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(prä`krĭt), any of a number of languages belonging to the Indic group of the Indo-Iranian subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Indo-IranianIndo-Iranian,
subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages, spoken by more than a billion people, chiefly in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka (see The Indo-European Family of Languages, table).
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). The Prakrits are usually classified as Middle Indic languages that followed the Old Indic stage of Sanskrit and Vedic but preceded the Modern Indic period. Some scholars, however, use the term Prakrit to include the Modern Indic vernaculars as well as those of the Middle Indic period—in short, to designate all Indic languages other than Sanskrit and Vedic. Other authorities say that the Modern Indic languages, which began to take form between 1000 and 1200, developed from the various medieval Prakrits. The oldest written records of the Prakrits are inscriptions of the 3d cent. B.C., but the languages were in use as vernaculars by the 6th cent. B.C. The Prakrits have been described as regional or vernacular dialects of classical SanskritSanskrit
, language belonging to the Indic group of the Indo-Iranian subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Indo-Iranian). Sanskrit was the classical standard language of ancient India, and some of the oldest surviving Indo-European documents are written in
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. They were popular forms of speech, but a few of them developed into literary languages. Some estimates put the number of Prakrits at 38. In the ancient Indian drama, upper-class male (and sometimes female) characters use Sanskrit, while the characters (both male and female) of the lower classes speak various Prakrits. It can therefore be inferred that in this early period the Prakrits as popular forms of speech were used side by side with Sanskrit, the language of the priests and the nobility. PaliPali
, language belonging to the Indic group of the Indo-Iranian subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. Some scholars classify it as a Prakrit, or vernacular dialect of classical Sanskrit.
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, a Middle Indic language that became the language of the Buddhists and their sacred literature, is considered a Prakrit by some scholars, though not by all. There are important phonetic and grammatical differences between the Old Indic and Middle Indic languages. For example, the Prakrits were much simpler grammatically than classical Sanskrit, having discarded the dual number for noun and verb, reduced the eight-case system of Sanskrit for the noun, and generally simplified the verb. On the whole, the vocabulary of Prakrit is of Old Indic origin.


See A. C. Woolner, Introduction to Prakrit (2d ed. 1928, repr. 1986).

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References in periodicals archive ?
While Dharmaraksa's strict adherence to four-character prosody certainly motivated the use of a two-character equivalent here, this example would suggest either a certain amount of indecision on the part of the scribe, or perhaps an intentional attempt to indicate the ambiguity of a Prakritic locution.
Such an interchange presumably would have taken place, as Karashima rightly suggests, through a Prakritic development jhana > jana (or jana) < jhana < dhyana, making them at least in some contexts indistinguishable, especially to the ear.(92) There is also at least one case where a rendering of both terms appears together:
As Edgerton has convincingly demonstrated, Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit orthography can be quite misleading as an index of actual pronunciation.(99) It is clear from an examination of the verse portions of BHS texts that these sutras were originally pronounced with far more Prakritic features than are now preserved in the manuscripts.
First, he seems to have taken aninja- as derived from anitya (impermanent), probably through the common Prakritic pronunciation of the latter as anicca (Gandhari anica), assuming loss of nasal and confusion of voiced and unvoiced palatal stops.(101) Secondly, Dharmaraksa appears to have taken the present middle participle ending in -mana as manas (mind, thought).
We would also have to presume the insertion of an epenthetic -u-, here under the influence of the labial semivowel, again a fairly common Prakritic development (cf.
If Dharmaraksa's pronunciation of these words was affected, for example, by their position (verse or prose) or graphic irregularities in the manuscript, then we should not be surprised to find problems of interpretation by a Chinese assistant with only limited ability in discerning the correct form from among various Prakritic possibilities.
But if we suppose Dharmaraksa to have been working from a kharosthi manuscript that read *ayita, exhibiting the widespread Prakritic development j > y (Pischel 1955, [section] 236), then we could speculate that he misread the kharosthi y as s - two of the most graphically similar aksaras in this script - and understood asiti ("eighty").