Scythian Languages - Classification


The vast majority of Scythological scholars agree that the Scythian-Sarmatian languages (and Ossetic) belong to the Eastern Iranian language family — like the once widespread but now extinct Sogdian language. This Iranian hypothesis relies principally on the fact that the Greek inscriptions of the Northern Black Sea Coast contain several hundreds of Sarmatian names showing a close affinity to the Ossetic language.

Historians normally divide the Scytho-Sarmatian group chronologically rather than geographically:

  • Scythian (ca. 800 - 300 BC), mainly evidenced in Classical Greek authors
  • Sarmatian (ca. 300 BC - AD 400), mainly evidenced in Hellenistic and Roman inscriptions
  • Alanic (ca. AD 400 - 1000), mainly evidenced in Byzantine Greek authors

Some scholars detect a division of Scytho-Sarmatian into two dialects: a western, more conservative dialect, and an eastern, more innovative one. The innovative dialect may correspond to Sarmatian, whereas the conservative dialect may continue the dialect spoken by the old Scythians before the invasion of the Sarmatians.

The Scythian languages may have formed a dialect continuum:

  • Scytho-Sarmatian languages were spoken by people originally of Iranian stock from the 8th and 7th century BC onwards in the area of Ukraine, Southern Russia and Kazakhstan. Modern Ossetic survives as a continuation of the language family possibly represented by Scytho-Sarmatian inscriptions, although the Scytho-Sarmatian language family "does not simply represent the same language" at an earlier date.
  • Saka language or Scytho-Khotanese in the east: spoken in the Kingdom of Khotan (located in present-day Xinjiang, China), and including the Khotanese of Khotan and Tumshuqese of Tumshuq. Scholars classify these languages as North-Eastern Iranian.

Read more about this topic:  Scythian Languages

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