Linguistic Evidence for Cultural Exchange in Prehistoric Western Central Asia

by Michael Witzel


Recently discovered evidence suggests that there is a body of loan words preserved independently from each other in the oldest Indian and Iranian texts that reflects the pre- Indo-Iranian language(s) spoken in the areas bordering N. Iran and N. Afghanistan, i.e. the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex. These loans include words from agriculture, village and town life, flora and fauna, ritual and religion. They were taken over and then exported to Iran and N. India by the speakers of the various Old Iranian and Old Indo-Aryan (Vedic) languages, as well as by a western off-shoot, the Mitanni Indo-Aryan of Syria/Iraq and by the language of related tribes indicated by some Indo-Iranian words in Kassite. All these represent series of intrusions by Indo-Iranian speakers into the world of the great Mesopotamian, Bactro-Margiana, and Indus civilizations and their acculturation.