The Indo-Iranian language group constitutes the easternmost extant branch of the Indo-European family of languages. It consists of three language groups: the Indo-Aryan, Iranian (Irano-Aryan) and Nuristani. The term Aryan languages is occasionally still used to refer to the Indo-Iranian languages. The speakers of the Proto-Indo-Iranian language, the hypothetical Proto-Indo-Iranians, are usually associated with the late 3rd millennium BC Andronovo/Sintashta-Petrovka culture of Central Asia. Their expansion is believed to have been connected with the invention of the chariot.
The contemporary Indo-Iranian languages form the largest sub-branch of Indo-European, with more than one billion speakers in total, stretching from Europe (Romani) and the Caucasus (Ossetian) eastward to Xinjiang (Sarikoli) and Assam (Assamese) and south to Sri Lanka (Sinhalese). SIL in a 2005 estimate counts a total of 308 varieties, the largest in terms of native speakers being Hindustani (Hindi and Urdu, ca. 540 million), Bengali (ca. 240 million), Punjabi (ca. 120 million), Marathi and Persian (ca. 100 million each), Gujarati (ca. 45 million), Kurdish (ca. 40 million), Pashto (35 million), Oriya (ca. 30 million), Sindhi (ca. 20 million) and Maithili (ca. 15million).
Indo-Iranian languages were once spoken across a still wider area. The Scythians were described by Roman writer Strabo as inhabiting the lands to the north of the Black Sea in present-day Ukraine, Moldova and Romania. The river-names Don, Dnieper, Danube etc. are of Indo-Iranian origin. The so-called Migration Period saw Indo-Iranian languages disappear from Eastern Europe with the arrival of the Turkic-speaking Pechenegs and others by the eighth century AD.
The oldest attested Indo-Iranian languages are Vedic Sanskrit (ancient Indian), Avestan and Old Persian (two ancient Iranian languages). But there are written instances of a fourth language in Northern Mesopotamia (see Indo-Aryan superstrate in Mitanni) which is considered to be Indo-Aryan. It is attested in documents from the ancient empire of Mitanni and the Hittites of Anatolia.
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