Catalogue of Sogdian Writings in Central Asia

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Regular readers of Language Log will not be strangers to Sogdian, an extinct Middle Iranian language (see the list of "Selected readings" below).  The pace of research on Sogdian has picked up greatly in recent decades.  Now, with the publication of Catalogue of Sogdian Writings in Central Asia by International Institute for Central Asian Studies (IICAS) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, we are set for even more intensive studies on Sogdian in the coming years.

From Vito Acosta in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan:

«IICAS carried out inventory activities on Sogdian scriptures found in the territory of Central Asia as the first step for implementation of the regional strategy on multinational nomination of the documentary heritage to the international register of the UNESCO's “Memory of the World” Programme. “Catalogue of Sogdian Writings in Central Asia” covers more than 90 artefacts of documentary heritage found during archaeological excavations in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The inventory card covers the following features: (1) archaeological context (where and under what circumstances the artifact was discovered); (2) physical description of the monument; (3) current storage (where and under what conditions the find is stored); (4) transliteration of a fragment of the Sogdian script; (5) translation of a fragment of the Sogdian script; (6) comments on a fragment of the Sogdian script; (7) bibliography and (8) illustrations. IICAS invited scholars from the following academic institutions and universities for joint collaboration in inventory studies: Samarkand State University, State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Tashkent State University of Oriental Studies, Beruni Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan, Institute of History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanity. The project was implemented under the 2022 ACC-MOWCAP Small Grants Programme.

An electronic version of the book is available at this link


Research on extinct medieval Central Asian Indo-European languages (Khotanese, Sogdian, Tocharian)  had an auspicious beginning during the first three-quarters of the 20th century, but really took off during and after the 80s with the excavation and intensive study of the Tarim Basin mummies, when linguistic evidence could be correlated with hard archeological data, which has been an ongoing theme at Language Log.


Selected readings


  1. martin schwartz said,

    January 5, 2023 @ 3:30 am

    As an insider who was intensely involved in Sogdian (and Khwarezmian) studies in the latter part of the first period mentioned, and have maintained an interest in such since then,
    I can't help but point to assiduous and brilliant work after 1975 on Sogdian and Bactrian by Nicholas Sims-Williams and others, and, following the deaths of Henning, MacKenzie, Gershevitch, Bailey, and Emmerick and Lishits, the continuing work
    of Skjærø , Yoshida, and others, including Russain scholars, on
    the various Central Asian Iranian languages, quite independently
    of the discovery and description of the Tarim Mummies, in which
    Victor Mair clearly deserves kudos.I should add that Prof. Kumamoto, a frequat commentator on LL, was among the important
    scholars of Khotanese. And yes, there has been a continuous independent study of Tocharian by Adams, Pinault, and Peyrot….
    The list goes on…..

  2. Hiroshi Kumamoto said,

    January 5, 2023 @ 6:15 am

    Last year my friend Yoshida published a book called Lectures on Sogdian Grammar (508 pages) in Japanese, based on the teaching materials of his Sogdian classes.

    link to

    I tried to persuade him to publish it in English, or to have it translated into English, but unfortunately he would have none of it.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    January 6, 2023 @ 7:30 pm

    From Hiroshi Kumamoto:


    The book is extremely useful. Exercises with keys, extensive glosssary, appendices for ideograms, calendars, units of measures, and loanwords. Historical introduction as well as grammatical information is up to date as expected.

    He is adamant about his refusal to put it into English. Someone would have to translate it without his blessing.


    This would work, and it would be well worth it for the field.


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