Paired Horse and PIE breakup

Miguel Carrasquer Vidal mcv at WXS.NL
Wed Nov 4 05:07:06 UTC 1998

Paul Kekai Manansala <kekai at JPS.NET> wrote:

>Let's consider the cuneiform inscriptions of Persia.  Are these part of
>the same migrations that brought the Vedic peoples to India?

No.  It is quite clear that the movement of Persians and Medes into
Western Iran was a separate event, independent of the Indo-Aryans and
independent of the rest of the (Eastern) Iranians.

The Persian cuneiform syllabary is a Persian invention.  Apart from
the general wedge-like ("cuneiform") shape of the letters, it has
nothing specific in common with Akkadian or Elamite Cuneiform.  In
that respect it is similar to, say, Cherokee writing, where most of
the signs resemble letters of the Roman alphabet or shapes that might
have been letters of the Roman alphabet, but the sound values are
completely different, and in fact stand for syllables, not phonemes.

However, Persian cuneiform had only limited use, and the most widely
used writing system in the Persian Empire was Aramaic.

>If we accept that the Ashokan and related scripts came from the
>"Middle East" and are related to Phoenician-type scripts, how did these
>vault over to India and when?

That's an interesting question, that has no simple solution.
The oldest known Indian scripts (apart from the IVC script, that is),
are Kharos.t.hi: (5th c. BC?) and Bra:hmi: (3rd. c. BC?).  Kharosthi
was used exclusively in the North-West, and has left no modern
descendants.  Brahmi is the source of all modern Indian and SE Asian
alphabets, as well as the Tibetan alphabet.  The most widely accepted
theory is that Kharosthi (surely) and Brahmi (most likely) are
derived from the Aramaic alphabet (itself ultimately derived from
Linear Canaanite/Phoenician), the official script of the Achaemenid
empire.  The Aramaic script was enormously influential both during
and after the fall of the Achaemenid Empire.  That is why Hebrew and
Arabic are today written in Aramaic-derived scripts, even if at first
Hebrew was written in a local variant of Phoenician script, and
Arabic in a local variant of South-Semitic script (as survives today
in Ethiopia).  Aramaic writing also spread widely into Central Asia,
where it was used for writing various Iranian and Turkic languages,
and led eventually led to the Mongolian and Manchu scripts.

The date of the earliest Kharoshthi inscriptions coincides with that
of the spread of Aramaic throughout the Persian Empire, and it seems
the shapes of most Kharosthi letters can be easily identified with
teh shapes of the Imperial Aramaic script.  In the case of Brahmi,
only some of the letters are similar to Aramaic letters of identical
phonetic value.  The most intriguing aspect of course is that both
Kharosthi and Brahmi, unlike Imperial Aramaic, are "alphasyllabaries"
(or "abugidas" to use the Ethiopian term).  The Aramaic script was
not simply taken over as is, and not even simply adapted/extended to
the phonetic needs of Sanskrit/Prakrit, but it was fundamentally

It is interesting to generalize about the different ways in which
writing systems can be transmitted, having to do with the proficiency
of the creators of a certain script with the script from which it is
derived (or by which it is inspired).

1. Only the idea of writing is transmitted; the creators of the new
script are unfamiliar with or choose to completely disregard the
general shape of the signs in the original writing system.  (It is
said that Egyptian hieroglyphic was inspired by early Sunerian
cuneiform in this way, but I haven't seen nay real proof of that).

2. Only the general shape of the writing is transmitted. The creators
of the new script are illiterate in the original script, but have
seen enough sample of it to create signs that have the same general
shape (examples: Cherokee, Persian cuneiform).

3. Shapes and (some) values of the original script are transmitted,
but the general principles are reworked (alphabet -> (alpha-)
syllabary, consonantal alphabet -> full alphabet, etc.).  The
creators of the script are presumably only semi-literate in the
originating script.  (examples: Brahmi & Kharosthi < Aramaic, Greek <
Phoenician, etc.)

4. The writing system is borrowed in full, although it might be
reduced/extended to fit the needs of the language(s) for which it is
borrowed.  The creators of the script are reasonably proficient ion
the originating writing system.  Examples: Cyrillic < East Greek,
Roman/Etruscan < West Greek, South Indian scripts < Brahmi, etc.)

5. A special case is Iranian Aramaic, where the writers are in a way
too proficient in the originating script, and the change from Aramaic
to Middle Iranian is only gradual and never complete.  The word for
"king" (and many, many others) is still written MLK (in Aramaic),
although it is to be pronounced as /sha:h/.  Similar cases are
Akkadian cuneiform (< Sumerian) and Japanese writing (< Chinese),
although the fact that these are logosyllabic scripts, where a single
sign can stand for a whole word, makes the development more readily

Miguel Carrasquer Vidal
mcv at

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