The Kitan Language and Script


The Kitans established the Liao dynasty in northern China, which lasted for over two centuries (916-1125). In this survey the reader will find what is currently known about the Kitan language and scripts.
The language was very likely distantly related to Mongolian, with two quite different scripts in use. A few generations after their state was defeated, almost all trace of the Kitan spoken and written languages disappeared, except a few words in Chinese texts. Over the past few decades, however, inscriptions from the tombs of the Liao emperors and the Kitan aristocracy have been at least partially deciphered, resulting in a significant increase of our knowledge of the Kitan lexicon, morphology and syntax.
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Biographical Note

Daniel Kane, Ph.D (1975) (ANU) is Professor of Chinese at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. His previous book on a related language was The Sino-Jurchen Vocabulary of the Bureau of Interpreters (Indiana University Uralic and Altaic Series, 1988).

Review Quotes

'Kane's book is a welcome study to Khitan Studies, the first of its kind in a western language. It succeeds in making Khitan data available to a broader public, and presents an important number of original contributions. In recent years, new Khitan texts have been unearthed and, among all the undeciphered languages, Khitan is probably the one which has the greater chance of being one day fully understood. Kane's work is a significant step forward towards this goal.'
Guillaume Jacques, INALCO, Diachronica 27:1

'... Daniel Kane has written a thorough and accessible guide to what is reliably known of the Kitan script. (...) Altaicists, Chinese linguists, students of Liao and Inner Asian history, and, of course, specialists on Kitan will all profit greatly from this lucid summary of the results of the last thirty years in Kitan decipherment. They will use the work all the more confidently knowing that only the most reliable results have been included and that further speculations have been left to them, the grateful readers.'
Christopher P. Atwood, Indiana University, JAS, 69, (2010).

'...this meritorious book is an immense contribution to Kitanology, full of useful information, innovative analyses, and syntheses of previous research.(...) This is the first nearly comprehensive book on the Kitan scripts as we understand them today, and that in itself is a great feat. While one may disagree with a certain few proposals contained in this work, commendably, the book was largely written in such a fashion as to promote
constructive criticism and testable hypotheses, which will certainly provide for the further development of Kitan studies and better facilitate research on the Kitan language and scripts. This is no small achievement. While Kane still maintains his own views on the language and the decipherment
of the scripts, he tries to stay as neutral as possible throughout the book, often remaining open to alternative analyses. This, too, is a great merit, as many things are in fact poorly understood about Kitan. In short, Kane’s honest approach to the material is praiseworthy, and ultimately makes his study even more valuable.'
Andrew Shimunek Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hung. 64, 2011.


Scholars interested in the decipherment of Kitan, the content of the Kitan inscriptions, para-Mongolic languages, Sinitic scripts of East Asia and historians with a particular interest in the Liao dynasty.


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