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middle Indic languages and dialects that are continuations of the ancient Indic stage of development of the Indo-European dialects and that formed the basis for the modern Indic languages. Although the first written record in Prakrits dates to the third century B.C., borrowings from Prakrits were recorded even earlier, in the Vedas. The Prakrits were originally colloquial dialects and only later received literary form; hence, the opposition of Prakrits (prakrta, “natural “) to Sanskrit (samskrta, “cultivated,” “refined”).
Three stages are distinguished in the development of the middle Indic languages. The early stage is represented in part by Pali, the more archaic language of the Buddhist canon, which stands apart from other Indic languages. It is also represented by the Prakrit stone inscriptions of King Asoka in various parts of India, early Paisaci, and certain epigraphic texts. The middle stage—literary Prakrits—is represented by Sauraseni in northwestern India, Magadhi in eastern India, and Maharashtri in Maharashtra. Also included here are Ardhamagadhi, the Jain variants of Sauraseni and Maharashtri, inscriptions of the first to fourth centuries, Paisaci, and Culika-Paisaci. The late stage is represented by Apabhramsa, spoken from the fifth century. The mixed northwestern Prakrits of documents in Kharoshthi from Eastern Turkestan stand apart from other kinds of Prakrits. The literary Prakrits acquired special significance. In the classical plays of Kalidasa, Bhasa, and others, the kings and noblemen speak in Sanskrit, the noblewomen speak in Suaraseni, the women and men of lower condition speak in Magadhi, and the women sing in Maharashtri.
The Prakrits differ from both Sanskrit and Pali. Phonetic features include the absence of syllabic sonants and diphthongs, the systematic simplification of most consonant groups, and the change of consonants in intervocalic position (especially in Maharashtri). The quantity of the vowel depends on the two-syllable law. There is a tendency toward open syllables, with all words ending in vowels, for example. In morphology, the Prakrits are characterized by the disappearance of the dual number, the loss of the middle voice to a considerable extent, and the absence of personal forms in the past tense. There is a tendency to standardize stem types in the noun and verb. A number of case forms coincide, and there is increased influence of the pronominal paradigm on the nominal paradigm. The syntax is marked by a tendency toward analytic constructions—the use of auxiliary words to convey case meanings, and the use in the past tense of participles expressing aspect and gender (but not person). The past tense of the transitive verb has a construction that is passive in form but active in meaning—a future ergative construction.
REFERENCESVertogradova, V. V. Strukturnaia tipologiia sredneindiiskikh fonologicheskikh sistem. Moscow, 1967.
Jacobi, H. Ausgewählte Erzählungen in Maharashtri: Zur Einführung in das Studium des Prakrit. Leipzig, 1886.
Pischel, R. Grammatik der Prakrit-Sprachen. Strasbourg, 1900.
Woolner, A. C. Introduction to Prakrit, 3rd ed. Lahore, 1939.
Katre, S. Prakrit Languages and Their Contribution to Indian Culture. Poona, 1964.
Mehendale, M. A. Historical Grammar of Inscriptional Prakrits. Poona, 1948.
Bloch, I. Les Inscriptions d’Asoka. Paris, 1950.
T. IA. ELIZARENKOVA