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Khotanese language

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Title: Khotanese language  
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Subject: Aurel Stein, Brahmi script, Buddhist texts, Hotan, Kingdom of Khotan, List of ISO 639-2 codes, Pahlavi scripts, India–Iran relations, Khotanian, Harold Walter Bailey
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Khotanese language

For the Northern Turkic language spoken in Sakha Republic, Russian Far East, see Sakha language.
Not to be confused with Makhuwa-Saka language.
Khotanese, Tumshuqese
Native to Kingdom of Khotan, Tumshuq, Murtuq and Qäshqär[1]
Region Tarim Basin (current China)
Ethnicity Saka
Era ≈200 BCE – ≈1000 CE
Language family
Writing system Brahmi, Kharosthi
Language codes
ISO 639-2 kho
ISO 639-3 Either:
xtq – Tumshuqese
Linguist List Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
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  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist

(Eastern) Saka or Sakan is a variety of Eastern Iranian languages, attested from the ancient Buddhist kingdoms of Khotan and Tumshuq in the Tarim Basin, in what in now southern Xinjiang, China. It is a Middle Iranian language.[2] The two kingdoms differed in dialect, their speech known as Khotanese and Tumshuqese.

Documents on wood and paper were written in modified Brahmi script with the addition of extra characters over time and unusual conjuncts such as ys for z.[3] The documents date from the fourth to the eleventh century. Tumshuqese was more archaic than Khotanese,[4] but it is much less understood because it appears in fewer manuscripts compared to Khotanese. Both dialects share features with modern Pashto and Wakhi. The language was known as "Hvatanai" in contemporary documents.[5] Many Prakrit terms were borrowed from Khotanese into the Tocharian languages.[6]


Main article: Saka

The two known dialects of Saka are associated with a movement of Scythian people. No invasion of the region is recorded in Chinese records and one theory is that two tribes of Saka, speaking the dialects, settled in the region in about 200 BC before the Chinese accounts commence.[7]


According to the LINGUIST List, Khotanese and Tumshuqese are distinct Eastern Iranian languages. Khotanese is classified under the Southeastern Iranian family.[8] Tumshuqese is classified as a "Sakan-Tumshuqese" language under the "Sogdian-Khotanese" subgroup, which in turn belongs to the Scythian branch of the Northeastern Iranian group of languages.[9]


Other than an inscription from Issyk Kurgan that it is tentatively identified as Khotanese (though written in Kharoshthi), all of the surviving documents originate from Khotan or Tumshuq. Khotanese is attested from over 2,300 texts preserved among the Dunhuang manuscripts, as opposed to just 15 texts in Tumshuqese.[9] These were deciphered by Harold Bailey. The earliest texts, from the fourth century, are mostly religious documents. There were several Buddhist monasteries (vihara) in Khotan and Buddhist translations are common at all periods of the documents. There are many reports to the royal court (called haṣḍa aurāsa) which are of historical importance, as well as private documents. An example of a document is Template:IDP.




International Dunhuang Project Bailey, H W (1979) Dictionary of Khotan Saka, Cambridge University Press

Further reading

  • Encyclopedia Iranica "Iranian Languages"
  • Emmerick, R. E., & Pulleyblank, E. G. (1993). A Chinese text in Central Asian Brahmi script: new evidence for the pronunciation of Late Middle Chinese and Khotanese. Roma: Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente. (On connections between Chinese and Khotanese, such as loan words and pronunciations)
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