar

from Iranian; Compare Middle Persian dwšʾwl ‎(*dušwār, “difficult, disagreeable”), Persian دشوار ‎(dušvār).

“Hard, difficult”

պատասխան

pataskhan

from Iranian *pati-saxwan-iya, from Proto-Iranian *sanh-“to declare, explain”

“Answer, response”

վտանգավար

vtangavor

from Middle Persian *vitang, from Old Persian *vitanka-‎(“hardship, peril, misfortune”), composed of the preverb *vi- ‎(“down”) and the root *tanč- ‎(“to twist (together), become narrow, dense, constrict”).

“Dangerous, perilous”

հրեշտակ

hreshtak

A Middle Iranian borrowing; Compare Manichaean Parthian fryštg ‎(frēštag, “apostle; angel”), Middle Persian plystk’ ‎(frēstag, “apostle; angel”), Persian فرشته ‎(ferešte, “angel”)

“Angel”

ճաշ
ch’ash

from Middle Iranian *čāš. Compare Middle Persian ‎(čāšt, “breakfast”), Persian چاشت ‎(čāšt, “breakfast, early dinner”)

“dinner, late meal, feast”

պատրաստ

patrast

from Middle Iranian *patrāst, from Old Iranian *patirāsta-, composed of the Proto-Iranian preverb *pati- ‎(“against, towards”) + *rāsta- ‎(“prepared”). Related to Persian پیراستن‎(perāstan, “to adorn”) and آراستن ‎(ārāstan, “to adorn”)

“Ready”

աշխարհ

ashkharh

With metathesis from Middle Median *axšahr, from Proto-Iranian *xšaθra- ‎(“power, authority, dominance”). Compare Old Persian ‎xšaça-, “kingdom, realm”

“World, cosmos”

աշխատանք

ashkhatank’

An Iranian borrowing, probably Middle Median because of the prothetic a-. Compare Middle Persian ʾxšʾd‎(“depressed, troubled”)

“Work, labor” (originally fatigue, toil, trouble)

դպրոց

dprots’

from Middle Persian ‎(dipīr, “secretary, scribe”) +  -ոց ‎(-ocʿ)

“school”

փառք

p’arrk’

from Middle Iranian *farr +‎ -ք ‎(-kʿ). Compare Old Persian ‎(farnā, “glory”), Persian فر ‎(farr), Avestan ‎(xvarənah-)

“Glory, fame, renown, esteem”

–երեն

–eren

from Middle Iranian *āδēn

Forms names of languages when appended to roots denoting names of nations or regions

նկար

nkar

from Iranian *nikar. Compare Manichaean Middle Persian ngʾr ‎(nigār, “painting, picture”), Persian نگار ‎(nigār).

“Picture, image, painting”

ճշմարիտ, ճշմարտություն

ch’shmarit, ch’shmartut’yun

An Iranian borrowing. Compare Middle Persian cšm dyt’‎(čašmdīd, “visible, obvious”, literally “seen with (one’s own) eyes”).

“True, real; truth”

Տիգրան

Tigran

from Old Persian *Tigrāna, derived through haplology from *tigrarāna ‎(“fighting with arrows”), composed of ‎(tigra, “arrow”) (compare Persian تیر ‎(tir)) + *rāna-‎(“fighting”)

A male given name

Վահագն, Վահան, Վահրամ

Vahagn, Vahan, Vahram

from Parthian *Varhraγn; ultimately from Avestan ‎(Vərəθraγna, “Verethragna”, literally “smiting of resistance, breaking of defence; victory”). Related to Avestan (vərəθra, “shield, obstacle, defensive power”). All ultimately stemming from Proto-Indo-Iranian *Hurtra-‎(“cover”).

Male given names

Գովել

govel

Borrowed from a Middle Iranian descendant of Proto-Iranian *gaub-;

“To praise”

օգնություն, օգուտ, օգտակար

ōk’nutyun, ōk’ut, ōk’takar

from Parthian *abigūt, *abi-gūna-.

“Help, helpful, benefit”

-պես

-pes

from Middle Iranian *pēs. Ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *peyḱ-.

“As, like”

-նման

-nman

from Iranian *nimān, composed of the prefix ni- and the root mān-. Compare, Persian مانا ‎(mānā, “alike, equal, resembling”).

“Like, resembling”

Գույն: սև, սպիտակ, կապույտ, կարմիր, մանուշակ

Guyn: sev, spitak, kapuyt, karmir, manushak

from Middle Persian gwn’ ‎(gōn, “colour; kind, sort”); From Parthian syʾw ‎(syāw, “black”); From Middle Iranian *kapōt“grey-blue, pigeon”; From Middle Persian klmyr ‎(*karmīr, “red, crimson”); from Middle Persian *manafšak, a by-form of wnpšk’ ‎(wanafšag);

“Color, black, white, blue, red, purple”

11889649_10204679849016430_3082852093934450558_n
The Temple of Garni (Գառնիի հեթանոսական տաճար Garrni het’anosakan tachch’ar), Kotayk Province, Armenia. Commissioned by the Parthian (Iranian) king of Armenia, Tiridates I, some scholars ascribe this Greco-Roman colonnaded structure to the Iranian deity Mithra (Միհր Mihr), who was a member of the Irano-Zoroastrian pantheon of pre-Christian Armenia (the Trinity: 1. Aramazd < from Ahura Mazda; 2. Mihr < from Mithra; 3. Anahit < from Anahita). (August 2015, Photo by Afsheen Sharifzadeh).

