Andrew Ollett (SALC, University of Chicago)
The Iranian and Indic languages are separated, on a map, by the Indus river, but linguists have long known about contact phenomena on either side. We have written records in these languages going back more than two thousand years. What, if anything, do they tell us about Indo-Iranian contact? In this talk I will argue that some of the historical Middle Indic languages show, in their phonology, a striking and to my knowledge previously unrecognized convergence with the Middle Iranian languages: the quantitative reduction and eventual loss of all final syllables, which, because these syllable carried inflectional endings, had drastic knock-on effects in morphology and syntax. These “Middle Indo-Iranian” languages included Gandhari, a lingua franca of Buddhism used from the 3rd c. BCE to the 4th c. CE, and Apabhramsha, a literary language attested much later (8th c. CE) and commonly imagined to be the ancestor of (some of) the modern languages of North India. I locate the main period of influence from 100 BCE to 200 CE, when Iranian-speaking rulers transformed the political landscape of northern India. Sten Konow wrote in 1929 that “there are no indications to show that they made important independent contributions to Indian civilization,” but he continued vaguely that “we get the impression that their rule gave rise to a certain fermentation, which became of importance.” I will give linguistic and philological evidence to substantiate Konow’s second claim.