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Middle Indic


Middle Indic

Middle Indo-Aryan languages (Middle Indic languages, sometimes as Prakrit) is a group in the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-Iranian languages. Middle Indo-Aryan languages are the descendants of the Old Indo-Aryan languages such as Vedic, Epic Sanskrit and Classical Sanskrit, and the predecessors of the Modern Indo-Aryan languages such as Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu), Oriya, Bengali, and Punjabi.

The Middle Indo-Aryan stage in the evolution of Indo-Aryan languages is thought to have spanned more than a millennium between 600 BC - 1000 AD, and is often divided into three major subdivisions.

  • The middle stage is represented by the various literary Prakrits, especially Sauraseni, Maharashtri and Magadhi. The term Prakrit is also often applied to Middle Indo-Aryan languages (prakrita literally means "natural" as opposed to sanskrita, which literally means "constructed" or "refined"). Modern scholars such as Michael C. Shapiro follow this classification by including all Middle Indo-Aryan languages under the rubric of "Prakrits", while others emphasise the independent development of these languages, often separated from Sanskrit by social and geographic differences.[1]


The Indo-Aryan languages are commonly assigned to three major groups - Old Indo-Aryan languages, Middle Indo-Aryan languages and Early Modern and Modern Indo-Aryan languages, a linguistic and not strictly chronological classification.

The Middle Indo-Aryan languages are younger than Old Indo-Aryan languages such Rigvedic Sanskrit,[4] but were contemporaneous with the Classical Sanskrit, another Old Indo-Aryan language.[5]

Some scholars believe that a number of morphophonological and lexical features betray the fact that Middle Indo-Aryan languages are not direct continuations of Old Indo-Aryan languages (such as Ṛgvedic Sanskrit, the main base of Classical Sanskrit); rather they descend from dialects which, despite many similarities, were different from Ṛgvedic.[6]

Early phase: 3rd century BC

  • Asoka -Prakrits (3rd century BC; regional dialects)
  • Gandhari (a Buddhist canonical language)
  • Pali (a Buddhist canonical language)
  • early Ardhamagadhi (language of the oldest Jain sutras)

Middle phase (200 BC to 700 AD)

Late phase: Apabhramsa (700 to 1500 AD)

  • Abahatta (Maghadi Apabhramsa)
  • Elu (Sinhalese Apabhramsa)

Phonology and morphology

MIA languages, though individually distinct, share features of phonology and morphology which characterize them as parallel descendants of Old Indo-Aryan. Various sound changes are typical of the MIA phonology:

  1. The vocalic liquids '' and '' are replaced by 'a', 'i' or 'u';
  2. the diphthongs 'ai' and 'au' are monophthongized to 'e' and 'o';
  3. long vowels before two or more consonants are shortened;
  4. the three sibilants of OIA are reduced to one, either 'ś' or 's';
  5. the often complex consonant clusters of OIA are reduced to more readily pronounceable forms, either by assimilation or by splitting;
  6. single intervocalic stops are progressively weakened;
  7. dentals are palatalized by a following '-y-';
  8. all final consonants except '-ṃ' are dropped unless they are retained in 'sandhi' junctions.

The most conspicuous features of the morphological system of these languages are: loss of the dual; thematicization of consonantal stems; merger of the f. 'i-/u-' and 'ī-/ū-' in one 'ī-/ū-' inflexion, elimination of the dative, whose functions are taken over by the genitive, simultaneous use of different case-endings in one paradigm; employment of 'mahyaṃ' and 'tubhyaṃ' as genitives and 'me' and 'te' as instrumentals; gradual disappearance of the middle voice; coexistence of historical and new verbal forms based on the present stem; and use of active endings for the passive. In the vocabulary, the MIA languages are mostly dependent on Old Indo-Aryan, with addition of a few so-called 'deśī' words of (often) uncertain origin.[7]


A Middle Indo-Aryan innovation are the serial verb constructions that have evolved into complex predicates in modern north Indian languages such as Hindi. For example भाग जा (bhāg jā) 'go run' means run away, पका ले (pakā le) 'take cook' means to cook for oneself, and पका दे (pakā de) 'give cook' means to cook for someone. The second verb restricts the meaning of the main verb or adds a shade of meaning to it.[3] Subsequently the second verb was grammaticalised further into what is known as a light verb, mainly used to convey lexical aspect distinctions for the main verb.

Middle Indo-Aryan languages


Main article: Pali

Pali is the best attested of the Middle Indo-Aryan languages because of the extensive writings of early Buddhists. These include canonical texts, canonical developments such as Abhidhamma, and a thriving commentarial tradition associated with figures such as Buddhaghosa. Early Pāli texts, such as the Sutta-nipāta contain many "Magadhisms" (such as heke for eke; or masculine nominative singular in -e). Pāli continued to be a living second language until well into the present millennium. The Pali Text Society was founded in 1881 by T.W Rhys Davids to preserve, edit, and publish texts in Pāli, as well as English translations.


Main article: Jain Prakrit

Known from a few inscriptions, most importantly the pillars and edicts of Asoka found in what is now Bihar.[8]


Many texts in kharoṣṭhi script have been discovered in the area centred on the Khyber Pass in what was known in ancient times as Gandhara and the language of the texts came to be called Gāndhārī. These are largely Buddhist texts which parallel the Pāli Canon, but include Mahāyāna texts as well. The language is distinct from other MI dialects.


An apabhramsa (also: avahatta) was a language developed from Prakrits.[9][10][11] Modern Provincial languages developed from different apabhramsas. Patanjali was the first to use apabhramsa in his Mahabhasya (200 BC). The term is derived from the Sanskrit word Apabhrasta,[12] means a corrupted form of Sanskrit. Mostly Jain religious language and spiritual literature of Siddhas was composed in Apabhramsa language.
When the Romani people migrated from Rajasthan, Punjab, Sindh and Afghanistan in the 1st century AD, they were speaking an apabhramsa language pertaining to the Western part of India. They spread in Western countries around the 12th century AD.[13]

Apabhramsa poets

Literary work in apabhramsa appeared in 8th century AD. Poets of apabhramsa are as follows:

  1. Svayambhu - his poem is Pauma Cariu


External links

  • Gāndhārī Language entry in the Encyclopædia Iranica
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