IRANIAN-ARMENIAN LANGUAGE

As in the case of Québécois French in Montreal, Armenian-Iranians within a single city seem to speak a variety of dialects that differ appreciably from each other in lexicon, pronunciation and sometimes morphology. This can be attributed to the diverse provenance of Armenians inhabiting Iran’s major urban centers—some tracing their roots to Iranian Azerbaijan (Ատրպատական Atrpatakan) particularly Tabriz (Դավրեժ Davrezh or Թավրիզ T’avriz), Urmia, Salmas, Khoy, and Maragha and its surroundings; Kermanshah and Hamedan; Ardebil and Rasht; New Julfa (Նոր Ջուղա Nor Jugha) in Isfahan (Սպահան Spahan) and Arak; Shiraz; Abadan and Ahwaz; or to a number of Armenian villages scattered throughout central Iran, including Fereydan region (Փերիա P’eria) and Bourvari. Yet wholesale emigration of some Iranian Armenian villages to Russia in the late 1940s after the catholicos of Soviet Armenia pleaded to all the faithful to repopulate the ancestral homeland devastated by World War II, famine, and the post-revolutionary atrocities in Russia, still greatly reduced their diversity and numbers. Dialect in Tehran is also delineated along socio-economic lines—although this might be a residual geographic feature—as well as the extent of an individual’s exposure to the post-Soviet Republic of Armenia. Nonetheless, there are a few overarching features of Parskahayeren as encountered in Tehran that have been selected for discussion below.


An Armenian delegation visits the Armenian diaspora community of New Julfa, Isfahan, Iran.

Due to bilingualism and areal features, Iranian Armenian dialects bare typological resemblances to modern Persian, but still markedly less so than other languages spoken in the country (except perhaps the Georgian dialect of Fereydan). Pronunciation is a highly distinguishing feature of Iranian Armenian vis-à-vis the Eastern Armenian dialects encountered in the former U.S.S.R. In general, intonation, rhythm and cadence tend to echo Modern Persian—in turn constituting a major deviation from the Caucasian variety, which parallels those features of Russian. For example, the final syllable of interrogative clauses are elongated in the exaggerated manner of Persian and Azeri. The vowel ա “a is pronounced like Persian آ “â”, whereas in Yerevan the same vowel is rounded in the manner of Russian “ä. In general, prosody is used to convey emotions according to the Persian canons; a phenomenon which accounts for the alleged “sing-songy” feel of Parskahayeren according to Caucasian speakers. However, there are still a number of distinct prosodic paradigms in Persian and Parskahayeren that in turn afford the languages quite unique aesthetic qualities. Notably, speakers of Parkshayeren tend to employ creaky voice

Additionally, Iranian Armenian has preserved the Classical alveolar approximant pronunciation of Ր “r”, (which corresponds to the Standard American English pronunciation of “r”); whereas other Eastern and Western Armenian dialects have shifted to alveolar flap [ɾ] (corresponding to the Scottish English pronunciation of “r”). In perfective constructions wherein the verb is not followed by a modifier, the infinitive final -լ -l is dropped: Tehran Vortegh es tsnvé? for Yerevan Ur es tsnvel? “Where were you born?” When the verb is followed by a modifier, Tehran often has -r- final: Tehran eker er for Yerevan yekel er “S/he had come.” In this sense Parskahayeren pronunciation is both archaic and innovative.

E9B92103-0386-4624-91C7-142DAC2F5208_mw1024_s_n
The “Father of Iranian pop music”, Vigen Derderian (Վիգեն Դերդերյան, ويگن دردريان), and his daughter, singer and songwriter Jaklin. Vigen was born into the Armenian community of Hamedan; Jaklin was born and raised in the Armenian community of Tehran. 

The Iranian-Armenians are bilingual, although the Tabriz and Urmia communities (Թավրիզ ու Ուրմիայի Հայ համայնքը T’avriz u Urmiayi Hay hamaynk’ёseem to be operationally trilingual in Armenian, Azeri, and Persian. Bilingualism in the case of fast-paced, trendy Tehran has paved the way for a great deal of language-mixing—primarily whereby an Armenian-speaking informant substitutes Persian words in place of their Armenian equivalents. However, the degree of this phenomenon is dependent on the informant and by no means approaches the threshold of creolization. Wholesale substitution takes precedence over calques in the case of Tehrani Persian slang and in registers for which Armenian has no equivalent. Wholesale substitution of Armenian words is present in the vernaculars of both Tehran and Yerevan, however markedly more so in the latter.

