CHORASMIA iii. The Chorasmian Language



iii. The Chorasmian Language

Chorasmian, the original Iranian language of Chorasmia, is attested at two stages of its development. Old Chorasmian was written in an indigenous script descended from the Aramaic, brought to the region by the administration of the Achaemenid empire and characterized by heter­ography, that is, the occasional writing of Aramaic words to represent the corresponding Chorasmian. It is known earliest from coin inscriptions and documents on wood and parchment from about the end of the 2nd century c.e. and latest from inscriptions on some silver vessels but mainly from ossuary inscriptions of the late 7th century. The paucity of this material, however, and its fragmentary nature do not allow an analysis of the language. Late Chorasmian, written in a modified Arabic script, is attested from the 5th/11th to the 8th/14th centuries, by which time the language was evidently well on the way to disuse, having been superseded by Turkish. The earliest examples have been left by the great Chorasmian scholar Abū Rayḥān Bīrūnī. In his works on chronology and astronomy (ca. 390-418/1000-28) he recorded such calendrical and astronomical terms as some of the tradi­tional names of days, months, feasts, and signs of the zodiac. By far the greater part of the Chorasmian vocabu­lary preserved for us is to be found in the form of interlinear glosses throughout a single manuscript (of ca. 596/1200) of the celebrated Arabic dictionary Moqaddemat al-adab by another native Chorasmian, Zamaḵšarī. Some other manuscripts of the same work contain but a few such glosses. In contrast to these monotonous dictionary entries, the only Chorasmian texts having any life are the 400 odd whole or partial sentences quoted, to illustrate case law, in a series of Arabic law books emanating from Chorasmia: the Yatīmat al-dahr by ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Tarjomānī (d. 655/1257), the Monyat al-foqahāʾ by Faḵr-al-Dīn Qobaznī, and an augmented résumé of the latter, the Qonyat al-monya, by Moḵtār Zāhedī Ḡazmīnī (d. 658/1260). The Chorasmian content of the two latter works was gathered into a compendium by Jamāl-al-Dīn ʿEmādī in ca. 755/1354. Whereas the dictionary material is unvoweled, and to some extent even unpointed, that in the different manuscripts of the law books, though often badly corrupted by scribes ignorant of Cborasmian, is frequently voweled, often unreliably. In general, there­fore, it is possible to represent the language only in unvocalized transliteration.

Orthography and phonology. Apart from the Arabic emphatics , , ż, , and the postvelars q, , ʿ, the pronunciation of which is unknown, it can be assumed that Chorasmian had the following consonant phonemes: p, t, c (= ts), k; f, θ (= ), č, x; b, d, j (= dz), g; β (= ), δ (= ), ǰ, γ (= ); m, n; s, š, z, `; r, l; w, y. Beside the normal Persian additions to the Arabic alphabet, β was written as a three-­pointed f. The θ and δ coincided with the Arabic letters and respectively. The j was not distinguished in writing from c, both being written with three dots above the letter (as formerly in Pashto). The g was only very excep­tionally distinguished from k. The letter n was especially labile, often being omitted in final position after a long vowel, e.g., δyn or ’y “woman,” and elsewhere alternating with y, suggesting its reduction to a nasalized i, e.g., βndk or βydk [*βidik] “servant.” The sign šadda (here, overlining), aside from its normal marking of geminate consonants, as in ḥaqˊ “right,” evidently had another function, possibly of marking a preceding stress, in such words as byzˊʾr (Pers. bīzār) “free,” ʾxsˊd = ʾxzd [*uxuzda] “600.” The letters w and y, beside representing the semi­vowels, the long vowels ū/ō, ī/ē, and possibly the diphthongs aw, ay, were occasionally also written for short *u, i, e.g., tymˊwm for Aram. tymˊm, ʾwzʾc [*uzāci] “he should go out” < *uzyāti. A special application was in the pecu­liarity, unique to Chorasmian among Iranian languages, of distinguishing pause spellings of words, generally when they occurred at the ends of sentences. Then a short vowel preceding the last consonant would be written y thus mkd [*makida] “he did” became mkyd, βndk became βndyk, kb [*kaba] “fish” became kyb. The short vowels a, i, mainly unwritten in final position, were represented by the matres lectionis ʾ, y when followed by suffixes, e.g., in pause γwnyc [*γōnici] “hair” but γwncyh [*γōnici-hi] “his hair”; kʾnbʾwydʾh [*kāmbāwīda-hi] “he lessened it,” but kʾnbʾwydʾhyc [-hi-ca] “he lessened (it) from him.”

