On the transcription of Indo-European and Chinese loans in Old Uyghur

Marcel Erdal

On the transcription of Indo-European and Chinese loans in Old Uyghur

(66th Annual Meeting of the PIAC Göttingen, 2024)

The letter Y of the Sogdian-Uyghur writing system was meant to represent four different sounds: The consonant /y/, the front vowels /i/ and /e/ and the non-front vowel /ı/. The paper will show that the habitual transcription of the language often tends to use the letters i and e where the sound is likelier to have been y or ı.

First /y/: Chinese, Sanskrit and Tocharian B had diphthongs, but Old Uyghur did not. /ay/, as in atay ‘nestling, baby’, is a vowel-consonant sequence, as shown by atay+ı ‘its nestling’, where the suffix is +I and not +sI. Thus, the Sanskrit loans transcribed as vaiduri ‘beryl’ and avaivardik ‘the place of no return’ should, e.g., be transcribed as vayduri and avayvardik, and the Chinese loan čai ‘fasting; meal of monks’ (< 斋 zhai) should be transcribed as čay.

Many vowels traditionally transcribed as i actually need not be taken to have been fronted because they did not have front vowels in the source languages, and because they often show an alternation between alif and yā; e.g. antıray ‘prevention’ < TochB antarāy < Skt. antarāya; or bavagır, actually spelled as bavagar and bavagir, which ultimately comes from Sanskrit bhavāgra over Tocharian B bhavākär. The Tocharian vowel misleadingly transcribed as ä – misleadingly for non-specialists – is a high central vowel corresponding to Turkic /ı/. This must also have been the second vowel of the Uyghur term coming from Sanskrit cakra in spite of its spelling with K and not Q, which had the same central vowel transcribed as ä both in Tocharian A and B. In the case of kıši ~ kši ‘master’, philologists even transferred that same reduced Tocharian “ä” letter into Uyghur, writing the word as “k(ä)ši ~ käši” in text transcriptions. Similarly “maitär ~ mait(ä)r” ‘friendship’, coming from Sanskrit over Sogdian and/or TochA and/or Toch B (spelled with ä in the transcriptions of both Tocharians and not showing any explicit second vowel in Sogdian varieties), in fact has to be maytır.

Nor need front harmony be ascribed to loans from Iranian languages if the source words did not have /i/; e.g. what I propose to read as dıšın ‘the right hand’ corresponding to Middle Persian and Parthian dašn and Sogdian δšn.

If Chinese 笆城 ba cheng appears in TochA as pātsaṅk and in TochB as patstsāṅk, it need not be pačiŋ in Uyghur but must be pačıŋ ‘fence’.

Finally, the use of e in transcription often seems unjustified, e.g. in abišek ‘blessing’ where a Brāhmī instance writes i (which could also be intended to represent /ı/). This topic as well will be dealt with systematically in the lecture.