Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Greek and Tocharian

The ancient literary language spoken on the banks of Rivers Sarasvati and Sindhu was Dravidian. Due to the large number of Dravidians living in India alongside the Aramaic, Munda and Indo-Aryan speakers Sanskrit was invented as a link language and lingua franca to unite the Indians. At the base of Sanskrit was the Dravidian languages.

Dr. Kalyanaraman has made it clear that he is skeptical of the integrity of the I-E linguistic discipline. I agree with Kalyanaraman. The affinities between Sanskrit and Greek/Latin result from 1) the early contact between the Indic languages when the Greeks ruled India-Pakistan; and 2) the Latin popularity and spread of Greek civilization and culture when the Romans ruled the world.

At the end of the 18th century Sir William Jones, suggested that Sanskrit was closely related to Western languages that could not be attributed purely to chance. Jones maintained that these Indic and European languages must be descended from a common ancestor. It was from this observation that Indo-European linguistics was born.

In Sir Jones time we knew little about the history of the Greeks in India. Today we know much more about the historical evidence relating to Greek influence in India. The textual material make it clear that when Sanskrit was codified Greek was spoken by many Indians and due to bilingualism, Greek elements probably used in the Prakrits and everyday speech became of the link language: Sanskrit.

The Dravidians formerly were the major linguistic group in Central Asia and India-Pakistan. Many north Dravidian people are presently found in Central Asia. The cattle rearing Brahuis may represent descendants of the Dravidian pastoral element that roamed the steppes in ancient times. North Dravidian speaking Brahuis are found in Afghan Baluchistan , Persian Sistan and the Marwoasis in Soviet Turkmenistan (Elfenbein 1987: 229).

There are islands of Dravidian speakers in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. There are over 300,000 Brahui speakers in Qualat, Hairpur and Hyderabad districts of Pakistan. Other Dravidian speakers are found in Iran, Russia and Yugoslavia (ISDL 1983: 227). The distribution of Northern Dravidian speaking groups outlined above, corresponds to the former spread of Harappan cultures in the 3rd millennium B.C., in Central Asia.

Due to early the Dravidian settlement of Central Asia the Dravidian speakers influenced many languages. There is a Dravidian substratum in Indo-Aryan. There are Dravidian loans Rg Veda, eventhough Aryan recorders of this work were situated in the Punjab, which was occupied around this time by Dravidians using BRW.

Emeneau and Burrow (1962) found 500 Dravidian loan words in Sanskrit. In addition, Indo-Aryan illustrates a widespread structural borrowing from Dravidian in addition to 700 lexical loans (Kuiper 1967; Southward 1977; Winters 1989).

It is therefore not surprising that Dravidian languages lie at the base of the languages spoken in Indo-Aryan languages spoken in Pakistan and India. It is therefore not surprising that the Dravidian languages great influenced Sanskrit.

Many researchers reject the idea that Sanskrit was greatly influenced by the Dravidian languages. They dispute this theory because of the Greek relationship to Sanskrit. Although researchers have used the relationship between Greek and Sanskrit in support of an Indo-European linguistic family, it is clear that the relationship between Sanskrit and Greek result from the long influence in India-Pakistan of the Greeks .

The Greco-Bactrians were probably bilingual . Bilingualism can be induced through two methods 1) state coercion or 2) its ability to offer advantages to two or more populations in contact. The latter method of change usually accounts for bilingualism--people use the new language to obtain better access to status, security, ritual or goods. The Greek emphasis on direct methods of political control in Bactria forced many non-Greeks to become bilingual due to its advantage as a tool for greater upward mobility during Greek rule.

The Greek colonization of Bactria, made the Greek language a link language between the non-IE languages spoken in Central Asia three thousand years ago, after many generations of bilingualism led to an interlanguage phenomena that became a permanent feature of the literate speech community in this region. We can define the institutionalization of an interlanguage as language recombination, i.e., the mixing of the vocabulary and structures of the substratum language (Dravidian) and the superstratum language (Greek and later Slavic speaking Saka people) to form a new mixed language: Tocharian.

The Greek culture was transplanted in Bactria by the army of Alexander the Great. It can be assumed that due to direct rule, the Greek language was well established in this region by the cultural matrix accompanying it since possession of Greek culture and language played a major role in the upward mobility of "colonial subjects" in Bactria.