English Standard Eastern Armenian Colloquial Yerevan (from Russian) Colloquial Tehran (from Persian)
“Generally” ёndhanrapes
ընդհանրապես
voobshe
вообше
kollan
كلا
 “OK; here you go” hamets’ek’
համեցեք
davai
давай
“Just; just because” ughghaki
ուղղակի
prosto
просто
“Because” vorovhetev
որովհետև
tak kak
так как
chon
چون
“OK; That’s it” vsyo
всё
For example; like…” ōrinak
օրինակ
masalan –> “masan”
مثلا
“So; that is to say; it means; like…; [filter]” uremn, aysink’n
ուրեմն, այսինքն
to, est’
то есть
yani
يعنى
“Already” arden
արդեն
uzhe
уже

Otherwise, the Tehran vernacular is more conservative in her lexicon compared to the Yerevan vernacular, save a few idiosyncrasies: Tehran esi and eti, etikё for Standard սա sa “this” դա da “that”; Tehran sté, stegh and ёndé, ёndegh for Standard այստեղ aystegh “here” and այնտեղ ayntegh “there”; Tehran bidi for Standard պետք ե petk’e “must, should”; Tehran esents‘ for Yerevan stents’, nents’ and Standard այսպես ayspes “this way, like this”; Tehran որտեղ vortegh for Yerevan ուր ur “where”; Tehran ira, iran, irank’, irants’ for Yerevan nra, nran, nrank’, nrants’ “his/her, to him/her, they, their”. The issue of Parskahayeren mähät/mät “one; a piece; a little; a moment; a bit; etc.” is discussed below.

For some lexemes, parallel native forms are in use in a manner similar to American English vs. British English, i.e. Tehran: լվացարան lvats’aran for Yerevan լողարան logharan “restroom, washroom”; Tehran: կներեք knerek’ for Yerevan ներողություն neroghut’yun “Pardon me; I’m sorry.”


Iranian-Armenian artist Helen (née Matevosian) sings Garun Yekav (Գարուն Եկավ “Spring Came”), a winner at the 2007 Armenian Golden Star Awards.

Calques from Persian are also pervasive: i.e. վերջացավ գնաց verchats’av gnats’, from تمام شد و رفت  tamām shod o raft “It’s over; done for”; կարմրացնել karmrats’nel “to fry” (literally: “to redden”) from سرخ كردن sorkh kardan “to fry (redden)”; պատճառ ելնել patch’arr elnel from باعث شدن bāes shodan “to result in; to cause”; նեղություն քաշել neghut’yun k’ashel from  زحمت كشيدن zahmat keshidan “to bare a burden; perform an act of generosity or civility according to local ideals”; Թագավորի ժամանակ T’ak’avori zhamanak from زمان شاه zamāne Shāh “the Pahlavi period; reign of the 20th century Pahlavi monarchs”; մեձ մամ medz-mam and մեձ պապ medz-pap from مامان بزرگ māmān bozorg “grandmother” and بابا بزرگ bābā bozorg “grandfather.”  A few calques from Persian phraseology are listed below:

English Parskahayeren (colloquial) Persian (colloquial)
“What’s up?/What’s new?” Inch khabar?
Ինչ խաբար?
Che khabar?
چه خبر؟
“Thank you for your service” (literally: “may your hand not hurt”) Dzerrk’ёt ch’ts’ava
Ձեռքտ չցավա
Dastet dard nakone
دستت درد نكنه
“Thank you for your exertion” (literally: “may you not be tired”) Hok’nats chelnes
Հոգնած չելնես
Khaste nabāshi
خسته نباشى

“I wouldn’t be so sure” (literally: “my eye doesn’t drink water”)

Achkёs jur chi khmum
Աչքս ջուր չի խմում
Cheshmam āb nemikhore
چشمم آب نمیخوره

One morphological innovation is addition of a pronominal suffix at the end of the verbal construction to indicate either the object or indirect object of the verb, and this likely developed under the influence of Persian. This is unusual for Armenian, which employs a stringent case system. Nonetheless it is prevalent in generation Y’s vernacular and is only used when the 2nd person is the object or direct object of a clause:

English Tehran (contracted form) Yerevan (invariable)
“I’ve missed you” karotelemët karotel em k’ez
“I am waiting for you” spasumemët spasum em k’ez
“Let me tell you something…” me ban asemët mi ban k’ez asem…

Sometimes parallels are encountered to Persian compound verb construction: i.e. [Persian/Armenian gerund] + [Armenian helping verb]; the latter is usually անել anel (for كردن kardan) “to do”, խփել khp’el (for زدن zadan) “to hit”, վերցնել verts’nel (for گرفتن gereftan) “to get”, բռնել brrnel (for گرفتن gereftan “to hold”). Such as chort khp’el (from چرت زدن chort zadan) for Yerevan նիրհել nirhel “to take a nap”; pakhsh anel (from پخش كردن pakhsh kardanfor Yerevan հաղորդել haghordel “to broadcast”; պտույտ խփել ptuyt khp’el (from چرخ زدن charkh zadan) for զբոսնել zbosnel “to take a stroll”; դուշ բռնել dush brrnel (from دوش گرفتن dush gereftan) for Yerevan լողանալ loghanal “to take a shower.”

Tehran կարողանալ karoghanalconj. subjunctive verb (parallel to Western Persian construction) for Yerevan karoghanal + infinite verb “to be able to do [something]”; Չեմ կարող ասեմ Chem karogh asem for Yerevan Չեմ կարող ասել Chem karogh asel “I cannot say”, among many other examples.


