From Academic Kids

Prakrit (Sanskrit prakrta: "natural, usual, vulgar") refers to the broad family of the Indic languages and dialects spoken in ancient India. The Prakrits were literary languages, generally patronized by kings identified with the ksatriya caste, and regarded as illegitimate by the Brahmin orthodoxy. The earliest extant use of Prakrit are the inscriptions of Asoka, emperor of Northern India, and while the various Prakritic languages are associated with different patron dynasties, with different religions and different literary traditions, none of them were at any time an informal "mother tongue" in any area of India.

In Sanskrit drama, kings speak in Prakrit when addressing women or servants, in contrast to the high Sanskrit used in reciting more formal poetic monologues; however, the implied distinction of social status between the different strata of languages (from a Brahmanical perspective) does not indicate that common people could casually converse in Prakrit (in ancient times), any more than they could in Sanskrit; rather, the use of both languages in drama is part of the poetic artifice of the genre.

Sauraseni, Magadhi, Maharastri, and Jain Prakrit each represent a distinct tradition of literature within the history of India. Other Prakrits are reported in historical sources, but have no extant corpus (e.g., Paisaci).

Some scholars include all Middle Indo-Aryan languages ultimately derived from Sanskrit under the rubric of "Prakrits"; others emphasise the independent development of these languages, often separated from the history of Sanskrit by wide divisions of caste, religion, and geography.

Pali (the language of Theravada orthodoxy) tends to be treated as a special exception, as classical (Sanskrit) grammars do not consider it as a Prakrit per se, presumably for sectarian rather than linguistic reasons.


According to the dictionary of Monier Monier-Williams, the most frequent meanings of the Sanskrit term "prakrta", from which our "prakrit" is derived, are "original, natural, artless, normal, ordinary, usual...low, vulgar, unrefined...provincial, vernacular," and the term is derived from prakrti, "making or placing before or at first, the original or natural form or condition of anything, original or primary substance." In linguistic terms, this is used in contrast with samskrta, "refined".

Traditional accounts

Virtually every Sanskrit student in India learns the traditional story that Sanskrit was created and then refined over many generations (traditionally more than a thousand years) until it was considered complete and perfect. Along this line, some have identified "Prakrit" as an original crude language from which Sanskrit was developed, though this is, of course, contrary to linguistic scholarship, and is almost a perfect inversion of the legendary accounts (supported by some Hindu Nationalist movements to this day) that the language of the Vedas was originally divine, and then devolved into other, localized forms (i.e., Prakrits).

Some scholars restrict the Prakrits to the languages used by Hindu and Jain writers; others include the Buddhist languages, such as Pali and Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, and the inscriptional Prakrits. By the definitions used by classical grammarians themselves, a Prakrit would have its grammar ("Vyakarana") written in Sanskrit, whereas Pali grammars are written in Pali (posing an independent claim to legitimacy, i.e., counter to Sanskrit's claims as the supreme language) --an important, if merely techical, distinction. Other Prakrits include the Ardhamagadhi, which is used to write Jain scriptures, Gāndhāri, and Paisaci, which is known through grammarians' statements. The modern languages of India developed from the Prakrits, after the intermediary stage of the Apabhramsa language.

da:Prakrit de:Prakrit eo:Prakrito es:Prcrito fr:Prkrit nl:Prakrit ja:プラークリット pl:Prakryty sa:प्राकृत


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