The historical phonology exhibits some Eastern Iranian features. Old Iranian b, d, g became β, , γ in both initial and postvocalic positions, for example, βʾγk “garden” < *bāgaka-, δyn “religion” < dainā-, (ʾ)γδ “wound” < *gadā-. The δ was sometimes replaced by θ, however, as

in θ- “with” < hada, nyθ- “to sit, become” < *nihida-, mθx “locust” < ma’axa-. Corresponding to Western Iranian ft, xt the voiced groups βd, γd occur, e.g., ʾβd “seven,” ’γd “daughter,” but also the voiceless, e.g., kftk “split,” rxtk “red.” Old Iranian č generally became c, e.g., cm “eye” < čašman-, c- “from” < hačā, probably voiced in pnc “five” < paṇča, whereas ǰ and ž became z, e.g., zyw- “to live” < ǰīwa-, wzn- “to kill” < awaǰana-, yyz “snake” < aži-. There are many examples of differing developments of certain sounds, suggesting either a mixture of dialects or the adoption of loanwords from several neighboring languages. For example, θr appears as š in šy “three” (as in Sogdian) and in ʾwš “shoe” < *auθrā-, as hr in hr’s “thirteen” (as in Parthian), but otherwise as r in ʾrcyʾdk “third” < *θritiya-yāta-, pr “son” < puθra-, etc.; fr became š in šmʾh- “to command” < *framāya-, etc., r in rxyz- “to arise, occur” < *frahaiza-, etc., f- in (ʾ)fy “dear” < friya-, etc., but was retained in frwf “flea” < *fruša-, wfrk “snow” < *wafraka-, etc. The notably different developments of š, however, are rather due to the replacement of a lost `, e.g., xnw- “to sneeze” < *x(š)nauša-, but mwf “mouse,” γwx “ear,” spʾh “louse” (Pers. mūš, gūš, šepeš-), etc. Palatal­ization, even at a distance, had a considerable effect on consonant development. Whereas -t- was normally voiced, as in ʾdr “fire,” etc. (or occasionally preserved, as in kʾt “game”), it was palatalized to c, e.g., cyγ “blade,” Pers. tīḡ, cy- “to enter” < *ati-iya-, ’βcy “second” < dwitiya-; d became z, instead of unpalatalized , e.g., zyw “mad” < daiwya-, zrzy “heart” < zṛdaya-; š was kept voiceless and sibilant, as -s-, in ṇγws- “to hear” < nigaušaya-, ʾws “sense, understanding” < uši-, etc. An r context had a palatalizing effect on sibilants, e.g., in ʾnbš- “to ask” < *ham-pṛsa-, βžk “long” < *bṛzaka-, ʾ`nd “worthy” < *arǰant-, and also on t, e.g., čfk “sour” < *tṛfšaka-, and *c < ti, e.g. čγr “sharp” < tigra-. The development of other consonant groups is far too varied to allow the estab­lishment of general patterns.