Armenian-Iranian Bible study talk show, “Good News” (Բարի Լուր), produced by the Armenian-Iranian diaspora in California

Parskahayeren shares a number of core lexical paradigms with Western Armenian, her distant cousin, vis-à-vis the Eastern varieties found in the former U.S.S.R. Most notably, Tehran has երթալ ertal for Yerevan գնալ gnal “to go”; իմանալ imanal for Yerevan գիտել gitel “to know”; ելնել elnel for Yerevan լինել linel “to be”; հէր her for Yerevan խի khi/ինչու inchu “why”. Parskahayeren sometimes also shares the added -ի -i ending encountered in the Western Armenian pronomial dative construction: Tehran ինձի indzi, քեզի k’ezi, etc. for Yerevan ինձ indz քեզ k’ez “to me, to you”. Some of these lexical differences are illustrated below:

English Tehran Yerevan
“I don’t know” չեմ իմանում
Chem imanum
չգիտեմ
Ch’gitem
“What’s happened?” Ինչ ա ելե?
Inch a elé?
Ինչ ե եղել?
Inch e yeghel?
“Why didn’t he give you an apple?” Հեր քեզի խնձոր չտվավ?
Her k’ezi khndzor ch’tvav?
Ինչու քեզ խնձոր չտվեց?
Inchu k’ez khndzor ch’tvets’?

A multitude of -եց ets’-class verbs are -ավ av-class in Tehran, which resembles the pattern in Western Armenian. In this paradigm, Tehran has -ամ -am for the 1st person register, which likely developed under influence of Persian, whereas Yerevan has -ա –a; i.e. Tehran տեսամ tesam for Yerevan տեսա tesa “I saw.” Sometimes -ել –el infinitives are ալ –al in the perfective future construction, i.e. khosâlu en “they will speak” for Yerevan խոսելու են khoselu (y)en. For example, ասել asel “to say” and տալ tal “to give”:

English Tehran (spoken) Yerevan
I said, gave asam, tvam
ասամ, տվամ
asets’i, tvets’i
ասեցի, տվեցի
You said, gave asar, tvar
ասար, տվար
asests’ir, tvets’ir
ասեցիր, տվեցիր
S/he said, gave asav, tvav
ասավ, տվավ
asests’, tvets’
ասեց, տվեց
We said, gave asank’, tvank’
ասանք, տվանք
asests’ink’, tvets’ink’
ասեցինք, տվեցինք
You (pl.) said, gave asak’, tvak’
ասաք, տվաք
asests’ik’, tvets’ik’
ասեցիք, տվեցիք
They said, gave asan, tvan
ասան, տվան
asests’in, tvets’in
ասեցին, տվեցին

The 1st person -մ -m ending is also encountered in the past imperfective construction composed of [elnel (to be) + present participle]. This is also distinct to Parskahayeren in the Eastern group:

English Tehran (spoken) Yerevan
“I couldn’t understand it” Chim karogh haskanam  Chei karogh haskanal
“I was walking in the street, when suddenly someone called out to me from afar and approached” K’aylum im p’oghots’um erb hankarts mekё herrvits’ indzi kanchav u motets’av Kaylum ei p’oghots’um yerb hankarts mekё indz herrvits’  kanchets’ u motets’av

The issue of “mähät” or “mät” (from մի հատ mi hat one piece) in Parskahayeren is particularly unusual in that this lexeme has introduced a new vowel phoneme to the Iranian Armenian system (namely, ä). The contexts for its use are ambiguous and abstract:

Iranian Armenian English
Mät ari ste “Come here for a moment
Mät hangstats’ru senyakumët “Rest for a while in your room
Mät indzi tur “Give me one [piece]
Vaghë kertam khanut’its’ mät khaghalik’ verts’nem ira zavakneri hamar “Tomorrow I’m going to go pick up a toy for his children from the store”
Mät mtats’ir myusi zgats’munk’neri masin “Think a little bit about the other person’s feelings”
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Peering at the Tocharians through Language: A Window to the Ancient Europoid Folk of Western China

Written by Afsheen Sharifzadeh, a graduate of Tufts University focusing on Iran and the Caucasus. The goal of this article is to present the Tocharian narrative in a broad linguistic framework, with a focus on affinities to earlier Proto-Indo-European. 

beauty
Europoid-type “Tarim Mummies” found in XInjiang, China, dating back to around 1800 BC. The Tocharians are described as having full beards, red or blond hair, deep-set blue or green eyes and high noses and with no sign of decline as attested in Chinese sources for nearly a millennium. The mummies, particularly the early ones, are frequently associated with the presence of the Indo-European Tocharian languages in the Tarim Basin, although Mallory and Mair attribute the later mummies to the Iranian Saka (Scythian) people who settled later in the western part of the basin.

Introduction

What do Englishmen, Sicilians, Spaniards, Bengalis, Kurds, Russians, Welshmen, Germans, Pashtuns, Lithuanians, Armenians, Australians, Persians, Irish, Greeks, Swedes, Punjabis, Albanians, Brazilians, Icelandics, Romani, Ossetians, and many other peoples all have in common? Astonishingly enough, we all speak languages derived from a single Mother Tongue. This is a humorously underappreciated fact amidst the clutter of our daily social interactions, and more broadly, in our latent perpetuation of decidedly irreconcilable ethnic consciousnesses.

