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Scythian language

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Scythian language

Scythian
Ptolemy's Scythia
Native to Sarmatia, Kingdom of Khotan, Parama Kamboja, Sistan, Scythia Minor
Region Central Asia, Eastern Europe
Ethnicity Scythians
Era Classical antiquity, late antiquity
Language family
Dialects
Sarmatian
Alanian
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Variously:
oos – Old Ossetian
Linguist List
 
 
 
 
 
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Scythian languages (/ˈsɪθiən/ or /ˈsɪðiən/) were a family of Eastern Iranian languages of the classical and late antiquity period, spoken in a vast region of Eurasia named Scythia. It is a Middle Iranian language, belonging to the Iranian group in the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family.

The location and extent of Scythia varied by time, but generally it encompassed the part of Eastern Europe east of the Vistula river and much of Central Asia. The dominant ethnic groups among the Scythians were nomadic pastoralists of Central Asia and the Pontic-Caspian steppe. Fragments of their speech known from inscriptions and words quoted in ancient authors as well as analysis of their names indicate that it was of the Indo-European language family, was Indo-Iranian, Iranian and more specifically Eastern Iranian. Further classification is uncertain and elusive. Alexander Lubotsky summarizes the known linguistic landscape as follows:[1]

Classification

The vast majority of Scythological scholars agree that the Scythian-Sarmatian languages (and Ossetian) belong to the Eastern Iranian language family — like the once widespread but now extinct Sogdian language. This Iranian hypothesis relies principally on the fact that the Greek inscriptions of the Northern Black Sea Coast contain several hundreds of Sarmatian names showing a close affinity to the Ossetian language. [2]

Historians normally divide the Scytho-Sarmatian group chronologically rather than geographically:

  • Scythian (ca. 800 – 300 BC), mainly evidenced in Classical Greek authors
  • Sarmatian (ca. 300 BC – AD 400), mainly evidenced in Hellenistic and Roman inscriptions
  • Alanian (ca. AD 400 – 1000), mainly evidenced in Byzantine Greek authors

Some scholars [3] detect a division of Scytho-Sarmatian into two dialects: a western, more conservative dialect, and an eastern, more innovative one. The innovative dialect may correspond to Sarmatian, whereas the conservative dialect may continue the dialect spoken by the old Scythians before the invasion of the Sarmatians.

The Scythian languages may have formed a dialect continuum:

  • Scytho-Sarmatian languages were spoken by people originally of Iranian stock[4] from the 8th and 7th century BC onwards in the area of Ukraine, Southern Russia and Kazakhstan. Modern Ossetian survives as a continuation of the language family possibly represented by Scytho-Sarmatian inscriptions, although the Scytho-Sarmatian language family "does not simply represent the same [Ossetian] language" at an earlier date.[5]
  • Saka language or Scytho-Khotanese in the east: spoken in the Kingdom of Khotan (located in present-day Xinjiang, China), and including the Khotanese of Khotan and Tumshuqese of Tumshuq. Scholars classify these languages as North-Eastern Iranian.[6]

History

Early East Iranians originated in the Yaz culture (ca. 1500–1100 BC) in Central Asia. The Scythians migrated from Central Asia toward Eastern Europe in the 8th and 7th century BC,[7] occupying today's Southern Russia and Ukraine and the Carpathian Basin and parts of Moldova and Dobruja. They disappeared from history after the Hunnish invasion of Europe in the 5th century AD, and Turkic (Avar, Batsange, etc.) and Slavic peoples probably assimilated most people speaking Scythian. However, in the Caucasus, Ossetian language belonging to the Scythian-Sarmatian linguistic continuum remains in use today, while in Central Asia, some languages belonging to Eastern Iranian family are still spoken, namely Pashto, Pamir languages and Yaghnobi.

Corpus

Inscriptions

Some scholars ascribe certain inscribed objects found in the Carpathian Basin and in Central Asia to the Scythians, but the interpretation of these inscriptions remains disputed (given that nobody has definitively identified the alphabet or translated the content).

An inscription from Saqqez written in the Hieroglyphic Hittite script may represent Scythian: [8]

Transliteration: par-tì-ta₅-wa₅ ki-ś₃-a₄-á KUR-u-pa-ti QU-wa-a₅ | i₅-pa-ś₂-a-m₂
Transcription: Partitava xšaya DAHYUupati xva|ipašyam
Translation: King Partitavas, the masters of the land property."

King Partitava equates to the Scythian king called Prototyēs in Herodotus (1.103) and known as Par-ta-tu-a in the Assyrian sources. ("Partatua of Sakasene" married the daughter of Esarhaddon c. 675 BC)

The Issyk inscription, found in a Scythian kurgan dating approximately to the 4th century BC, remains undeciphered, but some authorities assume that it represents Scythian.

