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Magadhi Prakrit is of one of the three Dramatic Prakrits, the written languages of Ancient India following the decline of 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 Gautama Buddha, and the language of the ancient kingdom of Magadha. It was the official language of the Mauryan court, and the edicts of Ashoka were composed in it.[1]

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

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Pali and Ardha-Magadhi

Theravada Buddhist tradition has long held that the Pāli language was synonymous with the ancient Magadha language; and indeed, there are many remarkable analogies between Pāli and an old form of Magadhi Prakrit known as Ardhamagadhi ("Half Magadhi"), which is preserved in ancient Jain texts. (Both the Buddha and the Jain Mahavira preached in ancient Magadha ).

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

The Indo-Aryan languages are commonly assigned to three major groups - Old, Middle and New Indo-Aryan -, a linguistic and not strictly chronological classification as the MIA languages ar not younger than ('Classical') Sanskrit. And a number of their morphophonological and lexical features betray the fact that they are not direct continuations of Ṛgvedic Sanskrit, the main base of 'Classical' Sanskrit; rather they descend from dialects which, despite many similarities, were different from Ṛgvedic and in some regards even more archaic.

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

(1) The vocalic liquids 'ṛ' and 'ḷ' are replaced by 'a', 'i' or 'u'; (2) the diptongs 'ai' and 'au' are monophthongized to 'e' and 'o'; (3) long vowels before two or more consonants are shortened; (4) the three sibilants of OIA are reduced to one, either 'ś' or 's'; (5) the often complex consonant clusters of OIA are reduced to more readily pronounceable forms, either by assimilation or by splitting; (6) single intervocalic stops are progressively weakened; (7) dentals are palatalized by a following '-y-'; (8) 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-' in one 'ī-/ū-' inflexion, elimination of the dative, 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, the MIA languages are mostly dependent on Old Indo-Aryan, with addition of a few so-called 'deśī' words of (often) uncertain origin.

Ardhamagadhi differs from later Magadhi Prakrit on similar points as Pāli. For example, Ardhamagadhi preserves historical l, unlike later Magadhi Prakrit, where l changed into r. Additionally, in the noun inflection, Ardhamagadhi shows the ending -o instead of Magadhi Prakrit -e at least in many metrical places. This similarity is not accidental, since Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism preached in the same area (Magadha) as Buddha Gotama.

Pāli Dhammapada verse 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.

Jain Samana sutta 125:

Jo sahassam sahassanam, samgame dujjae jine. Egam jinejja appanam, esa se paramo jao. (125)

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

See also

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