But this Mother Tongue was not a monolith. And neither was it ever recorded or attested to, to the modern linguist’s dismay. Variations of it were spoken for a span of roughly two thousand years between 4500 BC and 2500 BC, as it underwent drastic regional transformations and passed through defining bottleneck events. All the while, its daughters were splitting and differentiating via mass migrations of peoples throughout Eurasia, sometimes losing and regaining contact with each other after centuries or millennia. In the absence of written attestation to any of these highly dynamic prehistoric vernaculars, linguists have used the comparative method of language reconstruction to produce a long, fragmentary list of words used in daily speech. These registers have been applied in synergy with archaeological evidence to paint a compelling narrative for one of the most appreciable ethno-linguistic progenitors of modern human civilization.

800px-Khost_children_in_2010
Pashtun children in the village of Khost, Afghanistan. Pashto is an Eastern Iranian branch language, and shares a common ancestor with languages such as English, Russian, Italian, Welsh and Hindi, in the form of the Proto-Indo-European language, spoken between ~4,500-2,500 B.C.

The Mother Tongue is known to linguists as Proto-Indo-European. But where did the progenitors of all these modern languages, the Proto-Indo-Europeans, live? After all, they were not some obscure race of language-speaking humanoids roaming aimlessly on a primitive Earth, but rather, a pluralistic people who lived fairly recently with families, communal responsibilities, ambitions and concerns like you and I, speaking an adaptive language with which they sang, joked, loved, lamented and prayed, in a world populated by many different language families but theirs came to include roughly half the world’s population by the modern era.

The Tocharians as Indo-Europeans

The answer to that question has been the subject of heated debate among archaeologists and linguists for over a century. In the opinion of this author, the preponderance of archaeological, philological, and chronological evidence points to a Pontic-Caspian Urheimat (homeland)  for the speakers of Proto-Indo-European. This so-called “Kurgan Hypothesis” posits that in the riverine steppe lands darting from southern Ukraine deep into the Ural Mountains of Russia lived a semi-nomadic, mortuary mound-building (called kurgans, from Turkic), animal-sacrificing, cannabis-smoking, pastoralist, glory-inspired people whose commitment to ceremony and client-host tradition coupled with their militaristic ingenuity served as a franchising incentive for the widespread adoption of their languages by subject peoples. In archaeology, our conjectured Proto-Indo-Europeans are said to have composed the early mesolithic Yamna culture. This phenomenon, wherein language shift occurs due to emulation of an intruding but more powerful minority, is called Elite Dominance; a postulation that also explains the later extinction of Iranian languages in Central Asia and Azerbaijan beginning in the in the 11th century AD upon the arrival of a minority of Turkic-speaking peoples.

Kurgan_expansion
The Kurgan hypothesis postulates a Pontic-Caspian steppe homeland for the speakers of Proto-Indo-European (pink). The black arrows represent the various branch splittings of neolithic PIE-speaking peoples between ~4,500-2,500 B.C.

The Yamna culture (early Proto-Indo-Europeans) was in a turn a collection of semi-nomadic, pastoral tribes which more or less could understand each other, probably pulled to the Russian steppe (Samara and Khvalynsk) from the northeast Black Sea basin by adverse climatic changes. As such, we might better conceive of Pre-Proto-Indo-European (the stage of linguistic development before the Yamna horizon) as a group of related dialects which evolved from one group, Indo-Uralic (connecting Indo-European to Uralic languages like Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, and Mari), of another [Uralo-Siberian] group of an earlier [Eurasiatic] group of the proposed primitive Nostratic language macrofamily. Vladislav Illich-Svetych suggested that the Nostratic language was an incredibly remote, primitive but expressive ancestral language to Indo-European, Uralic, Altaic, Semitic, Kartvelian, and disputably other families, spoken by bands of foragers near the end of the last glacial period some 13,000 years ago. If such a conjecture were to have any baring in reality, then Indo-European languages would have remote genetic affinities to modern languages like Mongolian, Arabic, Ainu, Turkish, Somali, Nivkh, Georgian, and Korean. The implications of such a theory are earth-shaking for modern social constructs of “ethnicity” throughout the world.

Centum_Satem_map
Centum-Satem isogloss between Indo-European branches descended from splitting events of neolithic pastoralists migrating out of the Pontic-Caspian Indo-European homeland. Centum languages (blue) departed first and share a number of archaic phonological features that were later innovated in the Satem (red) languages that stayed behind (Indo-Iranian, Baltic, Slavic, Armenian; Albanian has incongruities). The hypothetical area of origin of satemization happens to also be in the range of the Sintasha/Abachevo/Srubna cultures (dark red). Tocharian, the easternmost Indo-European language spoken in the Silk Road caravan cities of the Tarim Basin in northwestern China, also lacked the Satem and Ruki innovations, so it likewise seems to have departed prior to the Satemization phenomenon.

