Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Part 1:Winters' Response to Burlak's Meroitic and Tocharian

Clyde Winters response to Burlak’s Meroitic & Tocharian Part 1: Tocharians probably physically took Tocharian to Meroe.

S.A. Burlak, in Meroitic and Tocharian: From the point of View of a Tocharianists (Sudan & Nubia, Bulletin 12: 99-103) disputes my decipherment of Meroitic: Winters, Clyde Ahmad. (1999). The inscriptions ofTanyidamani. Nubica IV und Nubica V., pp.355-388. Herein, I will discuss Dr. Burlak’s propositions and evidence.

Linguist call this language formerly spoken in Central Asia: Tocharian (Burlak, 2008; Winters 1988b, 1991, 1996b); the Chinese historical literature , indicates that the Tocharian speakers were called Kushana or Yueh chih and that this group originated in China. In this paper I will refer to the Tocharian speakers as Tocharian or Kushana.

1. Burlak (2008) claimed that the Tocharian Meroitic cognates are mainly from Tocharian A, and “for chronological and geographical reasons Meroitic can hardly be more closely related to one of the Tocharian languages than the other” (p.100).

This is not surprising because the Classical literature makes it clear that Indian scholars settled in the Meroitic Empire ( Corybeare,1950) .If Indian scholars were living in the Meroitic Sudan, these scholars probably introduced the Tocharian language and Kharosthi script to the Meroites. I used the Kushana hypothesis as the foundation of my decipherment of Meroitic.

Flavius Philostratus, the writer of the Vita Apollonii, Vol. 1,claimed that the Gymnosophists of Meroe originally came from India (Conybeare, 1950).
According to the Life of Apollonius,the Indian Meroites were formerly led by a King Ganges, who had "repulsed the Scythians who invaded this land [India from] across the Caucasus" (Conybeare, 1950 Vol.1:273). Pilostratus also made it clear that the Indians of Meroe came to this country after their king was killed.

The presence of this tradition of an Indian King of the Indian-Meroites conquering the Scythians predicts that the Indian literature should record this historical episode. This prediction is supported by a Jaina text called the Kalakeharya-Kathanaka, which reports that when the Scythians invaded Malwa, the King of Malwa, called Vikramaditya defeated the Scythians (Kulke & Rothermund, 1990 :73). This king Vikramaditya may be the Ganges mentioned in the Life of Apollonius. Confirmation of the Ganges story, confirms the Classical literary evidence that their were Indianized-Meroites that could have introduced the Tokharian trade language to the Meroites.

There were other Indians in North Africa besides Kush/Meroe. For example, at Quseir al-Qadim there was a large Indian speaking community ( Salomon, 1991,1993) that left us many inscriptions written in their native script.. These Indians were in Egypt writing messages in their own language, around the time we see a switch from Egyptian hieroglyphics and Demotic to the Meroitic writing system.

The Classical literature makes it clear that Indians physically settled in the Meroitic Empire. It was these Indians who probably introduced Kharosthi writing and the Tocharian A language. The direct transfer of Tocharian A to the Meroites by Indian scholars would explain why the language of the Meroitic inscriptions is Tocharian A .


Conybeare, F.C. (1950). Philostratus: The Life of Apollonius of Tyana .

H. Kulke, H. & D. Rothermund. (1990). History of India London: Routledge.

Salomon,R.(1991)."Epigraphic remains of Indian traders in Egypt", Journal of the American oriental Society: 731-736.

Salomon,R.(1993). Addenda, Journal of the American Oriental Society :593.

Special Correspondent.(21 November 2007).Tamil Brahmi script in Egypt. TheHindu:pg1.

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