Tocharian languages

The Tocharian (sometimes Tokharian) languages (/təˈkɛəriən/ or /təˈkɑːriən/), also known as Arśi-Kuči, Agnean-Kuchean or Kuchean-Agnean, are an extinct branch of the Indo-European language family spoken by inhabitants of the Tarim Basin, the Tocharians.[2] They are known from manuscripts dating from the 5th to the 8th century AD, which were found in oasis cities on the northern edge of the Tarim Basin (now part of Xinjiang in northwest China) and the Lop Desert. The discovery of this language family in the early 20th century contradicted the formerly prevalent idea of an east–west division of the Indo-European language family on the centum–satem isogloss, and prompted reinvigorated study of the family. Mistakenly identifying the authors with the Tokharoi people of ancient Bactria (Tokharistan), early authors called these languages "Tocharian". This naming has remained, although the names Agnean and Kuchean have been proposed as a replacement.[3][2]

Tocharian
EthnicityTocharians
Geographic
distribution
Tarim Basin
Extinct9th century AD
Linguistic classificationIndo-European
  • Tocharian
Proto-languageProto-Tocharian
Subdivisions
  • Agnean (Tocharian A)
  • Kuchean (Tocharian B)
  • Kroränian (Tocharian C)[1]
Glottologtokh1241
  directly attested (Tocharian A and B)
  loanword traces (Tocharian C)

The documents record two closely related languages, called Tocharian A (also East Tocharian, Agnean or Turfanian) and Tocharian B (West Tocharian or Kuchean). The subject matter of the texts suggests that Tocharian A was more archaic and used as a Buddhist liturgical language, while Tocharian B was more actively spoken in the entire area from Turfan in the east to Tumshuq in the west. A body of loanwords and names found in Prakrit documents from the Lop Nor basin have been dubbed Tocharian C (Kroränian). A claimed find of ten Tocharian C texts written in Kharoṣṭhī script has been discredited.[4]

The oldest extant manuscripts in Tocharian B are now dated to the 5th or even late 4th century AD, making Tocharian a language of Late Antiquity contemporary with Gothic, Classical Armenian, and Primitive Irish.[5]


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