Iranian Programme

The Iranian programme will consist of four courses: Sogdian, Khotanese, Ossetic, and Old Persian.

Slot 1: Introduction to Sogdian from Mount Mug (9.30-11.00)

Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst (Berlin)

Course description
Remarkably, Sogdian, the Middle Iranian language of Sogdiana in present-day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, is much better attested outside of its original area than in it. While this testifies to the success of Sogdians in a diaspora extending as far as China and India it leaves us in the dark about Sogdian 'at home'. Luckily there is one major exception to this, a find of about 80 documents in the ruins of a small fortress, Mount Mug, on the upper Zerafshan river in present-day Tajikistan. These documents range from administrative tally-sticks and contracts to letters that passed between the last ruler of Panjikand and his spies and allies in the months before his attempt to flee invading Arab forces who caught him at this fortress in 722. The edition of this material was a great achievement of a group of Soviet Iranists in the 1960s.

Course outline
Following on an introduction to Sogdian and to the Mount Mug documents as such and Sogdian script, the course will aim to cover the main issues presented by the documents through reading as many of them as possible.

No previous knowledge of Sogdian will be assumed, though any knowledge of Sogdian or another Old, Middle or Modern Iranian language and of Sogdian script would be an advantage.

Course materials will be provided.

Introductory reading
E. de la Vaissière: Histoire des marchands sogdiens, Paris 2002 (Bibliothèque de l'institut des Hautes Études Chinoises vol. XXXII) / Sogdian traders. A history, Leiden, Boston 2005 (Handbook of Oriental Studies section 8. Central Asia, vol. 10).

F. Grenet/E. de la Vaissière: The last days of Panjikent, Silk Road Art and Archaeology 8 (2002), 155-196.

V. A. Livšic: Sogdijskaja épigrafika srednej azii i semireč'ja. Sankt-Petersburg 2008.

Y. Yoshida: Sogdian, in G. Windfuhr (ed.): The Iranian Languages. London 2009, 279-335.

Texts in TITUS Corpus of Sogdian Texts, under SDGM; Facsimiles in an album published by the Corpus Inscriptionum Iraniacarum but also in Livšic 2008

Slot 2: Introduction to Khotanese (11.30-13.00)

Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst (Berlin)

Course description
Khotanese or Khotan Saka is the most archaic Middle Iranian language retaining many Old Iranian features lost in the other Middle Iranian languages. Attested in Khotan and the surrounding areas in present-day Xinjiang in north-western China it was the language of an important Buddhist kingdom that flourished from ca. the 5th to the 10th c. CE, leaving an impressive body of Buddhist literature and some secular texts in Brahmi-script. A major station on the Silk Road and a source of highly desired jade, Khotan also played an important part in the Tibetan empire.

Course outline
After an introduction to the grammar the course will concentrate on giving an idea of the range of texts available in Khotanese by reading selected excerpts. We will also take a brief look at Tumshuqese, a closely related but even more archaic sister-language.

No previous knowledge will be assumed, but familiarity with any Iranian language would be an advantage.

R.E. Emmerick: Khotanese and Tumshuqese, in: G. Windfuhr (ed.): Iranian languages. London/New York 2009, 377-.415

Slot 3: Ossetic (14.00-15.30)

Oleg Belyaev (Moscow)

Course description
Ossetic is the last living descendant of the Scytho-Sarmatian group of Iranian languages. It goes back to the language of the Alans, who, in the first centuries A.D., created a kingdom in the area to the north of the Caucasus which existed until the 13-14th centuries, when it was wiped out by the Mongol and Timurid invasions. The surviving Alans fled to the highlands, where they became known to the outside world under their Georgian-based exonym “Ossetians”.

Since Ossetians have long existed in isolation from the rest of the Iranian world, their language has a unique status among Iranian languages. On the one hand, it has preserved a number of archaic morphological, phonological, and syntactic features, for example, a complex system of oblique moods. On the other hand, due to centuries of close contact of Ossetians with speakers of indigenous languages of the Caucasus, Ossetic has developed some innovative traits, for example, a rich agglutinative case system with several spatial forms. The knowledge of Ossetic is thus indispensable not only for comparative work on Iranian languages, but also for the typology of language contact and for the study of the Caucasian linguistic area. Also of importance is the cultural heritage of the Ossetians, in particular the Nart epics, which are, like the rest of Ossetic, a peculiar mixture of Indo-European and Caucasian elements.

Course outline
During the course, you will will gain knowledge of the central grammatical traits of Ossetic and its two main dialects: Iron and Digor. The course will include both synchronic and historical analysis; the possibility of external influence on Ossetic grammatical features will also be discussed. We will read several texts, in particular fragments of the Nart epics and contemporary spontaneous spoken narratives.

Literature for reference
Abaev, Vasilij I. 1964. A grammatical Sketch of Ossetic, ed. by Herbert H. Paper, translated from Russian by Steven P. Hill. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University. Available online.

Thordarson, Fridrik. 1989. Ossetic. In: Rüdiger Schmitt (ed.) Compendium linguarum Iranicarum, 456–479. Wiesbaden: Reichert.

Thordarson, Fridrik. 2009. Ossetic Grammatical Studies. [Veröffentlichungen zur Iranistik 48] Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Online resources
Numerous Russian-language works on Ossetic grammar are available at: (section “Ахуыры чингуытӕ”). Also see for lots of information on Ossetic in Russian.
Spoken Ossetic texts are available at:
Ossetic National Corpus (Iron dialect, about 10 million tokens):

No prior knowledge of Ossetic is required. Knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet is recommended.

Slot 4: Old Persian (16.00-17.30)

Alexander Lubotsky (Leiden)

Course description
Old Persian is primarily known as the language of the inscriptions of the great Achaemenid kings. The extant Old Persian texts all date from the 6th to the 4th century. They are written in a cuneiform script, probably designed at the behest of king Darius for the purpose of recording his deeds.

Course outline
The Old Persian grammar is fairly simple. In the first few days the students will get acquainted with its main features (from a synchronic and a diachronic prospective) and with the Old Persian script. Already at the end of the first week we shall start reading the Behistun inscription of king Darius. In the second week we’ll be reading extensive portions of this inscription as well as some other inscriptions of the Persian kings.

No previous knowledge will be assumed but familiarity with historical linguistics, with Sanskrit or an Iranian language would be an advantage. The course materials will be supplied.

The participants are asked to read in advance M. de Vaan & A. Lubotsky, Old Persian. In: Gzella H. (Ed.) Languages from the World of the Bible. Boston/Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2011, pp. 194-208 (available online).