[prah-krit, -kreet]
Prakrit, any of a number of languages belonging to the Indic group of the Indo-Iranian subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Indo-Iranian). The Prakrits are usually classified as Middle Indic languages that followed the Old Indic stage of Sanskrit and Vedic but preceded the Modern Indic period. Some scholars, however, use the term Prakrit to include the Modern Indic vernaculars as well as those of the Middle Indic period—in short, to designate all Indic languages other than Sanskrit and Vedic. Other authorities say that the Modern Indic languages, which began to take form between 1000 and 1200, developed from the various medieval Prakrits. The oldest written records of the Prakrits are inscriptions of the 3d cent. B.C., but the languages were in use as vernaculars by the 6th cent. B.C. The Prakrits have been described as regional or vernacular dialects of classical Sanskrit. They were popular forms of speech, but a few of them developed into literary languages. Some estimates put the number of Prakrits at 38. In the ancient Indian drama, upper-class male (and sometimes female) characters use Sanskrit, while the characters (both male and female) of the lower classes speak various Prakrits. It can therefore be inferred that in this early period the Prakrits as popular forms of speech were used side by side with Sanskrit, the language of the priests and the nobility. Pali, a Middle Indic language that became the language of the Buddhists and their sacred literature, is considered a Prakrit by some scholars, though not by all. There are important phonetic and grammatical differences between the Old Indic and Middle Indic languages. For example, the Prakrits were much simpler grammatically than classical Sanskrit, having discarded the dual number for noun and verb, reduced the eight-case system of Sanskrit for the noun, and generally simplified the verb. On the whole, the vocabulary of Prakrit is of Old Indic origin.

See A. C. Woolner, Introduction to Prakrit (2d ed. 1928, repr. 1986).

Prakrit (also transliterated as Pracrit) (Sanskrit: prākṛta प्राकृत (from pra-kṛti प्रकृति): according to one interpretation, "original, natural, artless, normal, ordinary, usual", interpreted as indicating the "vernacular", in contrast to the literary and religious [orthodoxy] of ; both adjectives elliptically referring to vāk "speech"; according to another interpretation, "derived from an original", i.e. derived from Sanskrit) refers to the broad family of the Indic languages and dialects spoken in ancient India. The Prakrits became literary languages, generally patronized by kings identified with the Kshatriya caste, but were regarded as illegitimate by the Brahmin orthodoxy. The earliest extant usage of Prakrit is the corpus of inscriptions of Asoka, emperor of India. While the various Prakrit 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.


Prakrit is foremost a native term, designating "vernaculars" as opposed to Sanskrit. Some modern scholars follow this classification by including all Middle Indo-Aryan languages under the rubric of "Prakrits", while others emphasise the independent development of these languages, often separated from the history of Sanskrit by wide divisions of caste, religion, and geography.

The three Dramatic Prakrits - Sauraseni, Magadhi, Maharashtri, as well as Jain Prakrit each represent a distinct tradition of literature within the history of India. Other Prakrits are reported in old historical sources, but are no longer spoken (e.g., Paisaci).

Ardhamagadhi ("half Magadhi"), an archaic form of Magadhi which was used extensively to write Jain scriptures, is often considered to be the definitive form of Prakrit, while others are considered variants. For this reason, courses teaching "Prakrit" often teach Ardhamagadhi.

Pali (the language of Theravada Buddhism) 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 , from which our "prakrit" is derived, are "original, natural, normal" and the term is derived from , "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 , "refined".

Traditional accounts

Virtually every Sanskrit student is taught that refinement of Sanskrit (to reverse much of middle-Indic influence from the standard language) was a process spanning many generations (traditionally more than a thousand years) until it was considered complete and perfect.

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. Other Prakrits include the Gāndhārī, and Paisāci, which is known through grammarians' statements. The modern languages of northern India developed from the Prakrits, after the intermediary stage of the Apabhramsa language.

External links


  • Pischel, Prakrit Grammar
  • Woolner, Introduction to Prakrit

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