Kadesh Peace Treaty - 1269 BCE made between Hittite King Hattusilis III and Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II, written in Akkadian Language - 1st Archeological Museum, Istanbul
Above photo by G. Brundage
A short introduction to Contemporary Silk Road languages Just a few of the Languages currently in use along the Silk Roads: Arabic, Azeri, Bengali, Chinese, Dari, English, Farsi, Georgian, Gujarati, Hindi, Kashmiri, Kazakh, Kyrghyz, Mongolian, Pashto, Persian, Punjabi, Putonghua (Mandarin Chinese), Russian, Sindhi, Saraiki, Tajik, Tamil, Tibetan, Turkish, Uighur, Urdu, Uzbek, Yakut and more than a thousand others.
I typed into a search engine: “How many languages are spoken in India?” and found:
The 2001 Census recorded 30 languages which were spoken by more than a million native speakers and 122 which were spoken by more than 10,000 people. The Constitution recognizes 22 languages in addition to English, which is also an official language. https://www.quora.com/How-many-languages-are-spoken-in-India
So, 122 languages for India. I searched for “How many languages are spoken in China?” and found 299 though many or most may be dialects of other major languages. That’s 421 languages in two countries.
Unquestionably thousands of other languages existed along the Silk Roads, most of which are lost though derivative and cousin/nephew languages probably survive in most cases.
Russian and English along the Silk Roads West of China and north of the Himalayas, all the way to Iran, with the exception of Pakistan, Russian is the lingua franca, though many especially younger people speak at least some English. Traveling the Silk Roads during the past years I met many 2nd and 3rd generation Russian descent people living in Central Asia. Though many western “arm-chair” political analysts and historians tend to denigrate Russian influence in the region, in fact most indigenous Central Asians seemed to get along quite well with the 2nd and 3rd generation Russian immigrants who in some cases seemed to have dual citizenship. It wasn’t Russia that cut off Central Asia from the world some 500 years ago, but rather it was the littoral (coastal) states to the east and west. What development the Central Asian states have is primarily from Russian/Soviet influence, including, roads, hospitals, schools, subways (however antiquated) and so on. On the other hand, American industry has had some influence in some Central Asian countries, e.g. Uzbekistan has some American car factories, and Azerbaijan has some oil companies. But, for the most part, most of Central Asia is still economically underdeveloped even if they have natural resources and archeological ruins in their backyards, and Russian probably is the most useful language in the region. Also, they have clean air and time to watch clouds and play with their kids.
What languages does a traveler along the Silk Roads really need? Turkic, Persian/Farsi & Arabic, Hindi, Russian, English and Putonghua Chinese mainly. I got along fine traveling more than 13,000 km on the ground along the Silk Roads the past few years using just English, though a couple of times Spanish proved useful. Never did I need my Chinese except in China or Korean (except when I visited a Buddhist monastery in Tashkent). My tiny vocabulary in Arabic helped more than a few times though.
