The Scythian Language

By the mid-seventh century B.C. the Scythians under Partatua reached the summit of their might in western Asia; and the region of Saqqez in Eastern Kurdistan was their political center. The very name of "Saqqez" is derived from "Skuδa", name of Scythians in their own language.

A notable Scythian group inhabiting ancient Kurdistan were the Cimmerians/Kimmerians. The Alans were another branch of western Scythians whose name is still largely preserved in Kurdish place-names such as "Alan", around Sardasht in eastern Kurdistan, the principality of "Ardalan", and  even in the name of the mythological Kurdish hero of the Epic of Mem u Zin (Mam the Alan). The toponym of ''Gerros'' is mentioned by Herodotus, which is also name of an area to the southeast of Saqqez, or more precisely the traditional name for the area including Bijar and Qurwa counties, that is the eastern part of Kurdistan province in Iran. Another toponym is ''Şakak'', designating a large Kurdish tribal federation to the west and northwest of lake Urmia, where the famous kingdom of Sakacene of classical sources existed. The "Budini" of Herodotus may represent the ancestors of modern ''Boti'' or "Badini" Kurds. Name of river Kubani, mentioned by Herodotus as Hypanis, is still used in Kurdistan as name of a city.

Of the language of the Eastern Scythians, (also known as Indo-Scythians), i.e. Khotanese, remains a considerable ammount of texts and written material.
It is generally assumed that the languages/dialects spoken by various Scythian-related groups, were to some degrees related to one another, but they were not homogenous and in some cases were considerably dissimilar.

In this post I would like to bring your attention to some Scythian and Sakan words spoken in ancient and middle Iranian period in western and central Asia, respectively, as well as to some of their common features with modern Kurdish, which could be important for understanding the historical development of Kurdish phonology. As stated above, one should not forget that eastern Sakan must have had significant differences with western Scythian languages spoken in Kurdistan.

Phonological developments:

Inter- and postvocalic p>v; compare with Kurdish p>v/w:
Avestan 'k$apa', Sakan '$ava', Kurdish '$av'/'$aw'

Initial v>b; (borrowed in modern Persian from Kurdish/Scyhian)

Avestan 'váta', Sakan ' báta', Kurdish 'ba'

plural suffix
Scythian: -ti
Kurdish -êt (as in Bahdini), or ''de'' (as in Mukri/Sorani)

The frequent metathesis of replacing /m, p, b, f, v, w/ after /l, r/;

The transition *d > *δ > *l in intervocalic position and at the beginning of words, which once was considered regular and proper to the Scythian language, are now proven to be sporadic and dialectal. In any case, Kurdish frequently demonstrates this feature: de > le ('in'), xuda > xula ('god'), Muhammad > Mamlan, name of a 10th century ruler in the house of kuricized Rawadid dynasty,  etc.

The previously-held hypothesis that Scythian knew the transitions /-nt-/ > /-d-/, /*xš-/ > /s-/ is now proven to be based on a misinterpretation of sources and is rejected.

/p>f/ which was attributed either to Scythian or Median, now is considered to be an Alanian, phenomenon. Yet, Kurdish occasionally demonstrates this feature; Kurdish: ''frî'' vs Persian ''parid'' (flied), Kurdish ''frê'' vs. persian ''part'' (throw); this may be explained as a remannat of the period when Scythians were in mutual contact with Sarmato-Alanians.

Some Scythian lexems:

Scythian: kuti
Kurdish: kuti (''se[g]'' used in some Kurdish dialects is a Persian loan)

to give
Old Persian: dada-
Scythian: da-
Kurdish: da-

Old Persian: bratar
Scythian: brata
Kurdish: bra

to cut
Old Persian: fra-jan
Scythian: brin
Kurdish: brin

Scythian: parsu
Kurdish: parasu

Scythian: nara
Kurdish: narîn

to go
Old Persian: shiyava (now /sho/ its meaning has changed to ''to become'' in modern Persian)
Scythian: chiyava
Kurd: chu

Scythian: karsa
Kurdish: qars/qals

Soghdian: pspryh (fix, repair)
Kurdish: pispor (expert)

Saka : aska
Kurdish: ask

Saka: pruha
Kurdish: prusha

son, boy
Scythian: kur
Kurdish: kur

Kurdish word for ear is go/goh, which according to Kurdish sound changes it must have derived from *gausa; Avestan and Old Persian had gaoshem and gaosha, respectively, Scythian had ''gaosa''.

light, reflection
Sycthian: sauka
Kurdish: şauq, (not be confused with Semitic ''şafaq'', meaning ''horizon'' rendered in Kurdish as ''shabaq'', which its native Kurdish equivalent is ''aso''. To make it more clear cf. the famous Kurdish poet: ''shabaq shauq dadatawa, meaning ''the horizon is reflecting the light of the sun''.)

Kurdish word for good ''xas'' fits well with a protoform ''*hvarz'' as was in Scythian.

