From Avestan to Armenian

Jouravel, Anna & Audrey Mathys (eds.). 2021. Wort- und Formenvielfalt. Festschrift fur Christoph Koch zum 80. Geburtstag (Studies on Language and Culture in Central and Eastern Europe 37). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

This Festschrift in honour of Christoph Koch, Professor of Comparative and Indo-Germanic Linguistics at the Free University of Berlin on the occation of his 80th birthday, contains some contributions relevant for Iranian Studies:

After an exhaustive analysis of the attestation of the Avestan letter ń in the Iranian manuscripts of the Long Liturgy, it is concluded that this letter appears only before , but not before i or e with the exception of the group °niuuV, where ń is also regular. Concerning the use of the epenthesis or not, it is concluded that the epenthesis is regular before ń, except when ń appears after initial a (e.g. ańiia– vs. maińiiu– ). The comparison of ainīm to ańiiō and rest of the forms of the paradigm leads us to the conclusion that two successive waves of epenthesis have to be assumed: the first one affected only syllables before and was prior to the transformation of n > ń. The second one affected the syllables before i or final e and is posterior to the evolution n > ń.

  • Durkin-Meisterernst, Desmond: “Does a two-dimensional system fit into a one-dimensional system? Considering the Armenian alphabet.”

This article describes how the Armenian alphabet combined the Syriac/Aramaic and Greek alphabets to build an alphabet for Classical Armenian. It shows how the system of six affricates was built into this in a two-dimensional way.

  • Forssman, Bernhard: “Jungavestisch ərəduuafšnī-, Sanskrit ūrdhvastanī-“.

The archaic Young Avestan compound ərəduuafšnī– ‘with erected breasts’ has the genetic equivalent ūrdhvastanī– in Sanskrit, formally modernised and attested only in the more recent language, but nevertheless of early origin, as can be inferred from the Vedic antonym lambastanī– ‘with pendulous breasts’.


India in the Persianate age

Eaton, Richard Maxwell. 2019. India in the Persianate age, 1000-1765. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

Protected by vast mountains and seas, the Indian subcontinent might seem a nearly complete and self-contained world with its own religions, philosophies, and social systems. And yet this ancient land and its varied societies experienced prolonged and intense interaction with the peoples and cultures of East and Southeast Asia, Europe, Africa, and especially Central Asia and the Iranian plateau.

Richard M. Eaton tells this extraordinary story with relish and originality, as he traces the rise of Persianate culture, a many-faceted transregional world connected by ever-widening networks across much of Asia. Introduced to India in the eleventh century by dynasties based in eastern Afghanistan, this culture would become progressively indigenized in the time of the great Mughals (sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries). Eaton brilliantly elaborates the complex encounter between India’s Sanskrit culture—an equally rich and transregional complex that continued to flourish and grow throughout this period—and Persian culture, which helped shape the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughal Empire, and a host of regional states. This long-term process of cultural interaction is profoundly reflected in the languages, literatures, cuisines, attires, religions, styles of rulership and warfare, science, art, music, and architecture—and more—of South Asia.


Linguistic Paradox and Diglossia

Houben, Jan. 2018. Linguistic paradox and diglossia: The emergence of Sanskrit and Sanskritic language in ancient India. Open Linguistics 4(1). 1–18.

What is it about?

“We know that Middle Indian (Middle Indo-Aryan) makes its appearance in epigraphy prior to Sanskrit: this is the great linguistic paradox of India.” In these words Louis Renou (1956: 84) referred to a problem in Sanskrit studies for which so far no satisfactory solution had been found. I will here propose that the perceived “paradox” derives from the lack of acknowledgement of certain parameters in the linguistic situation of Ancient India which were insufficiently appreciated in Renou’s time, but which are at present open to systematic exploration with the help of by now well established sociolinguistic concepts, notably the concept of “diglossia”. Three issues will here be addressed in the light of references to ancient and classical Indian texts, Sanskrit and Sanskritic. A simple genetic model is indadequate, especially when the ‘linguistic area’ applies also to what can be reconstructed for earlier periods. The so-called Sanskrit “Hybrids” in the first millennium CE, including the Prakrits and Epics, are rather to be regarded as emerging “Ausbau” languages of Indo-Aryan with hardly any significant mutual “Abstand” before they will be succesfully “roofed,” in the second half of the first millennium CE, by “classical” Sanskrit.

Why is it important?

