The sound of ancient Iranian languages

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From Hiroshi Kumamoto:

Old Iranian Languages


Old Persian


Middle Persian







The Sound of the Sogdian language (Numbers, Words & Sample Text)

The Sound of the Khwarezmian language (Numbers, Words & Sample Text)

Sound of ANCIENT east iranic (Tajik) languages (Sogdian, Saka Khotanese, Bactrian & Khwārezmian)

EASTERN IRANIC – Short & Compact

The ancient East Iranian languages, including Sogdian, Saka Khotanese, Bactrian, and Khwarezmian, were spoken in various regions of Central Asia and Iran during antiquity. Sogdian was used along the Silk Road and played a vital role in trade and communication. Saka Khotanese was spoken in the Khotan region of present-day China, while Bactrian was used in the ancient region of Bactria, located in parts of modern-day Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Khwarezmian was spoken in the Khwarezm region of Central Asia. These languages are primarily known through inscriptions, manuscripts, and other historical records, offering valuable insights into the cultures and societies of the time.

It is fascinating to hear how these ancient Iranian languages resonate with each other and are echoed in modern Iranian languages.


Selected readings


  1. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    October 27, 2023 @ 4:31 am

    Sogdian numbers are very similar to Greek (ena, dio, tria, tesera, pende, exi, epta, ochto, enea, deka…) and other words like pater, mithyr etc.

    Even before Alexander and his marriage with the Sogdian princess Roxana, Seleucos (who did the same with Apama) and the Greco-Bactrians (a mixture of both), the Branchidae from Miletos in Ionia have been deported there in Sogdiana by Xerxes (486-465 BC) and built a city that they called by the same name. Then their descendants got slaughtered by Alexander though…

    Earlier, Darius I (550-486 BC) had also deported the Greeks of the city of Barca, colony of Arcesilaos II "the Cruel" (560-550 BC) from what is today northern Libya. They already lived among the Sogdians dressing like the Medes and then paying taxes to Xerxes.

    That is maybe why in the language there are so many common words as both communities had mixed earlier.

  2. Michael Watts said,

    October 27, 2023 @ 6:54 am

    Apologies for posting off topic:

    I've been wondering about a claim that appears on wiktionary. The entry for the Japanese word "midori", spelled 緑 or in older form 綠, states that the word is from Old Japanese, originally referred to buds and shoots, and experienced semantic shift into its modern meaning of the color green.

    What bothers me is that the character 綠 is already defined in the shuowen jiezi, which is significantly older than Old Japanese, as referring to a color and not to a plant. So for the Japanese word to be spelled 綠, it seems to me that it must already have lacked reference to plants by the time it was being written down at all.

    So… how do we know that it originally referred to buds and shoots? What kind of evidence might we have for that? If it's true, why wasn't the word spelled 芽?

  3. martin schwartz said,

    October 29, 2023 @ 4:06 am

    The male "Sogdian" reader, because of his own languagae, cannot maked the required difference between v and w, d and ∂. etc. One of the forms for '3'
    which are given misinterprets what is written as ∂ry, which is /šë/, among other infelicities. @ Lucas Christopoulos: Sir, the similarities you note in this very basic vocabulary between Sogdian and Greek are merely due to their both being Indo-European languages.
    As it happens, East Middle Iranian, of which Sogdian is a member, parallel,
    via a purelly indepedent process, , the change of voiced stop to voiced continuants,
    and the voicing of stops after nasals. which is Middle Iranian in general. I don't know what mithyr is.

  4. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    October 29, 2023 @ 4:37 am

    @ Martin
    Yes, I know, they are both IE languages. But I found Sogdian closer to Greek then Old Iranian in many ways.

    There is a very long cultural and inter-mixing history that made both languages closer. It is not only because they are both IE languages, it goes together with art, food, commerce, living together and so on.
    I meant μήτηρ–>māt

    Here modern Greek-Persian:

  5. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    October 29, 2023 @ 4:39 am

    "But I found Sogdian closer to Greek then Old Iranian in many ways"

    I mean of course that Sogdian seem closer to Greek than Old Iranian is.

  6. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    October 29, 2023 @ 7:27 am

