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Aşıŋa (Ashina)

The Aşıŋa (Late Han Chinese: 烏孫 *ʔɑ-suən; Middle Chinese: 阿史那 *ʔâ-ṣɨ-nâ) were originally a Late Antique people who inhabited the regions west of the Xuŋa. Some of their female descendants would marry into the Ju-qu clan, adopting their people’s ethnonym as a clan name. Others would migrate to Turän where they would be assimilated into local Iranic and later Turkic populations. The former group would go on to establish the Kök Türük Qağanate



By Late Antiquity, the Aşıŋa people were likely speaking a Turkic language; however, it is also likely that they intermingled with or were heavily influenced by an Indo-Iranic-speaking people. As their ethnonym, Aşıŋa, can be derived from Sanskrit äşvin (अश्विन्) /*ɐɕ.ʋín/ or “possessor of horses” and the Turkic occupational derivational suffix /*-ɣɑ/. In the Late Han language their ethnonym was transcribed as 烏孫 /*ʔɑ-suən/. While the use of 烏 /*ʔɑ/ does not necessitate back vowels, the diphthong /*uə/ is likely an approximation of Turkic /*ɨ/; hence, /*ɑʃɨŋɑ/. Similar approximations for this sound are well attested in Middle Chinese transcriptions of Turkic words. And while Late Han and Middle Chinese /*i/ can approximate Turkic /*ɨ/, there is no evidence that /*uə/ can approximate /*i/.

Moreover, the entirety of their known vocabulary seemingly adheres to front and back vowel harmony, a feature strongly associated with Turkic languages.



They likely spoke a form of Turkic albeit with heavy influences from an Indo-Iranic language. Some of their vocabulary that can be deciphered include:

  • Aşıŋa – ethnonym < Sanskrit (अश्विन्) /*ɐɕ.ʋín/ “possessor of horses” – transcribed in Late Han Chinese as 烏孫 /*ʔɑ-suən/ and Middle Chinese as 阿史那 /*ʔâ-ṣɨ-nâ/

  • Bumın – name < uncertain etymology – transcribed in Old Turkic as (𐰉𐰆𐰢𐰣) /*bumɨn/

  • Büri – name < Turkic /*bȫrü/ "wolf" – transcribed as Late Han Chinese 拊離 /*pʰuo-lie/

  • Külbäk – title < an uncertain /*kyl/ + Turkic /*bäk/ “lord” – transcribed in Late Han Chinese as 昆莫 /*kuən-mɑᴴ/, 昆彌 /*kuən-mie/, and 歸靡 /*kui-mɨe/

  • İştämi – name < possibly Sanskrit (ईष्टे) /iːsʲ/ "lord" (and a name of the god Şiva) – transcribed in Middle Chinese as 室點密 /*śjet-tiem-mjet/ and Old Turkic as (𐰃𐰾𐱅𐰢𐰃) /*iʃtämi/

  • Yamı – name < Sanskrit (यम) /*jɐ́.mɐ/ "twin" (cognate to the name of the mythical Iranian Şah Camşéd /d͡ʒämʃeːd/ (جمشید)) – transcribed in Late Han Chinese as 射摩 /*źa-mɑi/ and Old Turkic as (𐰖𐰢𐰃) /*jɑmɨ/

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