I was trying to obtain a proper etymology for the name "Tarim" and found it rather difficult. The Wiktionary page only lists the modern Turkish word tarım meaning agriculture, so was the Wikipedia page that briefly describes the meaning of the word without providing any citations:

The word tarim is used to designate the bank of a river that flows into a lake or that is not able to be differentiated from the sands of a desert.

So I turned my attention to the Turkish word tarım. The Wiktionary page links its origin to Old Turkic tarı-, which it provides with two meanings: "to sow" and "river delta". I was able to confirm the first meaning on StarLing, which lists the Proto-Turkic root *TArɨ- meaning "to cultivate (ground)". However, I was not able to find a reference validating the second meaning, which I suspect to be a more likely candidate if it's indeed etymologically connected to Tarim River/Basin.

In the meantime I decided to look for possible connections in Tocharian, knowing that the Tocharians themselves were long-time inhabitants of this region. I noticed the Tocharian word for "road, path, way", ytār in Tocharian A and ytārye in Tocharian B, which seem to be at least superficially similar to "Tarim" to some extent. Obviously I do not have the knowledge to draw any conclusions, but I am very curious about whether there was indeed a connection.

To sum it up, my question is two-fold:

  1. What is the etymology of the word "Tarim"?
  2. Does the word has any connections with Tocharian?
  • 1
    It seems that the name "Tarim basin" is very recent. Apparently, neither the Chinese nor the Uyghur used to call the area with such a name. When did this name start to be used? I think you should first settle this issue before understanding its origin?
    – user23769
    Feb 16, 2019 at 8:54
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    The basin is obviously named after the river Tarim flowing through it. I could not find any reference on the etymology of the name of the river. Feb 16, 2019 at 12:36
  • I think you have a valid point. The fact is that I have not been able to find any credible sources detailing the use of this name. It may be because that I am not currently able to acquire sources in Chinese, Uyghur, Tajik, and other related languages. I might ask this question on History:SE later. Feb 16, 2019 at 19:07

1 Answer 1


Guess if I came here, was asking the same question... It could well be (proto-)Turskish (Sumerian ?), but I guess it has something to do with Scythian ("arima", one), Arimphaei and Arimaspi (sadly, all those are still a mystery). The only thing we can say for sure is that this name is very old.

  • there is no serious suggestion that Sumerian is a Turkic language. The closest it gets is some claims that it may be Nostratic (itself highly controversial and generally considered unprovable), a putative macro-family that includes Turkic, but note that these proposals still do not generally assume any particularly close connection between Sumerian and Turkic
    – Tristan
    Oct 21, 2022 at 10:22

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