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Sogdian writing

Subject Linguistics

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631214816.1999.x


A derivative of the A ramaic writing developed in Sogdiana (Samarkand) and used by Persian colonists in Chinese Turkestan to record their Middle Iranian language. The oldest known documents are the ‘Ancient Letters’, tentatively dated 312–313 ce , which were discovered in 1920 by Sir Aurel Stein in a watchtower of the Chinese wall west of Tun-huang. They are written on the most ancient paper with writing on it that has come down to us. Most extant manuscripts were preserved in Turfan, an important oasis town on the Silk Road. Three different styles of the Sogdian script are attested. In the script of the Ancient Letters, the graphemes are clearly distinct and mostly written separately. A slightly different book hand, often called ‘sūtra script’, developed around 500 ce for Buddhist scriptures. Finally, in the course of the seventh century the Sogdian cursive script with letters connected by a base line was invented. It has sometimes been attributed to Ahriman the devil, because several of its letters are so similar as to be all but indistinguishable. It is therefore extremely hard to read, posing sometimes insurmountable difficulties for decipherment. Both the sūtra and cursive scripts were taken over in the eighth century by Buddhist Uighurs, which is why the Sogdian and Uighur scripts are often discussed together. In some palaeographic works the sūtra script is identified ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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