"To date, records of 28 different languages have been discovered in the Tarim Basin..." (around Turpan) "The Iranian language called Sogdian was probably used as a common language by different cultures trading on the Silk Road. While dozens of languages were found in the Tarim Basin, the most common were Khotanese (koh-tah-NEES), Tocharian (toh-KAIR-ee-an), Sogdian, and Chinese. Many of the languages were also known in other regions of the world, but Tocharian was unique to the area, indicating that it was perhaps a native language. While questions remain over the identities of the inhabitants of this region, the written records they left behind provide clues to the many languages that were used and possibly spoken there. https://www.penn.museum/silkroad/exhibit_daily_life.php
The first researcher of the Manichaean texts kept in the Asiatic Museum was it director (from 1890 to 1916) Academician Carl Germanovich Salemann (1849–1916). From the beginning of the 20th century up to his demise, he studied the Manichaean texts from Eastern Turkestan in the Middle Iranian languages: Middle Persian, Parthian and Sogdian. The collection of the Asiatic Museum (IOM RAS) included a considerable number of fragments of Manichaean texts in those languages, as well as in Chinese and Uighur... http://en.unesco.org/silkroad/themes/languages?page=1
Sogdian Manichaean Creditor Letter 9th - 13th c
Silk Road Ancient Languages College and University Programs
Note: Below is a very short and incomplete list. Yet, It’s a start. Visitors to Silk Road Virtual University are welcome to contribute to this (and any) page to make it more complete. Please write to: email@example.com
Learn Ancient Silk Road Languages (Mostly online resources, mostly free)
Ancient Greek & Hebrew
Indo-European Family of Languages (Link to map)
Iranian (Old & Middle)
Sumerian (South Mesopotamia)
Tocharian – Once spoken in Northwest China, Xinjiang region
College/University Ancient Silk Road Language Programs
Tartaric Asia, Janonius 1562, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan Photo by G. Brundage
MAJOR MULTI-FACETED RESOURCES Palaeolexicon is a tool for the study of ancient languages. Its name derives from the Greek words palaeo meaning 'old' and lexicon meaning 'dictionary'. If you're interested of the ancient world and its languages, then this is a site for you. It is a place for people who love historical linguistics and ancient history. http://www.palaeolexicon.com/Languages/Index
Absolutely mind-boggling (free) link list to Mesopotamian languages and literature: http://www.sumerian.org/sumlinks.htm (lexicon, articles, books, lectures, DVDs, CDs and a lot more)
Oxford University Language Center: Ancient Languages (resources) http://www.lang.ox.ac.uk/ancient-languages#collapse1-0 To date, records of 28 different languages have been discovered (just in) in the Tarim Basin (northwest China). The Tarim Basin was a multi-cultural area, even before the height of the Silk Road. So it is likely that residents would have known and used several languages. The Iranian language called Sogdian was probably used as a common language by different cultures trading on the Silk Road. While dozens of languages were found in the Tarim Basin, the most common were Khotanese (koh-tah-NEES), Tocharian (toh-KAIR-ee-an), Sogdian, and Chinese. Many of the languages were also known in other regions of the world, but Tocharian was unique to the area, indicating that it was perhaps a native language. While questions remain over the identities of the inhabitants of this region, the written records they left behind provide clues to the many languages that were used and possibly spoken there. https://www.penn.museum/silkroad/exhibit_daily_life.php University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology An interesting ancient language map can also be found on: https://www.scribblemaps.com/maps/view/Silk_Road_languages/BA8vinWzhn
Galatian Galatian is an extinct Celtic language once spoken by the Galatians in Galatia mainly in north central lands of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) from the 3rd century BC up to at least the 4th century AD. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galatian_language
Hebrew - http://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/home
Hittite (An Assyrian language, also see Anatolian above) Hittite is the oldest recorded Indo-European language, but it had remained completely unknown during the period in which Indo-European linguistics developed because its records are on clay tablets that were excavated only at the end of the 19th century. Even then, it was not identified as Indo-European until 1915, when Bedřich Hrozný made the discovery through his reading of tablets that had been brought to Vienna from the Istanbul Museum. https://lrc.la.utexas.edu/eieol/hitol Hittite lexicon/dictionary: http://www.assyrianlanguages.org/hittite/en_lexique_hittite.htm