When the first wheel-driven wagons rolled into the Pontic-Caspian steppe via the Caucasus piedmont from the ancient urban civilizations in the Near East around 4,500 BCE, the new invention spurred what archaeologists refer to as the Yamnaya horizon. This horizon transformed the Yamna culture (Proto-Indo-Europeans) into a mobile, expansive economy. Many migrations (especially the Corded Ware cultural horizon that stretched from the Netherlands to the Volga) coincide, as reflected in their Indo-European lexicons, with the new revolutionary technology of the wheeled wagon. Over the millennia, the combination of push and pull factors—perhaps a combination of tribal conflicts, climatic changes, and economic incentives—spread the speakers of PIE throughout Europe and Asia, and gave raise to a number of distinct and innovative cultural horizons (TRB/Globular Amphora culture, Funnel Beaker, Pit-Grave/Poltavka, Catacomb-Grave, Abashevo-Fatyanovo-Balanovo, Andronovo, Timber-grave, Usatovo, etc.) that interacted with and often displaced many Proto-Uralic and Paleo-European speaking cultures (prehistoric European languages of unknown provenance, such as the language of the Cucuteni-Tripolye culture. A modern survivor is Basque). The speakers of Proto-Indo-European then pioneered the chariot using a technology from the Fertile Crescent, and it wasn’t until a millenium later that wagon chariots appear in China. The Beijing Chinese word for wheel is KuLu, which bares an interesting resemblance to the nearby Repin Centum derived Tocharian Kokale (from PIE *kwel-/ *kwol).

Andronovochariotsm
The Proto-Indo-Europeans were the first to domesticate the horse and develop chariotry. The Mitanni dynasty ruled over a Hurrian-speaking (non-Indo-European; likely related to Urartian and to modern Northeast Caucasian languages) population in what is today northern Syria between 1500 and 1350 BC, but likely was founded by Old Indic-speaking mercenaries, perhaps charioteers, who usurped the throne–a common pattern in Near Eastern and Iranian dynastic histories. The Mitanni rulers regularly made references to the hymns and deities of the Rig Veda to the east, including Indra, Varuna, and the Nasatyas or Divine Twins. The Mitanni military aristocracy was headed by the “maryanna” (from Indic “marya”: “young man”, employed in the Rig Veda to refer to the heavenly war-band assembled around Indra.) All Mitanni Kings, first to last, took Old Indic throne names, such as Tvesa-ratha (“having an attacking chariot”), and in the oldest surviving horse-training manual in the world, a Mitanni horse trainer used many Old Indic terms for technical details, including horse color and number of laps.

At some point around 3,700-3500 BCE, a mass migration took place from the central zone of the Yamna culture, around a site called Repin between the Don and Volga. The push factors for this Trans-Ural exodus are unknown, but it may have been encouraged by the new opportunities for social and economic expansion offered by the novel mobile economy discussed above, or perhaps it was due to a conflict event. The migrants settled on virgin land on the contact zone with Siberian foragers (hunters and gatherers; perhaps Proto-Altaic-speaking) a startling 2000 km to the east of their starting point, and this area developed into the Early Bronze Age Afanasievo culture. It is to the Afanasievo cultural horizon that supporters of the Kurgan Hypothesis ascribe a Pre-Tocharian pedigree.

Tracking Tarim Mummies - books - archeaology.org - Map
The projected Pre-Tocharian migration from the Eastern dialects of PIE accross the Ural Moutain range and into the Altai region around 3,700-3,500 B.C., where the migrants likely interacted with speakers of Proto-Uralic and Proto-Altaic before migrating southward into the Tarim Basin.

At the time of this hypothetical Pre-Tocharian split from the eastern dialects, Proto-Indo-European was still in an early stage of its development. Pre-Germanic and Pre-Italo-Celtic would split several centuries later into the Danube valley, around 3,300-3,000 BCE, but from the western and central dialects respectively. Pre-Armenian, Pre-Albanian, Pre-Phrygian, and Pre-Greek split later yet with PIE transhumance into the Balkans, but their origins are conflicting and their affinities with each other are problematic for a number of reasons that are outside the scope of this article (such as incongruities in Satemization and Centum superstrate; see Middle Dnieper multi-ethnic “vortex” culture for more reading). Even later, Pre-Baltic and Pre-Slavic split off probably from the northwestern dialects of PIE probably around 2,800 BCE, and finally Pre-Indo-Iranian between 2,500-2,300 BCE from the northeastern group. Tocharian was probably closest of kin to the PIE dialects that were ancestral to the later Thraco-Phrygian and Armenian, but similarities with Italo-Celtic suggest an extended period of contact following an initial separation event.

Pre-Anatolian had split first of all daughters, perhaps half a millennium before Pre-Tocharian around 4200 BCE from archaic Proto-Indo-European, which lacked grammatical gender, complex verbal tenses (Anatolian only has present and perfect), the dual case for nouns, and major phonemic and lexical shifts that would be passed down to the rest of her daughters. As such, for some Indo-Europeanists these traits suggest that the Anatolian branch did not develop from Proto-Indo-European at all but rather that the two evolved from different geographic dialects of a Pre-Proto-Indo-European ancestral dialect continuum, termed “Indo-Hittite” by William Sturtevant. For example, whereas almost all modern Indo-European languages have inherited PIE *do- “to give”, this root originally meant “to take” in archaic PIE around the time of the Pre-Anatolian branch splitting. It later underwent a semantic shift probably in the context of the mesolithic Proto-Indo-European client-host gift-offering tradition in the steppe, so Hittite (Anatolian branch) has instead the archaic *Pai- “to give”. Pre-Anatolian then differentiated into Lycian, Hittite, Luwian, and the poorly attested Palaic, among other languages, in the coming millennia, all of which are now long-extinct but were once spoken for thousands of years in modern-day Turkey.

