Ancient Indian Languages

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There are more than one thousand languages in India and several thousand dialects. These include 418 listed languages, of which 407 are living languages and eleven are extinct. There are twenty two languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution as ‘National’ languages of India without legal standing. Hindi in the Devanagari script is the official language of the Union of India while each state and union territory has adopted its own regional language as the official language. English is the second official language of the country besides being the administrative, legislative and judicial language. English is also the official language of the states of Nagaland and Meghalaya.


Ancient Indian Languages:

Prakrit and Pali are the languages belonging to the Middle Indo-Aryan period (600 B.C. to 1000 A.D.). Prakrit is the term used to denote uncultivated popular dialects. It finds mentions in inscriptions dating as far back as 4th century B.C. and going up to the Gupta age. The earliest grammatical works in Prakrit include Vararuci’s ‘Prakita-prakasa’ (5 A.D.) and Hemachandra’s Prakrit grammar (12 A.D.). The various Prakrit dialects that were in use include ‘Maharastri’, ‘Sauraseni’, ‘Magadhi’ and ‘Paisaci’. The Prakrits were transformed in the course of time to the ‘Apabhramsa’ dialects, which were widely used in folk and mainstream literature. Prakrit flourished under the Satavahana rulers and Hala, the 17th Satavahana ruler himself authored a Prakrit work called ‘Saptasati’.

Pali and Ardha-Magadhi are also Prakrits, which were used in early Buddhist and Jain literature. The origin of Pali is a matter of conjecture. While some consider Pali as ‘Magadhi Prakrit’, others point to its close resemblance to the ‘Paisaci Prakrit’, which was in use in the Vindhya region. Some well-known early works in Pali include ‘Tripitakas’, ‘Petakopadesa’, ‘Visuddhimagga’ and ‘Milindapanha’.

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