Eteo-Tocharian is a good example of the influence of Greeks in Central Asia. Eteo-Tocharian was written in a modified Greek alphabet (Maricq 1958:398). This script is a manifestation of the Greek influence in Bactria, even after the Kushana subjugation of this area. This latter point is evident in the Grand Inscription of Kaniska (Maricq 1958).

An intruding community like the Greeks in Central Asia did not have to outnumber the colonized people in Bactria to impact on the language of the original Bactrians. The mere fact that the new speech community, although ethnically different were now recognized as socially superior to the subject peoples of Bactria, it was useful for Bactrians to become bilingual so they would be able to function both within their own culture and the new culture introduced by the conquering Greeks. This hypothesis is congruent with Ehret's (1988:569) view that people make cultural choices on the basis of what appears to be most advantageous to the lives they live.

The Greeks made a conscious effort to affect the underpinnings of the native Bactrian's material world and their relations with their spirits or gods. For example, Greek influence is evident in the Gandharan Buddhist style sculptures. This art style illustrates Hellenistic influences in the modeling of the hair and facial features.
The relationship between Greek and Indic languages results from the early contact of the speakers of these languages in Northwest India and beyond during a period in which the Greeks were a major power in Central Asia.

The Greeks also ruled Pakistan and India. The Indian rule of India is discussed in the following books: F.L. Holt, Thundering Zeus ;W.W. Tarn, The Greeks of Bastria and India ; A.K. Narain, The Indo-Greeks ; and H. Kulke & D. Rothermund, History of India .

Many Pakistanis recognize Dravidian as the root language for many languages spoken in Pakistan (Rahman.2004). They accept the fact that a Dravidian language was probably spoken by the people who formerly lived in the Indus Valley.

It was in Pakistan that the Greek language was probably corporated into Sanskrit. Many of the rules for Sanskrit were codified by Panini, who was born in Salatura, in Northwest Pakistan. Panini’s grammar contains 4000 rules.

When Panini wrote his grammar of Sanskrit, it was spoken by the elites in the area. Greek was also popular when Panini wrote the Sanskrit grammar. The Greeks were called Yunani or Yavana. Thus we learn from Agrawala (1953) that the Yavanani lipi (edict) was well known in Gandahara, and even Panini mentions the Yavana in his grammar . The term Yauna meant Ionian (Woodcock, 1966).

The history of Greeks in the area is quite interesting. When Alexander entered the HinduKush region in 327 B.C., Greek settlements were already in the area. By 180 BC, as the Mauryas fell into decline, the Greek Kings of Bactria took control of Western Punjab and Gandhara up to the Indus River. Under King Menander (d.130 B.C.) the Greeks had their capital at Taxila. The center of Greek culture in the area was Charsadda near Peshawar (Woodcock,1966).

Many Greek terms were probably already incorporated in the Prakrits of Northern India-Pakistan and Central Asia. Here the Greeks minted their coins with Kharoshthi, Brahmi and Greek inscriptions.

Greek was used for commercial purposes and served as a patrician lingua franca of the Kabul valley and of Gandhara. During the rule of Pushyamitra many Greeks settled in India. Due to the long history of Greeks in India, Ashoka had some of his edicts written in Greek and Aramaic bilinguals. In 44 A.D., Appolonius of Tyana when he visited Taxila found that merchants and kings learned Greek “as a matter of course” (Rahman, 2004; Woodcock,1966).
Given the popularity of Greek in the region it is not surprising that Sanskrit would show such a strong relationship to the Indic languages, since it was spoken throughout the area of a couple of hundred years. Commenting on the Greek rulers of India, Kulke and Rothermund (1998), said that “They are referred to as ‘Indo-Greeks’, and there were about forty such kings and rulers who controlled large areas of northwestern India and Afghanistan….They appear as Yavanas in stray references in Indian literature, and there are few but important references in European sources. In these distant outposts, the representatives of the Hellenic policy survived the defeat of their Western compatriots at the hands of the Parthians for more than a century” (p.70). The greatest of the Indo-Greek rulers was Menander, who is mentioned in the famous Milindapanho text. The Shakas adopted many elements of Indo-Greek culture which they perpetuated in India for over 100 years (Rahman, 2004).

The large corpus of non-IE words in Tocharian discussed by Blazek (1988) and Winters (1988a, 1990, 1991) is congruent with the hypothesis that IE elements in Tocharian, especially Greek (and Slavic) were loanwords into Tocharian after the Greek conquest of Bactria. This borrowing pattern is consistent with the spread of the Greek language into Bactria by a small politically dominant minority of Greek settlers into a far larger and previously long-established non-IE speaking majority population.

