|Native to||Kingdom of Khotan, Tumshuq, Murtuq and Qäshqär|
|Region||Tarim Basin (current China)|
|Era||≈200 BCE – ≈1000 CE|
kho – Khotanese
xtq – Tumshuqese
(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. 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. The documents date from the fourth to the eleventh century. Tumshuqese was more archaic than Khotanese, 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. Many Prakrit terms were borrowed from Khotanese into the Tocharian languages.
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. It is evident that many of the Saka have spoken Iranian languages, but is certain that the cultural characteristics are represented by other ethnic and linguistic groups as well. It is not clear whether the Saka-Scythian confederation also consisted of groups who, i.e., didn't spoke an Iranian language.
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. 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 Or.6400/2.3.
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- Litvinsky 1999: 432
- Bailey, H W (1970). "The Ancient Kingdom of Khotan". British Institute of Persian Studies 8: 68.
- Jürgen Paul: Neue Fischer Weltgeschichte. 2012. Volume 10. Zentralasien. Pp.57
- Ronald Emmerick, "Khotanese and Tumshuqese", in Gernot Windfurh, ed., The Iranian Languages, Routledge, 2009
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International Dunhuang Project Bailey, H W (1979) Dictionary of Khotan Saka, Cambridge University Press
- Encyclopædia Iranica "Iranian Languages" http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/central-asia-xiii
- 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)
- Litvinsky, Boris Abramovich; Vorobyova-Desyatovskaya, M.I (1999). "Religions and religious movements". History of civilizations of Central Asia. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 421–448. ISBN 8120815408.
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