Assoz. Prof. Mag. Hannes Fellner, MA, PhD, University of Vienna
Digital Advances on the Ancient Silk Road


In parts of the Ancient Silk Road, the Sanskrit, Tocharian, and Saka languages were written in a little-understood script known as Tarim Brahmi. Recent efforts at making these languages and the Tarim Brahmi script digitally accessible is the subject of "Digital Advances on the Ancient Silk Road", a talk by Hannes Fellner of the University of Vienna. The talk is part of OFAI's 2023 Winter/Spring Lecture Series.

Members of the public are cordially invited to attend the talk in person (OFAI, Freyung 6/6/7, 1010 Vienna) or via Zoom on Wednesday, 10 May 2023 at 18:30 CEST (UTC+2):

Meeting ID: 842 8244 2460
Passcode: 678868

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Talk abstract: From the 2nd century CE on, communities and monasteries developed along the trade routes of the ancient Silk Road in and around the Tarim Basin in today’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the People’s Republic of China. These were centres of writing, copying, translating, and transmitting texts similar to the monasteries in medieval Europe. The old Indo-European languages Sanskrit, Tocharian, and Saka written in a Central Asian variant of the Indian Brahmi script – Tarim Brahmi – were the major languages in use in the Tarim Basin in the first millennium CE. In contrast to the writing traditions in medieval Europe, the ones on this part of the Silk Road are not well understood, mainly due to the fragmentary status of texts. I this talk, I will address recent efforts of making these languages and the Tarim Brahmi script digitally accessible and operable for philological, palaeographic, and linguistic research in the framework of the FWF-START project “The characters that shaped the Silk Road – A database and digital palaeography of Tarim Brahmi”. In the project, the text witnesses are linked to their digital facsimiles on the character level using Transkribus. All data concerning the texts is combined in an XML database and published through a web application. This allows to determine which text was written by whom, when, where, and how in order to

  • trace the evolution of Tarim Brahmi and its adaptation to the different languages
  • reveal the relationship between script types, languages, and genres
  • categorize countless text fragments that are so far unidentified (regarding language, provenance, date, genre etc.)
  • potentially (re)combine scattered fragments belonging to the same manuscript leaf
  • and, of course, to better understand literacy and writing culture in the Tarim Basin

Speaker biography: Hannes A. Fellner studied linguistics at the University of Vienna and received his PhD from Harvard University in 2013. He was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Vienna and assistant professor at Leiden University. Since 2018 he is the principal investigator of a START-project funded by Austrian Science Fund dedicated to the research of the Central Asian variants of the Indian Brahmi script. He is currently associate professor for historical linguistics and digital philology at the University of Vienna. He is a member of the Young Academy of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the director of the Austrian Institute for Research on China and Southeast Asia. His research interests include Indo-European nominal morphology, historical and comparative linguistics and philology of the Indo-European languages of the ancient Silk Road, and theoretical approaches to language change.