It is impossible to argue for a genetic relationship between Vedic and Greek languages based on the fact that speakers of these languages formerly lived in intimate contact in historical times. Secondly, we know the Dravidians were in Greece before the Indo-Europeans enter the country. These non-I-E speakers were called Pelasgians. As a result, Anna Morpurgo Davies, The linguistic evidence:Is there any?, in Gerald Cadogan, The End of the early Bronze Age in the Agean (pp.93-123), says that only 40% of Greek is of Indo-European etymology (p.105). Since only 40% of the Greek terms are of I-E origin, many of the Greek terms that agree with the Indic languages may be from the 60% of the Greek lexical items that came from non-I-E speakers which as noted by Lahovary in Dravidian origins and the West, were people who spoke either Dravidian languages, or other languages from Africa, genetically related to the Dravidian group.

In conclusion, as a result of the Greek influence in Bactria and India-Pakistan , Indians and Bactrians had to acquire "Greek Culture" to enhance their position and opportunity in North India and Bactria during Greek rule. Greek rule placed prestige on status elements introduced into the region by the Greeks, especially the Greek language. Status acquired by Bactrians and Indian-Pakistanis was thus centered around acquisition of Greek language and Greek culture. This supported by the evidence that Indian elites used Greek in business and government (Rahman, 2004). This would have inturn added pressure on the Bactrians to incorporate Greek terms into a Bactrian lingua franca (i.e., Tocharian).

Given the fact that Greek administrators in Bactria and Northern India-Pakistan ,refused to fully integrate Bactrians and Indians into the ruling elite, unless they were “well versed in Greek culture and language) led to subsequent generations of native Bactrians and Indian-Pakistanis to progressively incorporate more Greek terms into their native language. This would explain why Tocharian has many features that relate to certain IE etymologies and Panini’s Sanskrit grammar, present many terms that are associated with the Greeks, but illustrates little affinity to Indo-Iranian languages which are geographically and temporally closer to Tocharian. Some researchers might dispute the influence of the Greek language on Sanskrit because Panini’s grammar was suppose to have been written around 400 B.C. This date for the grammar might be too early, because Rahman (2004) and Agrawala (1953) maintains that Greek was spoken in Gandahara in Panini’s time.

The influence of colonial Greeks in Central Asia would explain why the most important evidence of an I-E relationship with Sanskrit and Tocharian relations within the IE family are the Greek cognates (Mallory 1989).

The "elite dominance model" hypothesis would have two basic consequences in relation to Tocharian linguistics. First, it would account for the correspondence in grammar (especially agglutination) and vocabulary between Dravidian and Tocharian on the one hand, and Tocharian and Indo-European on the other. Secondly, the settlement of the Saka in Bactria after the Greeks, would explain the great topological similarity between Tocharian and Balto-Slavic. The evidence of Saka and Greek conquest of Bactria/ Central Asia confirms the Sherratt (1988) hypothesis that Tocharian may be a trade language, and offers a plausible solution to the "Tocharian Problem".


Agrawala, V.S. (1953). India as known to Panini: A study of the cultural material
in the Ashtadhyayi. Lucknow: University of Lucknow.

Elfenbein, J. 1987. A periplus of the Brahui Problem. Studia Iranica 16: 215-233.

Emeneau, M. and T. Burrow. 1962. Dravidian Borrowing from Indo Aryan.
Berkeley: University of California Press.

Holt,F.L. (1999). Thundering Zeus. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

ISDL. 1983. Report on the Dravidian Languages. International Journal of
Dravidian Linguistics 12(1): 227.

Kulke, H. & Rothermund, D. (1998). History of India . New York: Routledge.

Mallory, J.P. In Search of the Indo-Europeans. London: Thames and

Maricq, A. 1958. La Grande inscription de Kaniska et L' eteo-
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Narain, A.K. (1957). The Indo-Greeks . Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Rahman,T. (2004). Peoples and Languages in Pre-Islamic Indus Valley.
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Sherratt, Andrew and Susan. 1988. Archaeology of Indo-European: An
Alternative View. Antiquity 62: 584-595.

Tarn, W.W. (1984). The Greeks of Bastria and India . Chicago: Ares Press.

Winters, Clyde A..1989. Review on Dr. Asko Parpola's "The Coming of the
Aryans".International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics 18 (2): 98-127.

Woodcock,G. (1966). The Greeks in India. London: Faber & Faber.

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