Iranian (Old & Middle) The term Avesta -- from the Pahlavi, or Middle Persian, avestak -- is used to denote the sacred literature of the early Iranian people, which preserves the earliest collections of an Iranian language. Though its meaning is uncertain, it is likely that the term refers to either the collected texts themselves or to the sacred knowledge contained in them. The language is preserved in two dialect forms denoted as 'Old' and 'Young(er)' Avestan. It is likely, however, that there is an overlap in time between the latest Old Avestan and the earliest Young Avestan since they share certain features. It may then be assumed that the two dialects were spoken in distinct regions by independent tribes or clans. https://lrc.la.utexas.edu/eieol/aveolhttps://lrc.la.utexas.edu/eieol_master_gloss/aveol/22
Phoenician The Phoenician alphabet developed from the Proto-Canaanite alphabet, during the 15th century BC. Before then the Phoenicians wrote with a cuneiform script. The earliest known inscriptions in the Phoenician alphabet come from Byblos and date back to 1000 BC. The Phoenician alphabet was perhaps the first alphabetic script to be widely-used - the Phoenicians traded around the Mediterranean and beyond, and set up cities and colonies in parts of southern Europe and North Africa - and the origins of most alphabetic writing systems can be traced back to the Phoenician alphabet, including Greek, Etruscan, Latin, Arabic and Hebrew, as well as the scripts of India and East Asia. http://www.omniglot.com/writing/phoenician.htm http://www.ancientscripts.com/phoenician.html
COLLEGE/UNIVERSITY ANCIENT LANGUAGE PROGRAMS There are many programs teaching ancient Latin and Greek. It was difficult to find programs in other Silk Road ancient languages. There’s a good probability that ancient languages can be learned in history and archeology departments as well. In the near future I will be writing to many asking about this, as the paucity of ancient language university programs I was able to easily find was/is somewhat surprising to me. Germany:https://www.berliner-antike-kolleg.org/-/silk-road
USA University of Washington Founded in 1949, the Turkic and Central Eurasian Studies Program at the University of Washington is one of the oldest and most distinguished programs in the United States. It is one of the only in the country that offers a complete program of Turkic and Central Eurasian studies including courses in Turkic languages, culture, history, literature, and area studies. There are currently more than eighteen UW faculty members from eight academic departments and three professional schools who participate in the Turkic and Central Eurasian Studies Program. At the core of the Program is language learning. It offers courses at all language levels (elementary, intermediate, and advanced) in Uzbek, Kazak, Kirgiz, and Uygur. Proficiency in reading Old Turkic, Middle Turkic, and Chagatay is also possible. Moreover, the availability of Arabic, Persian, Ottoman and modern Turkish within the department contributes to the strength of the Program. The Turkic and Central Eurasian Studies Program serves undergraduate and graduate students by offering opportunities to pursue an interdisciplinary training in Central Eurasian Studies in such fields as history, international relations, anthropology, and political sciences as well as in Slavic, Near Eastern, and East Asian languages and cultures. https://nelc.washington.edu/programs/turkic Cornell University Each year, the department offers language instruction in the four main languages of the Near East/Middle East: Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Turkish as well as ancient and other less commonly taught languages, such as Sumerian, Akkadian and Ugaritic. http://neareasternstudies.cornell.edu/languages Harvard University - The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC) encompasses the study of ancient and modern peoples, languages, literatures, cultures, and societies of the Near and Middle East. Languages include Akkadian, Arabic, Aramaic, Armenian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Hebrew, Iranian, Persian, Sumerian, Turkish, and Yiddish. https://gsas.harvard.edu/programs-of-study/all/near-eastern-languages-and-civilizations Princeton University - Ancient Studies majors study Latin or Greek; they may also do work in another ancient language, such as Egyptian, Coptic, Biblical Hebrew, Syriac, or Targumic Aramaic. https://www.princetonreview.com/college-majors/22/ancient-studies
Quran in four scripts, Museum of Islamic Art, Doha Qatar, Photo by G. Brundage
Quran Bihari Script Circa 1500 Museum of Islamic Art, Doha Qatar, Photo by G. Brundage
Quran in Kufic Script Qatar, Museum of Islamic Art, Doha Qatar, Photo by G. Brundage
Quran in Reyhani Script, Museum of Islamic Art, Doha Qatar, Photo by G. Brundage
Quran Maghribi Style late 12th early 13th c. Museum of Islamic Art, Doha Qatar, Photo by G. Brundage