Personal names

The primary sources for Scythian words remain the Scythian toponyms, tribal names, and numerous personal names in the ancient Greek texts and in the Greek inscriptions found in the Greek colonies on the Northern Black Sea Coast. These names suggest that the Scythian-Sarmatian language had close similarities to modern Ossetian.

Some scholars believe that many toponyms and hydronyms of the Russian and Ukrainian steppe have Scythian links. For example, Vasmer associates the name of the river Don with an assumed/reconstructed unattested Scythian word *dānu "water, river", and with Avestan dānu-, Pashto dand and Ossetian don. [9] The river names Don, Donets, Dnieper, Danube, Dniester and lake Donuzlav (the deepest one in Crimea, Ukraine) may also belong with the same word-group. [10]

Herodotus' Scythian etymologies

The Greek historian Herodotus provides another source of Scythian; he reports that the Scythians called the Amazons Oiorpata, and explains the name as a compound of oior, meaning "man", and pata, meaning "to kill" (Hist. 4,110).

  • Most scholars associate oior "man" with Avestan vīra- "man, hero", Sanskrit vīra-, PIE *u̯iHro-. Various explanations account for pata "kill":
    1. Avestan paiti- "lord", Sanskrit pati-, PIE *poti- (i.e. "man-ruler");[11]
    2. Ossetian maryn "kill", Pashto mrəl, Sanskrit mārayati, PIE *mer- "die" (confusion of Greek Μ and Π);[12]
    3. Ossetian fædyn "cleave", Sanskrit pātayati "fell", PIE *peth₂- "fall".[13]
  • Alternatively, one scholar suggests Iranian aiwa- "one" + warah- "breast",[14] the Amazons believed to have removed a breast to aid drawing a bow, according to some ancient folklorists, and as reflected in Greek folk-etymology: a- (privative) + mazos, "without breast".

Elsewhere Herodotus explains the name of the mythical one-eyed tribe Arimaspoi as a compound of the Scythian words arima, meaning "one", and spu, meaning "eye" (Hist. 4,27).

  • Some scholars connect arima "one" with Ossetian ærmæst "only", Avestic airime "quiet", Greek erēmos "empty", PIE *h₁(e)rh₁mo-?, and spu "eye" with Avestic spas- "foretell", Sanskrit spaś-, PIE *speḱ- "see".[15]
  • However, Iranian usually expresses "one" and "eye" with words like aiwa- and čašman- (Ossetian īw and cæst).
  • Other scholars reject Herodotus' etymology and derive the ethnonym Arimaspoi from Iranian aspa- "horse" instead.[16]
  • Or the first part of the name may reflect something like Iranian raiwant- "rich", cf. Ossetian riwæ "rich".[17]

Herodotus' Scythian theonyms

Herodotus also gives a list of Scythian theonyms (Hist. 4.59):

  • Tabiti = Hestia. Perhaps related to Sanskrit Tapatī, a heroine in the Mahābhārata, literally "the burning (one)".[18]
  • Papaios = Zeus. Either "father" (Herodotus) or "protector", Avestan, Sanskrit pā- "protect", PIE *peh₃-.[19]
  • Api = Gaia. Either "mother"[20] or "water", Avestan, Sanskrit āp-, PIE Hep-[21]
  • Goitosyros or Oitosyros = Apollo. Perhaps Avestan gaēθa- "animal" + sūra- "rich".[22]
  • Argimpasa or Artimpasa = Aphrodite Urania. To Ossetic art and Pashto or, "fire", Avestan āθra-.[23]
  • Thagimasadas = Poseidon.

Alanian

The Alanian language as spoken by the Alans from about the 5th to the 11th centuries AD formed a dialect directly descended from the earlier Scytho-Sarmatian languages, and forming in its turn the ancestor of the Ossetian language. Byzantine Greek authors recorded only a few fragments of this language.[24]

See also

Notes

Bibliography

Additional literature

  • Harmatta, J.: Studies in the History and Language of the Sarmatians, Szeged 1970.
  • Mayrhofer, M.: Einiges zu den Skythen, ihrer Sprache, ihrem Nachleben. Vienna 2006.
  • Zgusta, L.: Die griechischen Personennamen griechischer Städte der nördlichen Schwarzmeerküste. Die ethnischen Verhältnisse, namentlich das Verhältnis der Skythen und Sarmaten, im Lichte der Namenforschung, Prague 1955.

External links

  • Scythian language A brief overview of the Scythian and Ossetian languages (Spanish)
fa:زبان سکایی
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