This might be of interest:
Tocharian is an extinct Indo-European language which stands by itself as one of the eleven major groups in the IE (Indo-European) language family. It was not discovered until the turn of this century, as a result of archaeological expeditions to Chinese Turkestan. What are some of the characteristics of Tocharian and what impact has it made on our knowledge of IE languages in general? This paper seeks to answer these questions.
Chinese Turkestan, today known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the People's Republic of China, was the goal of numerous archaeological expeditions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The area consists primarily of a vast arid expanse known as the Tarim Basin, bounded by mountains on three sides which separate it from the adjacent areas of Tibet, India, Afghanistan, and what is today Soviet Central Asia. The Taklamakan desert covers most of the basin, and settlements have sprung up around the oases that are scattered throughout the area.
Over the centuries, a number of sophisticated urban civilizations have sprung up in the area. The inhabitants were originally animistic and shamanistic. Later on, Buddhism and Nestorian Christianity penetrated the area. Starting with the Arab invasions of Central Asia in the eighth century, the population gradually converted to Islam, which remains today as the dominant religion in the area.
Although the vast majority of the indigenous inhabitants today are Turkic, there were significant numbers of Indo-European peoples in the area prior to the second millennium of our era.
Near many of the present-day cities in the area are the ruins of ancient settlements, many of them Buddhist monasteries. The dry climatic conditions have resulted in the preservation of a large number of historical documents that were stored there in earlier times. Beginning in the 1890s and increasingly so in the first decade of this century, European explorers such as the Hungarian Marc Aurel Stein began to bring back a large number of these documents to the museums of Europe.
Included in these finds were works written in Chinese, Tibetan, and numerous other languages. Two of these languages, previously unknown, proved to be related to each other. In fact, they were close enough to be considered to be two dialects of an earlier common language. Most of the manuscripts containing them were written in the Brahmi script, a north Indian syllabary, on palm leaves, Chinese paper, and wooden tablets. It soon became apparent that a large proportion of the manuscripts were translations of known Buddhist works in Sanskrit and some of them were even bilingual, thus making the decipherment of the new language much easier. The bulk of the texts were dated from the seventh and eighth centuries. Besides the religious texts, there were also monastery correspondence and accounts, commercial documents, caravan permits, and medical and magical texts.
Linguistic analysis of the language by European linguists showed that the newly discovered language was Indo-European, although it seemed to bear little resemblance to the other known IE branches, especially the geographically close Iranian branch. As with any new find, a label was needed to identify the language. On the basis of references in Old Turkic manuscripts to the speakers of this language as the "Twghry," 2 these people were identified as the Tocharoi, a tribe mentioned in classical Greek writings as having lived in Bactria (eastern Iran and Afghanistan) in the second century A.D. Thus, the language was called Tocharian, 3 its two dialects being designated as A and B. Dialect A was represented in manuscripts coming from around the towns of Qarashahr and Turfan, located in the eastern part of the Tarim basin. Therefore, it is commonly referred to as Turfanian or East Tocharian. Dialect B is sometimes called Kuchean or West Tocharian, due to the fact that most manuscripts containing it were found near the town of Kucha, further to the west.
Whether or not the speakers of these dialects were truly the Tocharoi is open to debate. "It is now generally held that the speakers of Tocharian were part of a very early migration from the central Indo-European area, possibly as early as 2000 B.C. But, as is often the case in such matters, our evidence is fragmentary and our conjectures are highly tenuous." 4 Although we don't know when the "Tocharians" arrived in Central Asia it seems that their culture lasted up until the end of the first millenium of our era, after which time they were either assimilated into the growing Turkic population in the area or simply died out. However, during their time in Central Asia, they played a key role in propagating Buddhism amongst the Turks and it may also have been via the Tocharians that Buddhism spread from India into China proper. Attempts to positively identify the Tocharians have thus far proved unsuccessful. However, the name of the language stuck and has survived to this day in the literature on the subject.