Modern Tocharian (Ill Bethisad)

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Тугърінє (Tuhärinje, тугъріня къдво tuhärinja kädvo, Ru. Тохарский язык Tokharskiy yazyk, 'the Tocharian language')

The Ajchrip alphabet

This Cyrillic alphabet for Modern Tocharian was created by the 19th century monk Ajchrip (Айхрiп) as an improvement of the Cyrillic spelling of his native language previously used by Russian missionaries. To make a long story short the misssionaries' spelling revealed a thick Russian accent, failing to distinguish sounds which sounded alike to a Russian ear. It is to this day debated whether the missionaries could actually not hear the difference between the sounds in question, or if they were only at a loss how to spell them differently, in each case using the letter for the closest Russian phoneme.

When expanding the alphabet Ajchrip worked with what he had, viz. a set of Russian Cyrillic moveable type. He used several methods to expand his inventory of letters:

  1. To use letters which were allographs for a single sound in the 19th century Russian alphabet for different phonemes in his native language.
  2. To turn the letters which the missionaries had used for two different sounds upside down to get a new letter for the sound missing in Russian. This was easy to do in moveable type but is hard to reproduce on computers.
  3. Digraphs, used especially to distinguish alveopalatal fricatives and affricates from their retroflex counterparts. The digraph НГ нг was taken over from the missionaries' spelling, since it was in fact unambiguous. Note that in the modern language it contrasts with the spelling н'г in loanwords like дин'гі, which were formerly spelled in the Russian way (денги).
  4. In one case, Ъ ъ, he used a letter which was always silent in Russian for a sound not found in that language. He had plenty of Ъ ъ type, since that letter was used vacuously after every word-final consonant in 19th century Russian orthography.
Letter Romanization IPA Comment
А а a /a/
Б б b [b] In complementary distribution with [mb].
В в v /β/
Г г h /ɣ/
’Г ’г g [g] An allophone, mainly occurring word-initially, of /ŋ/, but not distinguished from Г г /ɣ/ in the Russian missionaries’ spelling.
Д д d [d] In complementary distribution with [nd].
Е е jo /ʑo, ʲo/
Ж ж ż /ʐ/
ЖЬ жь j /ʑ/ When not preceded or followed by a vowel. Rare. Not distinguished from Ж ж in the missionaries’ spelling.
З з z /z/
Ɛ ɛ ź, z’ /ð/ Written Зь зь in the missionaries’ spelling.
І і i /ʑi, ʲi/
И и jy /ʑe, ʲe/
Й й j /ʑ/ After vowels. Written with ь + е, и, ҍ, є, ю, я after a consonant and with жь when not preceded or followed by a vowel.
К к k /k/
Л л l /ɫ/
ЛЬ ль ļ, l’ /ʎ/
М м m /m/
Н н n /n/
НГ нг nh, ngh /ŋ/
НЬ нь ņ, n’ /ɲ/
О о o /o/
П п p /p/
Р р r /ɾ/ /r/ word-initially and after a consonant.
РР рр rr /r/
С с s /s/
Ɔ ɔ ś /θ/ Written Сь сь in the missionaries’ spelling.
Т т t /t/
У у u /o/
Ф ф f /ɸ/
Х х ch, x /x/ Has an allophone [h] which sometimes was written Г г by the missionaries.
Ц ц c /ts/
Ч ч ċ, cż /tʂ/
ЧЬ чь ç, cj /tɕ/ Not distinguished from Ч ч in the missionaries’ spelling. Written чье, чьи, чьҍ, чьє, чью, чья when followed by a vowel.
Ш ш ṡ, sż /ʂ/
Щ щ ş, sj /ɕ/ Incidentally distinguished by the missionaries because Russian had a suitable letter.
Ъ ъ ä /ə/ Not distinguished from А а in the missionaries’ spelling.
Ы ы y /e/ When not preceded by /ʑ, ʎ, ɲ/.
Ь ь (') /ʲ/ Used in digraphs for alveopalatal and palatal consonants. The phonemes /ʎ, ɲ/ are written л, н+ е, и, ҍ, є, ю, я when followed by a vowel.
Ҍ ҍ ë /æ/ Written Э э and not distinguished from /ɛ/ in the missionaries’ spelling.
Є є je /jɛ, ʲɛ/ Written Ҍ ҍ in the missionaries’ spelling.
Э э e /ɛ/
Ю ю ju /ju, ʲu/
Я я ja /ja, ʲa/

On 2009-02-18 Jan van Steenbergen wrote:

Hehe. GMP? Are you saying we know anything about Modern Tocharian?

Yes, I have some drafts in my head! ;-)

If so, all I can say is: wow! Bengan, I want to know more about that!