The history of (classical) Sanskrit, of Prakrit, of the so-called “hybrid” Sanskrits, of Vedic poetry and prose, and of the related Avestan and old Persian languages is of central importance for the cultural history of ancient India, ancient Iran and Asia.


The Sanskrit Yasna

Goldman, Leon. 2017. The Sanskrit Yasna Manuscript S1. Facsimile Edition (Corpus Avesticum / Handbook of Oriental Studies. Section 2 South Asia, 32/1). Leiden: Brill.
The manuscript S1 is one of the chief witnesses to the Sanskrit Yasna, containing the Avestan text of the Zoroastrian Yasna liturgy to chapter 46.19, together with a Sanskrit translation and commentary. This book contains the complete, full-colour set of facsimile images of S1.
An introduction by Leon Goldman provides an overview of the Zoroastrian Sanskrit tradition together with a discussion of the S1 manuscript covering its physical appearance, its age and history, and for the first time, a detailed palaeographic analysis of the Avestan and Sanskrit text.

Sanskrit in Persianate India

Sanskrit and Persian—both as languages and cultural systems—overlapped in time and space for several centuries on the precolonial subcontinent. But only more recently have scholars investigated points of intersection and exchange between these two linguistic and intellectual traditions. Scholars of Indo-Persian have recently devoted substantial attention to various sorts of Sanskrit-Persian encounters, such as the translation of Sanskrit works into Persian and multilingual patronage ties. In this conference, we aim to highlight and spur thinking about similar cross-cultural interactions between members of the Sanskrit and Persian traditions from the vantage point of Sanskrit literary culture.

The last few decades have witnessed a surge in scholarly attention to Sanskrit during the medieval and early modern periods. Within this wider area of interest, many scholars have begun to ask questions about how Sanskrit thinkers conceptualized Persian, the only viable rival to Sanskrit as a transregional idiom, and exchanges between the two traditions. Sanskrit-focused scholarship sheds light on intellectual, social and literary aspects of medieval and early modern India and is thus crucial for understanding these complex periods. Sanskrit texts also provide tools for analyzing the larger categories that we use for precolonial Indian literature, including the popular but problematic idea of “Indo-Persian” as a distinct literary and cultural realm. Yet such scholarship is still in its infancy and struggles for attention among a wider audience. This conference will highlight fresh, dynamic research and consider future avenues, both individually and collectively, for emphasizing Sanskrit materials in the exciting, but currently Persian-dominated, study of medieval and early modern India. We aim to give coherence and visibility to an emerging, vibrant subfield of South Asian studies, especially the crucial place of Sanskrit materials and Sanskritists within that subfield.

For more information see Papers and Abstracts.


Indo-Persian translations

Truschke, Audrey. 2015. Indo-Persian translations: A disruptive past.  Paper presented at a seminar.

The rendering of Sanskrit texts into Persian constitutes one of the largest translation movements in world history. Sanskrit and Persian coexisted as languages and cultural systems on the subcontinent for hundreds of years, chiefly between the 14th and 18th centuries CE. During this period, intellectuals and poets performed hundreds of translations and adaptions of Sanskrit stories, knowledge systems, and philosophies into the Persian language. This sustained movement of Sanskrit based ideas, narratives, and even words into Persian resulted in a distinctive realm of Persianate culture on the subcontinent that is often characterized by the modern descriptor Indo-Persian. Today, however, Persian translations of Sanskrit materials are largely forgotten. Most Indo-Persian translations are severely understudied; many moulder away in manuscript libraries, unpublished and in want of sustained philological attention. In this article, I highlight my research on these overlooked texts in light of current trends in Indian historiography and historical memory.


The Sanskrit, Syriac and Persian sources in the comprehensive book of Rhazes

Kahl, Oliver. 2015. The Sanskrit, Syriac and Persian sources in the comprehensive book of Rhazes. Brill.

This work offers a critical analysis of the Sanskrit, Syriac and Persian sources in Rhazes’ (d. 925 CE) Comprehensive Book (or al-Kitāb al-Ḥāwī), a hugely famous and highly unusual medico-pharmaceutical encyclopedia originally written in Arabic. All text material appears in full Arabic with English translations throughout, whilst the traceable Indian fragments are represented here, for the first time, in both the original Sanskrit and corresponding English translations. The philological core of the book is framed by a detailed introductory study on the transmission of Indian, Syrian and Iranian medicine and pharmacy to the Arabs, and by extensive bilingual glossaries of relevant Arabic and Sanskrit terms as well as Latin botanical identifications.