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Tocharian
Quick Facts
TypeSyllabic Alphabetic
GenealogyBrahmi
LocationCentral Asia
Time6th to 8th Century CE
DirectionLeft to Right

Tocharian was an Indo-European language spoken in Chinese Turkestan. Interestingly, it does not belong to any known Indo-European branch, but instead represents it own group. There were two major Tocharian dialects, namely Kuchean and Turfanian. The difference between them are quite pronounced and many linguists actually propose that they are different languages within a Tocharian branch of Indo-European. However, despite their phonological differences, they share the same basic script.

The Tocharian script was derived from the Brahmi (or a close variant), and therefore very similar to South Asian scripts. There are two type of basic letters. One type represent a single vowel and is used only at the beginning of a word. The second kind of letters represent a consonant plus the inherent vowel /a/. The following chart illustrates the word-initial vowel letters and consonant letters.

To represent a vowel other than /a/, the consonant letters are modified with extra strokes. These strokes occur above or below the letters themselves.

There are also additional strokes to indicate nasalization or aspiration at the end of a syllable:

Tocharians disappeared from the archaeological record after the 8th century CE as the other ethnic groups moved across Central Asia and absorbed the Tocharians into their own cultures. It is only in the 20th century that Tocharians have been rediscovered.

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