Frame 4c. Contact induced language change

Contact induced language change in urban centers along the Silk Road: The case of the Tocharian converbs

(Aims 1 and 3)

Participants: Doc. Christine Schäfer, Prof. Éva Csató Johanson, Prof. Jan Olof Rosenqvist

Study Field: Overland long-distance trade and intellectual exchange between large population centres characterize the 1st millennium CE in our study area. The Silk Road is a case in point and its oasis cities have archived thousands of manuscript. This material attests to the deep-rooted cultural, religious and linguistic diversity of these urban centres and to the complex, merged and balanced character of their subsistence, ideology and literacy. Among several religions flourishing in these centres, Buddhism plays a crucial part spreading with speakers of Tocharian from Northern India attracting and uniting various population groups, e.g. in the city of Turfan. When Tocharian is introduced into this urban linguistic ecology, the reaction is an intriguing example of the capacity of the Urban Mind: a language showing all the Indo-European morphological elements adapts the architecture of its verbal categories and some syntactic features from decidedly non-Indo-European languages.

Activities: Text analysis in Berlin and London using the Turfan and Hoernle collections

Deliverables: A case study analysing contact induced language change in urban centres along the Silk Road.

Future perspective: Further analysis of the Urban Mind in the oasis city exploring this form of urbanism as a model of wasteland, and future wasteland, urbanism.

Intellectual background – previous research
The economic and cultural development of the Silk Road(s) happened in urban settings such as the cities of Kucha and Turfan on the northern, and Khotan and Niya/Kroraina on the southern route. The cultural richness and religious, ethnic and linguistic diversity of these urban centers is vividly attested by objects of art, mural paintings and thousands of manuscripts written in more than twenty different languages and about as many different scripts.

Among the religions flourishing in the area, Buddhism plays a crucial part in that it seems to have been one of the factors attracting and uniting the various peoples in the urban centres, creating a multiethnical and multilingual situation comparable to that of Constantinople. Among the many languages attested we find Chinese, Tibetan, Sanskrit, Middle Indian and Middle Iranian varieties but also Turkic Uyghur and lesser known languages like Tocharian, an Indo-European language documented in two varieties with texts dating mostly from the 6th to the 8th century AD.

The rich activity of crosscultural exchange reflected in the mural paintings in Buddhist grottoes can also be seen in the vast variety of texts translated and manuscripts annotated with glosses in the different languages.Last but not least it can be seen in the impact it had on individual languages, which changed dramatically within the multilingual setting of the urban centres.

The Tocharian verbal system can serve as a case study for this situation: with the morphological elements inherited from Indo-European, both the architecture of the verbal categories as well as important syntactic features point to a system highly influenced by non-Indo-European varieties.

While there are studies on language contact phenomena of the Tocharian lexicon, no research has been done so far on the language contact induced structural changes of the highly complex verbal system and syntax.


Methods and data
Linguistic, philological, comparative methodologies applied on published and unpublished manuscripts mainly from the Berlin Turfan Collection (Staatsbibibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz), the London Collections (British Library), as well as published texts from the collections in Paris, St. Petersburg and Urumqi.


Expected results
A chapter (ca. 30 pages) to be included in the book The Urban Mind. Cultural and Environmental Dynamics. For the content of the chapter see above.