Some Data on Publications on Sogdian

By Adam Benkato (Sept. 2020)

I’ve been keeping an updated bibliography of publications on Sogdian language and texts for a while now. It amounts to 624 entries, covering from 1904 (when Sogdian was first deciphered and published) to the beginning of 2020, containing only works that are directly about Sogdian language, linguistics, or manuscripts. It’s more than one might expect for a pretty niche subject like Sogdian, but also certainly less than some related languages like Middle Persian. Bibliographies are useful for, among other things, getting a sense of how a field has grown or developed over time—so here are some rough charts which break down publications on Sogdian over the past century.

We can start with how many publications on Sogdian there have been per year. As we might expect for any field, the rate of publications has increased over the past few decades, with a high of 25 publications appearing in both 2009 and 2017, and a close second of 24 publications in 2013.

We can break down publications on Sogdian by language of publication. Clearly, English (purple) and German (yellow) overwhelmingly predominate:

What about looking about both languages and number of publications per year? We can see that German (in orange below) was the more common language of publication until just before the 1950s, with French (pink) second and only a few English (purple) publications. After that there is more of a mixture, and then English overwhelmingly dominant in recent decades.

Here are two separate graphs for easier viewing. The first has 1904-1950 and the second has 1951-2020.

Let’s look a little bit more at the individual scholars responsible for all these publications. There is quite a disparity in gender of authors, approximately 83% male and 17% female in terms of authors of publications (for co-authored papers, I counted it as female authorship if the first author was female; either way this doesn’t change the stats much at all).

A quick glance through this bibliography in list form, or indeed the works cited part of any specific publication on Sogdian, gives the impression that certain scholars are responsible for a far greater number of publications than others. The five authors with the most total publications are:

  1. Nicholas Sims-Williams (78)
  2. Yutaka Yoshida (70)
  3. Christiane Reck (33)
  4. Werner Sundermann (29)
  5. Zohre Zarshenas (21)

Together, these five account for 37% of all publications on the Sogdian language. That’s a lot. What other fields can you think of where five or fewer people account for more than 1/3 of the total number of all publications? This naturally has implications for what kinds of approaches, methodologies, and institutional perspectives dominate the field. What if we now consider the Sogdian data in terms of scholarly genealogies? We can distinguish a few main groups of teacher–student relations. The first seems to be scholars related to W. B. Henning, who was associated with SOAS and then Berkeley and who taught many of the second-generation Iranists. Other groups are smaller but still significant in terms of publications.

Walter Bruno Henning (d. 1967)
— Martin Schwartz
Ilya Gershevitch (d. 2001) > Nicholas Sims-Williams > Adam Benkato; Yutaka Yoshida > Alisher Begmatov; Enrico Morano

D. Neil Mackenzie (d. 2001) > Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst

Werner Sundermann (d. 2012) > Christiane Reck

Mark Dresden (d. 1986) > Badresaman Gharib (d. 2020) > Zohre Zarshenas

Vladimir Livshits (d. 2017) > Pavel Lurje, Ilya Yakubovich

The Henning-origin group accounts for a total of 205 publications, or 33% of the total. The Berlin group is 62 publications or 10%, the Dresden/Iran group 38 or 6%, and the Russian group 41 publications or 7%. This doesn’t imply any methodological “school”, but is just representative of who studied with who. Of course, this grouping is just one way to examine the relationship of scholarly “lineage” to publications.

Relatedly, we could also look at how many PhDs have been completed on Sogdian. The small number of active scholars working on Sogdian is certainly reflective of the fact that fewer than 10 PhD dissertations have ever been written directly on the language: Ilya Gershevitch (1943)*, Badresaman Gharib (1965), Martin Schwartz (1967)*, David Utz (1976), Nicholas Sims-Williams (1977)*, Pavel Lurje (2004), Chiara Barbati (2009)*, Adam Benkato (2015)*, and most recently Alisher Begmatov (2020). Of these, only the 5 marked with asterisks have been published either partially or in their entirety. A few other dissertations, also referenced in the bibliography, are not solely about the Sogdian language but do devote a fair amount of space to it as part of a larger topic: Dieter Weber (1970), Wilma Heston (1976), and Barakatullo Ashurov (2013)*.

All the above charts are rough estimates, of course, since there might be  a few publications I’m missing in the bibliography, in languages like Russian or Persian, and one could organize items like co-authored publications in different ways. But, I seriously doubt that the overall trends depicted here would change significantly. While Sogdian is probably a somewhat unusual case for research fields in general, in terms of how few active scholars there are and how much a small group scholars have dominated the field, research on the other Middle Iranian languages probably has similar trends. The main exception would be Middle Persian—the field is older and broader in every way (more texts, more scholars in more locations around the world, etc.), and it would be worth exploring the data for Middle Persian on the basis of an exhaustive bibliography.

However, it is worth noting that the one thing that this bibliographic data can’t account for so far is citation practices. Again, a quick glance at any work on Sogdian gives the impression that certain scholars and works are cited quite frequently. If more of those works were properly digitized, and were accessible in online repositories, then citation statistics could be done. We could then get a more precise idea (most scholars of Sogdian already have a strong impression of course) of the scholars and works which are held to be the most important—and if this is because their contents continue to be highly relevant or because they are somewhat outdated but viewed as must-cite works anyways. We would also likely see a much more restricted number of publications getting cited regularly; for example many of the older publications are totally out of date and not cited at all anymore. But, since publications on Middle Iranian in general are not digital, are not properly digitized, and are not stored in any accessible online platforms, this kind of analysis remains difficult to carry out.

The latest version of the Sogdian bibliography is available at this link: BibTex file (can be easily imported to Zotero etc.) or Word doc (for ease of browsing).