Picture of The Lion Gate - Hittite Capital Hattusa 6
The Lion Gates at the ruins of Hattusha, Turkey. Hattusha was once the capital city of the Hattians, who are now believed to have been remote relatives of the Proto-Northwest Caucasian-speaking peoples. Beginning in the 4th millennium BCE the Hattic language was gradually displaced by archaic Indo-European languages, most likely archaic Anatolian branch languages Luwian and Hittite, and the Hattians were ultimately absorbed and assimilated into Indo-European-speaking society after nearly two thousand years of coexistence by the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. However, the latter adopted the former’s self-designation (<Hatti; which in the opinion of this author, is likely also the root of the Armenian self-designation Հայ Hay).

The Tocharian Language

Despite her early separation from PIE, Tocharian still shares a striking number of cognates with her sisters in her core vocabulary. If we indulge ourselves for moment, we can imagine there was once a young Tocharian girl on a farm in western China who called out the ñem (Swedish namn, Kurmanji Kurdish nav, French nom) of her older procer (Dutch broeder, Persian barâdar, Russian brat) to käm (English: come, Kurmanji Kurdish: gav, Afrikaans: kom) help her mälka (German melken, Albanian mjel, Latin mulgere) the tri (Spanish tres, Lithuanian trýs, Pashto dre) kews(English cow, Armenian kov, Persian gâv) in the pen at nighttime under the lyuks (English light, Latin lux, Armenian luys) of the beautiful stars and meñe (Danish måne, Sorani Kurdish mang, Ukrainian misjac’), while her macer (Armenian mayr, Phrygian matar, German Mutter)  and pacer(Italian pater, Hindi pitr, Persian pedar)  were preparing the misa (English meat, Gothic mats, Armenian mis) of a yekwe (Latin equus, Hittite ekuus, Irish Gaelic each) for dinner and fetching fresh war (Hittite wa-a-tar, Belorussian vadá, West Frisian wetter) to wash it down.

English Tocharian B Ancient Greek Middle Persian Portuguese Proto-Indo-European
name ñem ónoma nâm nome *h₃néh₃-m̥n
eight okt oktṓ hašt oito *h₃eḱtéh₃(u)
mother macer mḗtēr mâdar mãe *méh₂tēr
foot paiye poús pây *pṓds
wolf walkwe lúkos gurg lobo *wĺ̥kʷos
new ñuwe néos nōg novo *néwos
star śre astḗr stâr estrela *h₂stḗr

Language comparison chart prepared by the author illustrating a few readily recognizable cognates between Tocharian and a few extant/extinct Centum and Satem members of the Indo-European family, including English (Germanic), Ancient Greek (Hellenic), Middle Persian (Iranian; Satemization and Ruki rule reflected in the register for “eight” = “hašt”; labial to velar shift and *r/*l merger reflected in “wolf” = “gurg”) and Portuguese (Italic).

As the second major branching-off event of PIE, Tocharian maintains a number of archaisms that are absent in later branches. For example, Tocharian is the only geographically “eastern” Centum language, as it split before the Satem shift occurred in PIE (the Satem group merged Proto-Indo-European palatovelars *ḱ, *ḱʰ, *ǵ, *ǵʰ. and plain velars *k, *kʰ, *g, *gʰ, yielding plain velars only, but retained the labiovelars as a distinct set. For example, *ḱ became Sanskrit ś [ɕ], Latvian, Avestan, Russian and Armenian s, Lithuanian š [ʃ], and Albanian th [θ] but k before a resonant.) As such, it does not feature the subsequent innovation of Ruki sound law (*s >  / {*r, *w, *K, *y}). However, some Indo-European tribes (dialects) maintained tribal-linguistic contact—often via assimilated substrate—prior to their various distinct Proto-stages, including Pre-Greek Catacomb and Pre-Tocharian Don-Repin. The Volga Uralic Mordvin languages (Erzya/Moskha) have loanwords from early Indo-Iranian, East Baltic, and a Tocharian-like Ural-Volga area Repin Centum language, inferring another contact period probably whilst en route to Afanasievo.

Documents from the 6th to 8th centuries identify two Tocharian languages which probably split in the first millennium B.C. Tocharian A (Turfanian) is distributed along the eastern part of the Silk Road, while Tocharian B (Kuchean) is centered in the northern part. Tocharian A and Tocharian B were strikingly different languages with radical divergence in their plural markers, case system and verbal system, although it is unclear whether they were mutually intelligible. Tocharian A was more archaic and used solely as a Buddhist liturgical language, while the Tocharian B corpus includes documents that are both secular and religious in nature, suggesting that it may have been the spoken language of the entire area (discussed below). Alternatively, the lack of a secular corpus in Tocharian A could simply be an accident; the result of a fragmentary preservation of texts. Lastly, Tocharian C is only attested to in about 100 words in Prakrit documents, conceptualized by linguists who reconstructed these loanwords and attributed their origin to some unknown sister of Tocharian A and B.Moksha_girls
The Mordvin people centered in the middle Volga region of Russia speak languages belonging to the Uralic macrofamily (includes Finnish, Hungarian, Estonian, Saami, Mari etc.), whose proto-language homeland was probably in the birch-pine forest zone on the southern flanks of the Ural Mountains. Linguistic evidence suggests that Proto-Uralic and Proto-Indo-European likely shared two kinds of linkages; one kind, revealed in the similarity of pronouns, noun endings, and shared basic vocabulary, could be ancestral: the proto-languages probably shared some quite ancient common ancestor, perhaps a broadly related set of intergrading dialects spoken by hunters roaming between the Carpathians and the Urals at the end of the last Ice Age (Joseph Greenberg calls this language stock “Eurasiatic”, perhaps ultimately descended from Nostratic). The second link is cultural; proto-Uralic foragers interacted through trade with the neolithic Proto-Indo-European tribes migrating out of the homeland who introduced them to agriculture and the wheel, and again much later with Indo-Iranian and Tocharian migrants trekking eastward out of the PIE homeland.

