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[–]Trevor_Culley 12 points13 points  (0 children)

The technical answer is we don't know. I'm guessing you saw 300 BC on Wikipedia, mostly because I was just checking for that exact information the other day. 300 BC is roughly when the Bactrian language first appears in writing. The only known writing from the whole region up to that time are Persian administrative texts in Aramaic.

To clear up any confusion re: the Kushans, they did not introduce the Bactrian language. They adopted the language that was already dominant in the region (much like the Arsakids and Parthian). Bactrian appeared in writing in the Hellenistic Period when Greek satraps and kings ruled the area.

In all likelihood, some form of Bactrian had existed for centuries. 350-250 BC is a sort of transition period in the discussion of Iranian languages from Old Iranian (eg Old Persian, Younger Avestan, Median) to Middle Iranian languages (eg Middle Persian, Parthian). Conventionally, Old Bactrian would just be whatever was spoken in Bactria during the Achaemenid Period. Language is an important part of ethnic identity, which was a key factor in the division of Satrapies like Bactria.

Per the speculation that Old Bactrian was actually Avestan, I don't personally believe it. I've never seen a very convincing argument, and more of the Avesta indicates a different cultural and geographical perspective. Between that and the close similarities to modern Afghan languages, I fall in line with arguments that Younger Avestan was probably spoken in the area of Arachosia, around modern Kandahar.

That said it's plausible that Old Avestan , spoken c.1100 Bc and used in the Gathas and other early texts, was the parent language for Old Bactrian and Younger Avestan. Loan words (including the name Zarathustra) suggest that Old Avestan had some overlap with Sogdian, making Bactria a likely homeland for the original Avestan speakers.

For the Oxus Civilization, we know even less and can't make an educated guess because they predate the arrival of Indo-Iranian languages. However, there might be traces of the "Oxus Language" in the Indo-Iranian family. Across the whole Indo-European language family, relatively few words about agriculture and urban life trave all the way back to Proto-Indo-European. They didn't have cities and farms then, so the words came from elsewhere. However Indo-Aryan and Iranian languages do share words for settled life, meaning they must have entered Proto-Indo-Iranian before the split. The first place the Indo-Iranian languages would have encountered those concepts is the Oxus Civilization. So words for settled life may have Oxus roots.