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Magadhi Prakrit

Magadhi Prakrit
Region India
Extinct developed into Magadhi
Language codes
ISO 639-3 pka
Glottolog None

Magadhi Prakrit (Ardhamāgadhī) is of one of the three Dramatic Prakrits, the written languages of Ancient India following the decline of Pali and Sanskrit. Magadhi Prakrit was spoken in the eastern Indian subcontinent, in a region spanning what is now eastern India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. It is believed to be the language spoken by the important religious figures Gautama Buddha and Mahavira and was also the language of the courts of the Magadha mahajanapada and the Maurya Empire; the edicts of Ashoka were composed in it.[1]

Magadhi Prakrit later evolved into the Eastern Zone Indo-Aryan languages, including Assamese, Bengali, Oriya and the Bihari languages (Bhojpuri, Maithili, and Magahi languages, among others).[2]

Pali and Ardhamāgadhī

Theravada Buddhist tradition has long held that Pali was synonymous with Magadhi and there are many analogies between it and an older form of Magadhi called Ardhamāgadhī "Half-Magadhi", which is preserved in the Jain Agamas. Both Gautama Buddha and the Tirthankara Mahavira preached in Magadha.

The most archaic of the Middle Indo-Aryan languages are the inscriptional Aśokan Prakrit on the one hand and Pali and Ardhamāgadhī on the other, both literary languages.

The Indo-Aryan languages are commonly assigned to three major groups – Old Indic, Middle Indo-Aryan and New Indo-Aryan. A number of their morphophonological and lexical features betray the fact that they are not direct continuations of Vedic Sanskrit; rather, they descend from dialects which, despite many similarities, were different from Vedic Sanskrit and in some regards even more archaic.[3]

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

  • The vocalic liquids [ṛ] and [ḷ] are replaced by [a], [i] or [u];
  • the diphthongs [ai] and [au] are monophthongized to [e] and [o];
  • long vowels before two or more consonants are shortened;
  • the three sibilants of OIA are reduced to one, either [ś] or [s];
  • the often complex consonant clusters of OIA are reduced to more readily pronounceable forms, either by assimilation or by splitting;
  • single intervocalic stops are progressively weakened;
  • dentals are palatalized by a following [y];
  • 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- into one ī-/ū- inflexion, elimination of the dative case, 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, Middle Indo-Aryan languages are mostly dependent on Old Indic, with addition of a few so-called deśī words of (often) uncertain origin.

Ardhamāgadhī differs from later Magadhi Prakrit on similar points as Pāli. For example, Ardhamāgadhī preserves historical [l], unlike later Magadhi, where [l] changed into [r]. Additionally, in the noun inflection, Ardhamagadhi shows the ending [-o] instead of Magadhi Prakrit [-e] in many metrical places.

Pali: Dhammapada 103:

Yo sahassaṃ sahassena, saṅgāme mānuse jine;

Ekañca jeyyamattānaṃ, sa ve saṅgāmajuttamo.

Greater in battle than the man who would conquer a thousand-thousand men,
is he who would conquer just one — himself.

Ardhamagadhi: Samana sutta 125:

Jo sahassam sahassanam, samgame dujjae jine.

Egam jinejja appanam, esa se paramo jao.

One may conquer thousands and thousands of enemies in an invincible battle;
but the supreme victory consists in conquest over one's self.

References and footnotes

  1. ^ Bashan A.L., The Wonder that was India, Picador, 2004, pp.394
  2. ^ South Asian folklore: an encyclopedia : Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, By Peter J. Claus, Sarah Diamond, Margaret Ann Mills, Routledge, 2003, p. 203
  3. ^ Oberlies, Thomas Pali: A Grammar of the Language of the Theravāda Tipiṭaka, Walter de Gruyter, 2001.

External links