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Alternative Name. Khwarezmian.

Classification. Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Middle Iranian, Eastern.

Chorasmian is related to other Middle Iranian languages of Central Asia like Sogdian, Khotanese and Tumshuqese.

Overview. Chorasmian was a Middle Iranian language of Central Asia spoken in the ancient region of Chorasmia (today northern Uzbekistan), from the dawn of the common era until, nearly a millennium and a half later, it was displaced by Turkic languages.

    Though coveted often by foreign powers, Chorasmia developed its own culture. The Chorasmian economy was based on irrigation agriculture supplemented from the 6th century on by an increasing commerce. There were also cities of which the royal residence of Toprak Kala was the most outstanding of the early period. The religion was a blend of local beliefs with a particular version of Zoroastrianism.

    After the Islamic conquest in the 7th century, Chorasmia played an important role in Central Asian politics but the invasions of the Mongols and Timur during the 13th and 14th centuries devastated the area leading to the extinction of the language.

Distribution. Chorasmian was spoken in ancient Chorasmia, a region to the south of the Aral sea straddling the lower course and delta of the Amu Darya (the ancient Oxus), in what is today northern Uzbekistan.

Status. Extinct. It was spoken from the 2nd century CE until the 14th when it was replaced by Turkic languages.


100-700 CE. Old Chorasmian was written in Aramaic script before the Islamic conquest.

700-1400 CE. Late Chorasmian written in Perso-Arabic script.

Main Documents

a) Old Chorasmian

  1. Inscriptions on wood and leather from the great dynastic centre Toprak Kala, dating to the late 2nd century.

  1. Ink inscriptions on ossuaries from the archeological site Tok Kala dating to the 7th and 8th centuries.

  1. A few inscriptions in silver vessels from the 6th to 8th centuries.

  1. Coin legends.

b) Late Chorasmian

  1. Calendrical and astronomical terms recorded by the Chorasmian scholar Al Biruni at the beginning of the 11th century.

  1. Quotations in Arabic law books originating in Chorasmia.

  1. Glosses in an Arabic-Persian dictionary (Muqaddimat al-Adab) composed by Zamaksari, another Chorasmian scholar.


Vowels (8). Vowel notation is defective in the two scripts used to write Chorasmian. It probably had three short and five long vowels (which are usually transliterated with a macron: ī, ē, ā, ū, ō).


Consonants (27-29). Chorasmian consonants were articulated at four main places, being classified as labial, dental-alveolar, palatal and velar. Its stops, affricates and numerous fricatives have all (except h) contrasting voiceless and voiced variants (marginal sounds between brackets). The r-sound is rolled (trill).


Some International Phonetic Alphabet signs shown in the table are replaced in linguistic articles (as well as in ours) in the following way: ɸ = f, ð = δ, ts = c, dz = j, tʃ = č, dʒ = ǰ, ʃ = š, ʒ = ž, ɲ = ñ, j = y.

Script. Early Chorasmian was written in a variety of the Aramaic script supplemented with Aramaic logograms. After the Islamic conquest, Chorasmian switched to the Arabo-Persian script with some modifications.


  1. Nominal. Nouns, adjectives and pronouns are inflected for case, gender and number.

  2. case: nominative-accusative, genitive, possessive, ablative, locative. As the inflectional endings allow only a weak differentiation between cases, adpositions are used to individualize them.

  1. gender: masculine, feminine. Gender is only distinguished in the singular.

  1. number: singular, plural, numerative. There are traces of a dual in the number two, in the paired parts of the body and in demonstrative pronouns. The numerative derives from the dual and is applied to nouns preceded by the numerals three and four.

  1. definiteness: Chorasmian has a definite article (masc. sg. ī, fem. sg. , dual , plural ī). Indefiniteness may be marked by ēw- (one).

  1. pronouns: personal, demonstrative, interrogative-relative, indefinite.

  2. Personal pronouns are genderless but they are inflected for number and case. The nominative forms are: 1s nāz, 2s autak, 1p maβī, 2p haβī.