Morphology. In the Chorasmian nominal declension two numbers, singular and plural; two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine; and as many as six cases are distinguished. As the distinctions are mainly marked by final short vowels, however, they make an appearance only in the few voweled texts and otherwise when a suffix is attached to the word. Then the matres lectionis betray their presence. Chorasmian (like Digoron Ossetic) has a definite article inherited from the Old Iranian relative pronoun stem ya-; it has the forms singular masculine ʾy and feminine , plural -ʾy for both genders, which are reduced to -y and -ʾ when coalescing with prepositions. Masculine nouns and adjectives have the following inflections in the singular: nominative-accusative -Ø (no ending), vocative -a, possessive -ʾn, dative -(i), ablative and locative -a. In the feminine declension, with nomi­native and locative ending in -a, the other cases end in -iya in the singular or, with words ending in -ka, -ca. The plural morphemes are -ina or -i, possessive -nʾn. In masculine words ending in -k it changes to -ci in the plural and in feminine words to -cya. The dative, as well as a definite direct object, may be marked by the postposition δʾr (< rādi, Pers. ). The ablative is used with the prepositions c- ­“from,” f- “with,” pc- “after,” - “after” and “near, be­fore,” and wsn “for, because of,” and the locative with f- “in,” p- “for, at” and pr “on.” Examples: masc. sing. nom. ʾy ‘wm-h [*’um-hi] “its tail,” nom. = acc. ʾy kʾm-h [*kām­-hi] “his mouth,” voc. ʾbʾb [a bāba] “O father,” poss. ʾy γwnc ʾy ‘wmʾn “the hair of the tail,” dat. ʾy nʾnʾmδʾr [nānāmi ‘āra] “for so-and-so,” ʾy bʾbd δʾr [*bāb(i)-di ‘āra], abl. cy kʾmʾ-­h “from his mouth,” loc. fy kʾmʾ-h “in his mouth,” fem. sing. nom. -yʾksncʾ`yk “the thick (ksnk) beard,” yʾcmʾ-­h “his eye (cm),” yʾrkʾ-h “his work (ʾrk),” poss. ʾy spydk yʾ cmyʾ-h “the white of his eye,” dat. yʾ cmyʾ-h δʾr “his eye,” yʾrc δʾr “for the work,” abl. cʾ cmyʾ-h “from his eye,” loc. fʾ bckʾ-h “in the palm (bck) of his hand”; plur. masc. nom. ʾyfsγdy-mhʾwǰrn “my true (fsγd) friends (hʾwǰr),” zncǰʾnwrn “small (znk) animals, insects,” abl. cy ʿyʾln “from his family-members,” fy βndcy-h “with His servants (βndk),” loc. f-ktnʾ-h “on his actions (ʾkt)”; fem. nom. ʾy cmnʾ-h “his eyes,” βžcy ʾsčn “long (βžk) spears (ʾšc),” poss. *ʾy bfnynk ʾy *βwmnʾn “the Creator of the earths (βwm)”, abl. cy ʾyx ­myncyʾ-h cwb “from her iced (-mynk) water” (collective plur.). All prepositions are repeated with both parts of a possessive phrase, e.g., cy bʾ’ys cy ʾllhʾn “from the com­mand of Allah,” fy pcwγcc fy kʾmʾn “in the corners of the mouth.” The personal pronouns ʾʾz, nʾz “I,” ʾ(w)tk “thou,” mβy “we,” ḥβy “you” are also highly inflected, e.g., twʾr δʾr “for thee,” b-twʾ-c “without thee,” and in enclitic form - “thee,” -fʾn-bš “with thee,” c-fyk “from, than thee (in pause),” -di “to thee, thy.” The demonstratives ny(n), nʾw, nyš “this,” nʾn, nʾwr “that, he, she” share the oblique enclitic forms -h(y) “him, her, it,” -(hy)n(ʾ) “them” only.

The verbal system distinguishes, by means of different stems and personal endings, the following moods and tenses: imperative; present indicative and subjunctive, in both simple and permansive forms; injunctive; imperfect indicative; optative; perfect and pluperfect. Futures and conditionals are formed by means of the suffixes -kʾm and -mnc- with the present and imperfect forms respectively. In the formation of the imperfect from the present stem Chorasmian, like the neighboring Sogdian, has general­ized special forms of the old augment. On the analogy of verbs formed with preverbs, like b- < apa-, api-, β- < abi-, pc- < pati-, š- < fra-, nearly all polysyllabic verbs with initial consonant substitute -ā- for the vowel of the first syllable, e.g., bγws “be silent!” : bʾγwsyd “he was silent,” pcmcʾ “I should put on” : pʾcmcd “he put on,” škšyx “if you should look” : šʾkšt “he looked,” but also kʾnbʾwydʾ-h “he diminished it,” denominative from knb “little.” Verbs with initial vowel, original or prothetic, generally prefix m- to this, e.g., ʾs-kʾm “you will come” : mʾsd “he came,” ʾkcʾ “he makes” : mkd “he made.” Compound tenses, formed with the auxiliary δʾry- “have,” are only very sparsely attested, e.g., ʾydk (past participle of ʾy- “go”) δʾryd “she had gone.” A potential is also similarly formed with ʾk- as auxiliary, e.g. n-yt-kyc “he would not be able to take” (ʾyt participle of ʾs- “take”). Notable among the personal endings are the third person plural forms in -r (pres. -āri, imperf. -āra, opt. -yr) and the permansives marked by suffixation to the simple forms, e.g., pres. indic. sing. 1 -ʾm, 2 -Ø, 3 -c, plur. 1 -mn, 2 -f, 3 -ʾr : perm. sing. 1 -ʾmyn, 2 -y(n), 3 -cʾ(nw), plur. 1 -ʾmny, 2 *-fy, 3 -ʾry(n).