Scytho-Sarmatian: tama
Kurdish: tam (as in "tam u mij")

Some Sakan lexemes:

Av: raogna
Saka: runa
Kurd: ron

PI: *didatai
Saka: diyare
Kurd: diyar

Av: pasu
Saka: pasu
Kurd: paz

Av: azəm
Soghdian: ǝzu
Kurd: az (ez)

Av: pouru
O.pers: poru
Saka: pharu
Kurd: fra

Av: taθra
Saka: tárra
Kurd: tarî

Av: yâkarə
Zor. Pah: yakar
Saka: jará
Kurd: jarg

Av: supti
Saka: suti
Kurd: asto

Av: su$i
Saka: svî
Kurd: sî

Saka: ruvasa
Kurdish: rovî

Saka: syuta
Kurdish: sêwî

Soghdian: erk
Kurdish: erk

Soghdian: ēžǝn
Kurdish: hēže/hēža (hêja)

Soghdian: ǝškurѳ:
Kurdish: qurs

Soghdian: frusht
Kurdish: frîn

Soghdian: γǝr (mountain)
Kurdish: xir (hill)

Soghdian: žār
Kurdish: žār (jar)

Soghdian žǝwān
Kurdish: žǝyān (jiyan)

Sogdian: rujhya
Kurdish: rijd

Soghdian: nǝβǝst
Kurdish: nûs-

Soghdian: nūkǝr
Kurdish: nūke

Soghdian: nǝwē
Kurdish: nǝwē

Soghdian: pǝšī
Kurdish: pašī/ paš

Soghdian: zwrt
Kurdish: zivirîn

Soghdian: zérnkǝrē
Kurdish: zêringer

Modern research in recent years has resulted in some radical changes of our understanding of the Scythian and Sarmatian languages and their descendants. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century it was thought that the Sarmatians spoke a northeastern Iranian language and was considered to be a predecessor of Ossetian language. The above-mentioned phonological features and lexical examples show that the Indo-European base of Kurdish language originates from Scytho-Sarmatian (Not to forget that Kurdish has a very strong Hurro-Urartian substratum, which makes it look like a creole language.).


KULKA said...

Very difficult article :)
Scithians invaded the territories of east europe in VI and V century b.c. - maybe thats why some words from that territories are similiar to kurdish words - like similiarities between polish and kurdish language - or maybe there its not connected with the scythians - i dont know, i am not specialist on linguistic.

Tigris said...

Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans, Cimmerians and other Iranian groups had significant influences on eastern European tribes such as Slavs; for instance one can refer to the very Slavic name for 'god' which is borrowed from Iranic 'baga'.
with regard to origin of Kurdish, our current vocabulary of ancient and medieval Iranian languages shows that lexically and phonetically Scythian is closest to Kurdish, than Old Persian, Median, etc. are.
Please note that Scythian is not ancestor of Sarmatian or Alanian as previously was understood by ethnic Ossetian scholar Abaev, who misled us in understanding of Scythian world for half a century ago. Numerous other scholars have criticized and rejected his views.

Anonymous said...

Well it is sure that Slavs and Scythians has contacts. Jordanes writes in his book "Getica" that Venethi which two biggest tribes are Sclaveni and Antes live within Scythia in the 5 ct.
He tells us that Sclaveni live from the source of Ister (Danube) in the high of river Vistula untill the river Dniester and that Antes live between Diester and Dnieper. What concerns genetics Slavs share R1a1 with people from northern Afganistan and northern India wherear both have ove 50% of that haplogroup. If you see some Pashtuns and those scythian mumies from Altai and Slavs you will see no difference. While Kurds and today Persians have more semitic genes. So yes Scythians were iranic tribes but iranians primarly were european looking.

Anonymous said...

Kurds are now predominantly of Mediterranean racial stock, resembling southern Europeans and the Levantines in skin, general coloring and physiology. There is yet a persistent recurrence of two racial substrata: a darker aboriginal Palaeo-Caucasian element, and more localized occurrence of blondism of the Alpine type in the heartland of Kurdistan. The "Aryanization" of the aboriginal Palaeo- Caucasian Kurds, linguistically, culturally and racially, seems to have begun by the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, with the continuous immigration and settlement of Indio-European-speaking tribes, such as the Hittites, Mitannis, Haigs, Medes, Persian, Scythians and Alans. The process was more or less complete by the beginning of the Christian era, by which time the Kurds had absorbed enough Iranic blood and culture, particularly Median and Alan, to form the basis physical typology and culturalidentity.

papillon said...

Dear Sir,
I am a Yousaf Zai Pukhtun from the North west of Pakistan. I developed a deep affinity for the kurds after my father visited Iraq in 1966 and used to tell us that Kurds were almost like Pukhtuns in their dress, language and behaviour. I was just a ten years old kid then. Since that I developed a deep interest about our ancestry.
I discovered your scholarly blog while searching for Scythian language and was astounded to discover the great similarity between many of the Scythian and Kurdish words with our language, Pukhto or Pushto. It was such a heart warming discovery that seemingly attested my fathers views about the similarity between kurds and Pukhtuns.
I am no scholar but even I have found may of the Scythian and Kurdish words similar to Pukhto both in meaning and intonation which I have listed below.
Scythian/Sogdian/Kurdish Pukhto
nara (narrow) naray
pasu (sheep) pisa
Zu (I) Za
Hawis(tin) (throw) wishtal
U (and) aw
Mir (lord) Mira
Me (prohibitive particle) ma, me
Chu (go) Zu, su
Karra (stone) karre
tela (stick) telay
Newe (new) nawey
Pasi (after) pasi
Xir (hill) ghar
tarra (dark) tiarra
Zwrt (return) Byarta

It is obvious that such similarity is not incidental and I request a scholarly person like you to look into Pukhto language as well.
I would also request you to suggest books and websites for further reading.
In the end i would like express my complete solidarity with the Kurdish People, denounce all repression of the Kurds by Iran, Iraq,Turkey and Syria and express full support for a free Kurdistan.
Wishing you health and happiness,

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