Tokhari language

Tokhari Persian, Loulanese Persian
Tokhari in nastaliq.png
Tokhari in Persian script
(Nastaʿlīq style)
Pronunciation[ to̞χɒˈɾiː ]
Native toLoulan
Native speakers
~18.3 million (2017)
Early form
Persian alphabet
Official status
Official language in
Flag of Loulan.png Loulan
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3prs
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Tokharī (تخاری [ to̞χɒˈɾiː ]) or Tokhari Persian (فارسی تخاری [fɒːɾsije to̞χɒˈɾiː ]) is a variety of the Persian language spoken in Loulan; for this reason it is also known as Loulanese Persian in Western sources.

As defined in the Constitution of Loulan, it is one of the two official languages of Loulan; the other is Mandarin. Tokhari is the most widely spoken language in Loulan and the native language of about 63.4% of the population. It is largely mutually intelligible with the other major varieties of Persian, with the largest similarities existing between Tokhari and Dari. Besides the rather conservative phonology, which it shares with Dari, differences are mostly found in vocabulary, as Tokhari borrows much more extensively from the Indo-Aryan languages, particularly Sanskrit and Pali due to the influence of Buddhism rather than Islam in the region.

By way of Early New Persian, Tokhari, like Western Persian, Dari, and Tajiki, is a continuation of Middle Persian, the official religious and literary language of the Sasanian Empire, itself a continuation of the Old Persian spoken in the courts of the Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BCE).


Tokhari is the name given to the New Persian language as it is used in the area of Loulan. The name has been applied to the Persian dialect since the 12th century. The word Tokhari originally referred to the speakers of Tocharian, who later adopted the Persian language after its arrival as the lingua franca in the region; despite this, Tokhari is not related to Tocharian.

Speakers of Tokhari will often simply apply the name "Farsi" (فارسی [ fɒːɾsiː ]) to the language.

Geographic distribution

Majority Tokhari-speaking regions prior to Loulan's independence, 1991; dialects are differentiated by colour

Tokhari is one of the two official languages of Loulan (the other being Mandarin). In practice, though, it serves as the de facto lingua franca among the various ethnolinguistic groups in the nation.

Tokhari is spoken natively by about sixty-five percent of the population of Loulan and as a second language by a further thirty percent; it is the native language of the Tokhari people who constitute the majority. Moreover, many Han and Hui people living in Tokhari-concentrated areas also use Tokhari as their primary language.

Tokhari dominates the central, western, and southern areas of Loulan, and is quickly gaining ground in the former northern areas of heavy Han settlement.

Regional varieties

Ili dialect

Saka dialect

The Saka dialect is the defining dialect of the Saka ethnic group. It shows affinities towards the extinct Saka language once spoken in the area, and to Wakhi, a modern Eastern Iranian language possibly descended from Saka. The dialect is notable for its faithful preservation of retroflex consonant pronunciations in Indic loanwords.

Differences from other varieties