There is so far only a little known about it. I started out from the known consonantal allophony in Old Tocharian:

#,# V_V C_V N_
/p/ [p] [β] [ɸ]/[β] [b]
/t/ [t] [ð] [θ]/[ð] [d]
/k/ [k] [ɣ] [x]/[ɣ] [g]

to which I added:

#,# V_V C_V N_
/ts/ [ts] [dz] ([s</td> ]/[z] ?) [dz</td> ]
/c/ [tɕ] [dʑ] ([ɕ]/[ʑ] ?) [dʑ]
/s/ [s] [z] [s]/[z] [dz]
/ɕ/ [ɕ] [ʑ] [ɕ]/[ʑ] [dʑ]
/ʂ/ [ʂ] [ʐ] [ʂ]/[ʐ] [dʐ]

Where [sæ#ɨɐ0ʲz] are the Polish/Wenedyk soft sibilants si zi and [ʃ ʒ] are the Pol/Wnd hard sibilants sz .z.

And that the stops have the fricative allophones also next to liquids, so that e.g.

  • tr > θr / #_
  • tr > ðr / V_V
  • rt > rθ / _#

The most important subsequent change on the road to New Tocharian is

  • @ > Ø

i.e. the loss of all "[ä]"s. (That is a-umlaut, the unstressed allophone of /a/ [ə]) except where it had already shifted to /i/. This made all the above consonant allophones phonemic, with the important exception that there were no /b d dzæ#ɨɐ0ʲdʒ g/ but rather /m͡b/ etc.

Later changes include:

  • a > ə
  • β > w
  • ew > ju
  • oj > jo
  • ej > e Old Tocharian /e/ ̩ [ɛ]
  • ow > o Old Tocharian /o/ ̩ [ɔ]
  • aj > æː > æ
  • aw > ɒː > ɒ > ɔ
  • j > /ʑ/
  • ʑ > "/j/"
  • ʐ > ʒ
  • ɕ, ʂ > ʃ
  • sθ, ʃθ > θ
  • ʃx > x
  • zj, ʒj, ðj, rj > j
  • sj, ʃj, θj > ɕ
  • nj > ɲ
  • lj > ʎ
  • [nasal] > Ø / #_ [voiced stop]
  • ŋg, ŋɣ > ŋ
  • ɸ > f
  • w > ʋ

Needless to say these changes will also bring havoc in the inflexional system...

Probably an intermediate stage in the development of the O.Toch. ew oj was /y ø/, which later 'broke' to /ju jo/ along with /æ ɒ/ > /ja wa/, i.e. the langiuage was heavily Turkicized/Uralicized at some point. Perhaps even it still is, so that the letters hitherto Latinized ju ja actually have front rounded allophones, with an actual [j] occuring only word initially and intervocallically, and Middle Tocharian *ji and *i merge. Instead there is a distinction between low mid and low front vowels. There is no actual /jɑ/ since Middle Tocharian /jɑ/ merges with /jæ/ and /jə/ as follows (M.Toch. = Middle Tocharian, of course only attested as spelling errors in documents trying to write Old Tocharian! :-)

Cyr. M.Toch. New Toch. New Lat. ASCII
Ю ю /ju/ /(j)y/ (j)ü (j)ue
Е е /jo jɒ/ /(j)ø/ (j)ö (j)oe
І і /i ji/ /i/ i i
Ы ы /e/ /e/ y y
И и /je/ /je/ jy jy
Э э /ɛ/ /ɛ/ e e
Є є /jɛ/ /jɛ/ je e
Ѣ ѣ /æ/ /æ/ ë ea
Я я /jæ jɑ jə/ /jæ/ ja ja
Ъ ъ /ə/ /ɜ/ ä ae
У у /u/ /u/ u u
О о /o ɒ/ /o/ o o
А а /ɑ/ /ɑ/ a a

Darn Yahoos which make an ASCIIsation necessary in the first place...

Obviously the Cyrillic needs to be adjusted. For totally implausible reasons I wanted to have jat' as /æ/ and /ə/ as ä! :-) The odious turned square E goes out unmourned. Otherwise the inventory of the Ajchrip alphabet would be the same even though some of the correspondences to O.Toch. phonemes would be different.

This Ajchrip alphabet, did you devise it especially for Tocharian?


The text doesn't seem to mention it.

No, because I asked for input on what people on CONLANG thought about the phoneme to letter mappings without prejudicing them by telling about the Tocharian connexion. Yitzik didn't like my use of turned Cyrillic letters, but I think it makes perfect sense in the conhistory -- plus that э and the Ukrainian є really suggest this, and even Yitzik had to admit that Russians hear [θ] and [ð] as [s] and [z]! :-)

I didn't mention either that Ajchrip was a Buddhist monk. His name is from the Sanskrit Hájagríva(*here's* Sanskrit transliteration Hāyagrīva) "The Horse-headed", thus yet another incarnation of myself! Perhaps he should be Ѣхріп Eachrip now. I kind of like the idea of his name beginning with Jat'!

I wonder what Middle and Modern orthography in the Brahmi script is like. I guess the Cä letters could come in handy for missing voiced fricative letters, long vowel signs for back/unjotized/higher vowels and short vowel signs for front/jotized/lower vowels although that would have been a slow and painful process.