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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



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.


Vertogradova, 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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
He chose Prakrit [Pali], the natural speech of the people, as a vehicle of his expression which also strengthened the role of Prakrit in Punjab.
Urdu is an Indo-European language which derived from Sanskrit into the Prakrit languages and at a later stage was influenced by Persian and Arabic languages, due to both, cultural and religious' influences.
However, very similar forms are found in many other modern Indo-Aryan languages, and there is Prakrit riccha-.
also von Hintiber 2001: 178), who assumed a transfer of the -ha contained in the genitive form of the 1st person pronoun maha (from the CH dative mahyam) already attested in the Prakrits (cf.
(1) It contains, as the title says, a critical edition together with a study and a German translation of the Carudatta, one of the most discussed "Trivandrum plays." In addition, the author provides an outline of the various Prakrit dialects not only of the Carudatta itself but also of the other "Trivandrum plays," furthermore supplemented by two welcome indices (both an index verborum and an index locorum) to Wilhelm Printz's Bhasa's Prakrit, until recently the most comprehensive and important work on that subject.
(2) Buddhist monks, however, in both texts and inscriptions called such places viharas or aramas, and these Sanskrit terms, or their Prakrit equivalents, would have had very different associations.
The chapter by Oberlies on Asokan Prakrits and Pali has no discussion of syntax, and the chapter on Sanskrit itself, the work of one of the editors, has less than two pages on syntax (although they are a model of information-laden succinctness and may be sufficient).
That having been said, the bulk of what Tessitori did accomplish in Jain studies was on medieval works in Maharastri Prakrit, as his studies of NIA literature after he went to India in 1914 consisted largely of non-Jain bardic materials.
Since a good deal is known about the sound systems of various Middle Indic dialects and the ways they differed from that of Sanskrit, the Chinese forms sometimes allow us to guess whether the original language of a particular text had a certain feature in common with Sanskrit or was more similar to one or more of the Prakrits. When care is taken to avoid circularity, information obtained in this way can, I believe, be safely used in the reconstruction of BTD [Buddhist Transcriptional Dialect(s)].(26)
In other words, this is a study, a detailed study indeed, on how Vedic and Sanskrit verbal adjectives evolved, via the Prakrits, into Hindi verbal forms: gata [right arrow] gada [right arrow] gaya [right arrow] gaya/gaya hai.
*1), does not attempt to cover all of the Middle Indo-Aryan languages, but to concentrate on the Prakrits proper, i.e., Ardha-Magadhi, Jaina Maharastri, Jaina Sauraseni, Maharastri, Sauraseni, Magadhi, and Apabhramsa, while not ignoring the scanty remains of the vibhasas or sub-dialects of Prakrit.
A feature of Grimal's work is the inclusion of Prakrit words (in a separate index), which probably is of greater potential use, to linguists at least--though here too we are dependent on the three text editions mentioned, and, exclusively, on their editorial decisions.