  3. Demonstrative pronouns distinguish proximal (‘this’) and distal (‘that’); a third pronoun is deictically neutral (‘the one, such a one’). They are inflected for case, gender and number (singular, dual and plural). Their nominative forms are:

  1. ‘this’: masc. sg. nē(n), fem. sg. nēna, dual nāwa, plural nāwi

  2. ‘that’: masc. sg. nāwer, fem. sg. nēda, dual masc. nāwera, dual fem. nēda,

  3. plural masc. nāweri, plural fem. nēdi

  4. ‘the one’: masc. sg. nā(n), fem. sg. nāna, dual nāna, plural nāni

  1. The interrogative pronouns are: (a)ki (who?), (a)ci (what?), akdām (which?). They function also as relative pronouns by shedding the interrogative particle a.


  1. Verbal. Chorasmian verbs are marked for tense, aspect, mood, person and number. There are two stems, present and past. The present stem is inflected, i.e. personal endings are added to it to indicate person and number. The past stem is the perfect participle, a nominal formation, which requires an auxiliary verb to mark person and number. Other tenses/moods are formed by adding a suffix.

  2. The present stem is the base for the present and imperfect of the indicative as well as for the present of the subjunctive and the imperative. The past stem is the base for the perfect and pluperfect of the indicative as well as for the subjunctive perfect.

  1. person and number: 1s, 2s, 3s; 1p, 2p, 3p.

  1. tense: present, imperfect, injunctive (rare), perfect, pluperfect.

  2. The present of the indicative is formed by the present stem + present personal endings.

  3. The imperfect of the indicative is formed by a prefix (usually m-) or lengthening of the first vowel (both reflexes of the Old Iranian 'augment') + present stem + imperfect endings. The injunctive is similar to the imperfect but without the 'augment'.

  4. The perfect and pluperfect of the indicative are formed with the perfect participle + the inflected auxiliary verb 'to have' (δāray).

  5. Future sense is conveyed by adding the suffix -kām to the present, after the personal endings.

  1. aspect: perfective, imperfective.

  1. mood: indicative, imperative, subjunctive, optative (rare), conditional.

  2. The imperative and optative have only present tense; the subjunctive has present and perfect tenses.

  3. The imperative is used in the 2nd person (singular and plural); it is made by present stem + imperative endings.

  4. The subjunctive present is formed by present stem + subjunctive personal endings.

  5. The subjunctive perfect is formed by perfect participle  + the auxiliary verb 'to have' (δāray) with subjunctive personal endings.

  6. The conditional is made by adding the suffix -manc to the imperfect.

  1. non-finite forms: infinitive (present and past), present participle, past participle, perfect participle.                    


Like other Middle Iranian languages, Chorasmian has an underlying Subject-Object-Verb word order, but in practice the order of constituents is quite variable (the verb occupies often the initial position). The copula is usually omitted. Syntactical relations are established by a combination of case inflection and adpositions (which may be prepositions, postpositions or circumpositions). Adjectives agree with their noun in gender, number, and case. All questions are introduced by the interrogative particle a- which may change word order.


Chorasmian borrowed words from Middle Persian and New Persian as well as from Arabic; it also adopted a few Turkish terms.

Basic Vocabulary

one: ēw

two: (a)δwi

three: šy

four: cfar

five: panc

six: ax

seven: aβd

eight: ašt

nine: šāδ

ten: δes

hundred: sed

father: pica

mother: māda

brother: βrād

sister: uxa

son: pur

daughter: δuɣda

eye: camma

brows: βrūc

ear: ɣōx

hand: ðast

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -'Khwarezmian'. D.  Durkin-Meisterernst. In The Iranian Languages, 336-451. G. Windfuhr (ed). Routledge (2009).

  2. -'The Chorasmian Language'. D. N. MacKenzie. In Encyclopedia Iranica, Vol. V, 517-520 (1991). Available online at:

  3. -'The Choresmian Documents'. W.B. Henning. In Asia Major, New Series, 11: 166-179 (1965). Available online at:

  4. -'The Structure of the Khwarezmian Verb'. W.B. Henning. In Asia Major, New Series, 5: 43-49 (1955). Available online at:

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