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Tocharian 100 Years after its Decipherment

A Center for Buddhist Studies Numata Colloquium Series lecture by Professor Melanie Malzahn (University of Vienna)

Friday, November 13, 2009
3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
243 Royce Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Among the extinct languages merely known by manuscripts discovered along the Silk Road, the two languages Tocharian A and Tocharian B together constitute one of the twelve branches of Indo-European. Deciphered in 1908 by the German Indologists Emil Sieg and Wilhelm Siegling, until very recently the main bulk of Tocharian texts scattered through European collections were known just to a few specialists. Tocharian A and B were closely related, but seem not to have been mutually understandable. Apart from literary texts exclusively related to and based on Buddhist literature, we also have documents of profane nature such as letters and monastery records. In the last years much effort has been made in publishing texts leading to a better understanding of the languages themselves, esp. with regard to their internal stratification. In this respect, both languages differ significantly. Tocharian A texts, which have only been found in the Turfan Oasis and around Shorchuk/Yanqi but not further west, display a very uniform linguistic character (with very few exceptions), and the manuscripts in general seem to be younger than those of Tocharian B. Tocharian B, on the other hand, is found over a far wider range of find spots, esp. around Kucha, displays an internal chronology of at least 400 years (from 5. cent. AD to 8. cent. AD), and is also sociolinguistically diversified. The apparent transfer of literacy from Kucha to the east together with the diachronic and socio-dialectal diversification of Tocharian B and the mutual linguistic influence between Tocharian A and B offers some insight into the but rarely known Tocharian society in the 1. millennium AD.


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Cost : Free and open to the public

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