    oups… sorry it was this one: Modern Greek-Persian

  7. martin schwartz said,

    October 29, 2023 @ 10:08 pm

    @Lucas: It may be rank to pull rank, but what you say about Sogdian vis-à-vis
    Greek does not tally with my long experience with Sogdian, to which I chiefly devoted the early part of my career as an Iranist. Offhand I can barely think of
    a(n on)handful of Greek loanwords in Sogdian, and these few do not match your categories: Hellenistic /Late Antique words pertaing tp administation (law,-2 words; Caesar) and technology (lamp)…. There is a pleasant culinary item I know from digestive experience, Sogd. yaxnī *"leftovers used as a) stew (Sogd. > Turkic > Ottoman Turk. > Mod. Greek), which is a different matter. THe video's Old Pers.
    numbers woud earn a B- in my Old Pers. class, if the student needed a decent grade-point average for medical school. Recte '3' çayah; '4' *čaTHvara; '6' xšvaš.
    For '7' haftā is right, but this is, I'd say, more like Anc. Greek hepta (Mod. eftá)
    than Sogd. avd. Re the Mod. Gr.-Pers., I pass over Kimon's quaint linguisticinnocence innocence. Quicly, the data break down as follows:
    'root' probably indepednently inherited from Proto-Indo-European, tho with
    phonological problems; 'key' and 'church , MidPerfs. borrowings from
    Late Antique/Byz. 'bone' independently inherited from PIE (Old Iranian has ast-;
    Pers. osto(x)vān with obscure suffix has o–o from a—o vel sim.;'canon' Pers. <
    Arab. < Greek < Semitic 'reed, measuring rod'; 'ocean' Pers. < Arab. < Gr.;
    'sour/pickled food Gr. < Ott. Turk. < Pers.; 'two' < PIE; /flidzani/ < *fildzani
    < Ott. Turk. < Arab. finjān < Cl. Pers. pingān; HPEMO 'secluded, isolated, alone'
    more likely to OIr. arima- 'id' than to Pers. ā-rām, Ir. √ram 'be tranquil'.
    As for gr.: Sogd. 'mother', Old Persian has the -r- in all cases but nom. sg.
    Btw, Tsakonian (Tyrós 1963) has máte, with inner-Greek dial. loss of -r.
    Martin (Schwartz)

  8. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    October 29, 2023 @ 10:31 pm

    @ Martin

    Thank you very much Martin for this long reply and explanation. I am not qualified as you are in Iranian studies of course, but I made several observations while going through my researches. I found "not very few words connected to Greek," in Tocharian and Sogdian (or either with Bactrian). My main reference for what existed already is Sims-Williams for Bactrian or F. W. Thomas (Paremboly-camp in Niya Παρεμβολή 1936) etc.

    Here below from Sogdian Language-Brill: (

    "Greek loanwords are not few, but their immediate origins are obscure: δyδym “diadem,” nwm “law,” M qpyδ “shop” (Sims-Williams, 1996a, p. 51, n. 39); δrxm- “drachma” is from Greek, but δynʾr “dinar” from Latin. Foreign elements are Sanskrit forms in Buddhist texts (Provasi, 2013), Western Middle Iranian lexical items in Manichean texts, and Syriac words in Christian texts. (On the Syriac elements, see Sims-Williams, 1988.) The foreign elements are quite numerous in translations, and their number seems to depend on the scholarship of each translator. "

  9. martin schwartz said,

    October 29, 2023 @ 10:35 pm

    @Lucas: p.s. What do you have to say, please, about Kimon's remark on the pronunciation of Gr.'milk' in Thessaloniki? I don't recall hearing a difference, there or among Salonicans I've known,
    from how it's pronounced in Athens.
    Martin (Schwartz)

  10. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    October 29, 2023 @ 10:42 pm

    @Martin. Kimon is over playing it a bit. There is a little accent difference, but for me, in terms of food, the μπουγάτσα (pānis focācius) is much better in Thessaloniki than in Athens.

  11. martin schwartz said,

    October 30, 2023 @ 12:58 am

    @Lucas: Thanks for the refresher on Gr LWW in Sogdian.
    The "diadem' word occurs in other Middle Iranian languages, e.g. MPers.
    spelled dyhym.; similarly the "drachma" word. Sogd. nwm < nómos
    had important results in Turkic Central Asia, whence it developed a metaphysical sense. Another Sogd. word for 'a law'. The Gr word also came into Syriac , spelled nmws'. p∂k'(and a similar word in Ossetic) is supposedly from Gr pittákion; maybe. I knew qpy∂, but not its Gr origin, which I suppose is kápēlos vel sim. The delta for *L is also found in ∂mtyr 'lamp'.
    Both may have come into Sogdian from Bactrian, but that's part of a bigger problem. Given e.g. Greek theaters and philosopers and divinities in Bactria, and the adaptation there of the Greek alphabet and many other indications of how deeply Hellenism took root in Bactria, I would expect more LWW there than in Sogdian. No doubt (panis) focacia gives the Greek (which I may not have eaten in my youthful week in Thessaloniki), but the phonological history seems problematic; Byz. has po-. The Mod Gr word has a Venetian fragrance, but
    that may be coincidental. I'm too busy/lazy to check my Babiniotis, which is occasionally helpful. APKETA! XAIPETE. Martin

  12. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    October 30, 2023 @ 1:03 am

    χαῖρε Martin et merci!

  13. martin schwartz said,

    October 30, 2023 @ 1:11 am

    p.s. Greek ∂ > Bactrian lambda.Problematically, the Sogd. alphabet uses
    *Aram.L for Sogdian ∂, but thta's again part of a problem. For 'shop' Sogdian also
    writes tym; < Chinese.

  14. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    October 31, 2023 @ 2:44 am

    Indeed, the Sogdian-Greek mixture came historically at the time of Kharosthi, before the development of Bactrian.

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