On the relationship of Tocharians A and B, George Lane, an authority on Tocharian, concludes: “at the time when the extant materials in dialect A were written it was purely a liturgical language in the monasteries of the east, and had been so preserved for several centuries at least…. it had long since ceased to be a vernacular [as a result of Turkic immigration into the area]… whereas Tocharian B was clearly the vernacular of a comparatively rich and flourishing culture [to the west and better protected by the mountains and the desert from the influence of the Turks].”  It is very likely that B was also the language of everyday monastery life in the east, existing side by side with the liturgical form of A. Lane concludes: “the two Tocharian dialects A and B have gone through a long period of independent development… anywhere from five hundred to a thousand years…they are, in my estimation, no longer mutually intelligible.”

800px-Tocharian
Wooden tablet with an inscription showing Tocharian B in its Brahmic form. Kucha, China, 5th-8th century (Tokyo National Museum)

The Decline of the Tocharians
Following their Trans-Ural exodus by over a millennium, the Tocharians interacted with and borrowed extensively from the Indo-Iranians, their distant Indo-European cousins unbeknownst to them at the time. The most recent linguistic influences upon Tocharian were Iranian and Sanskrit, as a result of extensive missionary activity from Iran and India which coincides with the Tocharian’ adoption of Buddhism. The primary effect of these languages upon Tocharian was in loanwords into the lexicon, especially in religious terminology. There was also a notable Manichaean minority, again of Iranian provenance. The Europoid-type residents of Turfan and Kucha were first noted by the Chinese in the Han-shu in the first century BC. as one of the barbarian kingdoms in their western region which had been involved in many wars with the Chinese, along with the Hsiung-nu (Mongolian nomads), Turks, and Tibetans. The Chinese sources refer to the fair, red-haired inhabitants of the Tarim basin as Yuezhi. Ultimately, the Tocharians appear to have emerged as a devoutly Buddhist and mercantile people, serving as middle-men between the more advanced civilizations of early Imperial China, Southwest Asia, and the various Iranian peoples to the west.

Central_Asian_Buddhist_Monks
Painting of Buddhist monks from the Eastern Tarim Basin, Belezek, c. 8th century AD, with a Tocharian on the left. As a result of Iranian Buddhist proselytic activity, the Tocharians adopted Mahayana Buddhism and served as an important conduit for the spread of Buddhism into China and the East.

As such the footprint of the speakers of Tocharian languages remains blurred, as we can only observe them through the lens of Buddhism. Tocharians are represented iconographically, wherein they present themselves as Buddhists dressed in north Indian clothes, or as warriors dressed is Sassanian Iranian dress. Together with East Iranian peoples, such as the Bactrians, Kushans and Khotanese, the Tocharians seem to have played a role in the Silk Road transmission of Buddhism to China. Exactly when Buddhism was introduced to Tocharia from India by Middle Iranian-speaking peoples is unknown since there are no historical records describing such a transmission. Nevertheless it is likely to have been around the beginning of the Common Era, as there were already Kuchean missionary Buddhist monks in China beginning the third century AD.

Although details surrounding the social and political undertakings of the Tocharians remains shrouded in mystery due to lack of attestation, it seems that their culture lasted up until the end of the first millenium of the Common Era, after which time they were either assimilated into the growing Turkic-speaking population in the area or simply died out. This means that the Tocharians composed a distinct ethno-linguistic grouping within Indo-European for nearly three millennia–in turn providing quite a considerable window for study–but their own scant literary productions (mostly monastic and mercantile in nature) coupled with those of their neighbors fail to provide us with any substantive account regarding their existence. In general, therefore, the Tocharian evidence, due to the rather late date of the extant documents, its geographic isolation from other IE languages, and the influence of non-IE languages, has not been as helpful in reconstructing PIE as, for instance Sanskrit, Greek, or Hittite have been. However, we can learn from Tocharian about the effect that a long migration and contacts with members of other language families can have on an IE language and, as Winter says, “below the rather forbidding surface of our Tocharian data there are some real treasures to be found.”

Sources

Anthony, David W. “The Horse, The Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World.” Princeton Review Press: 2007.

Dickens, Mark. “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Tocharian.” http://www.oxuscom.com/eyawtkat.htm

Excerpt from Virdainas: a Jatvingian-Sudovian Dictionary. Jos. Paskha 2012.
http://suduva.com/virdainas/proto.htm