The most noticeable syntactic feature to be observed in the comparatively simple sentences recorded is that of anticipation. Pronominal objects of verb or preposition are expressed by an enclitic pronoun attached either to a word preceding the verb or to the verb itself, whereby more enclitics than one appear in a fixed order of prece­dence, e.g., ʾ-mʾpʾsndyx “did you approve of me,” ʾʾzfʾ-ms pʾcrʾzn “I too (have) accepted thee,” pr xrk nʾwʾzyd “he led them to pasture,” tʾxt hynʾ-br mkyd “he made an attack on them,” γyrydʾ-hy-nʾ-br “he surrounded him with them” (lit. “caused to go round-him-them-on”). When the object is expressed by a noun following the verb, this anticipa­tory pronominal appearance must be maintained, e.g., mγwʾrydʾ-hy-nʾ-br ʾy ‘mn “he rejoiced (-it-them-on) the enemy (plur.) thereby.” Prepositional phrases may also be expressed by anticipatory enclitics, as in pʾrytʾ-nʾ-c ʾy cwb cʾ βwmy “he extracted (-them-there from) the water (plur.) from the earth,” mxwʾsdʾ-nʾ-w fy rzk ʾy cwb “he let (-them-therein) the water into the vineyard.” Other, verbal particles may further complicate the pattern of enclitics, e.g., -- in hy’dʾ-hy-nʾ-dʾ-br ʾy slʾm “he recited the greetings before him” (lit. “read-him-them-off-upon”).



J. Benzing, Das chwaresmische Sprachmaterial einer Handschrift der “Muqaddimat al-adab” von Zamaxšarī, Wiesbaden, 1968 (with full bibliography to date).

Idem, Chwaresmischer Wortindex, ed. Z. Taraf, Wiesbaden, 1983 (with full additional bibliography to date).

W. B. Henning, “The Khwarezmian Language,” in Zeki Velidi Togan’a armağan, Istanbul, 1951 (1955), pp. 421-36.

Idem, “The Structure of the Khwarezmian Verb,” Asia Major, N.S. 5, 1955, pp. 43-49.

Idem, “The Choresmian Documents,” Asia Major, N.S. 11, 1965, pp. 166-79.

Idem, A Fragment of a Khwarezmian Dictionary, ed. D. N. MacKenzie, London, 1971.

H. Humbach, “Choresmian,” in R. Schmitt, ed., Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum, Wiesbaden, 1989, pp. **.

V. A. Livshits, “Dokumenty” (Documents), in Yu. A. Rapoport and E. E. Nerazik, eds., Toprak-kala. Dvorets, (Toprak-kala. The palace), Trudy Khorezmskoĭ arkheologo-ètnograficheskoĭ èkspeditsii 14, Moscow 1984, chap. 6.

D. N. MacKenzie, Review of Benzing, 1968, in BSOAS 33, 1970, pp. 540-59; 34, 1971, pp. 74-90, 314-30, 521-­37; 35, 1972, pp. 56-73.

Idem, “Khwarezmian Imper­fect Stems,” in Mélanges linguistiques offerts à Émile Benveniste, Louvain, 1975, pp. 389-95.

Idem, The Khwarezmian Element in the Qunyat al-munya, Lon­don, 1990. M. Samadi, Das chwaresmische Verbum, Wiesbaden, 1986 (review D. N. MacKenzie, in JRAS, 1988, pp. 197-99; review N. Sims-Williams, “New Studies on the Verbal System of Old and Middle Ira­nian,” BSOAS 52/2, 1989, pp. 255-64).

Z. V. Togan, Documents on Khorezmian Culture, pt. 1. Muqaddimat al-adab, with the Translation in Khorezmian, Istanbul, 1951.

(D. N. MacKenzie)

Originally Published: December 15, 1991

Last Updated: October 18, 2011

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