origins of Pali (II)

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Sun Jan 16 17:27:39 EST 2000



Even with this kind of (admittedly, here only sketchy) evidence, the REAL
boundary of Magadhi remains the issue, as far as Asoka's language and
post-Asokan MIA are concerned. Its area may indeed have been narrower than
we usually think. (Here, I tend to agree with Norman, e.g. in G. Erdosy:
The Indo-Aryans of Ancient S. Asia, Berlin 1995: 280  <<but see on Bangla
Desh forms!>>  -- however, I  disagree with many of his further discussion,
-- not the point here).

I have tried to rethink that part of the problem for the *older* period:

We can observe the probable development of this dialect fairly well if we
link it up with some Vedic evidence. The son of the King of Kosala is once
criticized (in Jaim. Br.,) for speaking like the "easterners" (praacya),
and apparently the same people are meant by Satapatha Br. (and Patanjali)
when it speaks about Asurya speech:  quoting hailavo hailavo  (= he
'rayaH), which in the Kanva version is just: hailo, hailo (details in my
paper in: Dialectes 1989, p.99).  It is indeed strange that no one in
Videha talks like that, at least not in the Vedas: one could expect some
denigrated opponent of Yajnavalkya or maybe king Janaka himself (but, I
have observed in other instances too that deviant speech is normalized into
the local Vedic dialect)... So, the question is : who are these
'easterners' and  where do they live? The Maagadha person  in the Asvamedha
etc., unfortunately does not speak but just acts obnoxiously. And Brahmins
live in Magadha/Anga only in the very late Vedic period  (Rgveda Aranyakas)
and we do not hear about the Kalingas, etc., exempt for their name...

(( As mentioned, I doubt that the Orissa  of that period had received its
MIA from the still(??)  non-IA Bengal  <<but note the eastern form
koThAgAle  (nom.) in the Mahasthan stone plaque, 3rd c. BCE, in Bogra,
Bangla Desh,  Sircar no. 45!! >>,  ---  maybe rather via Nagpur (Vidarbha,
mentioned in JaimBr.) Cf. in this respect  also the Raigarh inscr.,
Chattisgarh, Sircar no. 93 A, with 'western features', note also
samvachara  -- (= Asoka's western and southern(!) form) -- nothing is very
straightforward!!  This scenario would fit indeed better the spread of
"western" forms in areas such as Orissa. ))

Be that as it may,  true Magadha forms  such as l for r may have been
restricted to that fairly narrow area; others such as,  importantly, the
Eastern anaptyxis are more widely spread:  eastern  -tiy- for western -cc-
and Pali -cc-,  see Dialects p.179 quoting v.Hinueber, Ueberblick p. 60, 87
and cf. the Vedic evidence quoted there; (NB it has been typical for Orissa
from Asoka via medieval inscriptions until today!)
But, again, where is the exact boundary??  The Piprahwa vase, Basti Dst.,
UP, north of Benares, has  saki[yaanaM] for zaakyaanaam) <<however,  note
the 'preservation' of forms with Ciy, Cuv in some central and eastern Vedic
dialects! 1989, p. 170sqq.>>,  and note the Magadhi style Bangladeshi form
mentioned above ...

 So far, it remains difficult to tell.  A *detailed* study of the MIA
inscriptions of the eastern areas is called for -- something I cannot do
here and which, anyhow, is not my preferred field.


All of this does not solve the problem of  Pali, yet,  to everybody's
satisfaction. But such a study would provide more secure details. I suppose
no one wants to suggest nowadays that Pali comes from Orissa.  As for
eastern UP and northern Bihar (note that only *some* Kosala people "speak
like the easterners"), we would, in addition to the inscriptional evidence,
have to compare v. Hinueber's Paisaci suggestion (perhaps from the Kausambi
area, as far as I remember), plus see where  Ardhamagadhi fits in
(unfortunately, attested late, exc. the verses, again).

Based on this scanty Vedic evidence, I suggest that the dialect boundary at
that time was the SadAnIrA river = Gandaki R. north of Patna,  separating
the Kosala and Videha,  and south of the Ganges the (post-Vedic) Karmanasi
river (both of which have been discussed by R. Salomon some 20 years ago in
Adyar Libr. Bull. 42, 1978, 32;  cf. for  further details, my dialect paper
1989: 116-117). Perhaps N. Bihar had only some of the isoglosses that
characterized Magadhi, i.e. some  of the typical Magadhi sounds and forms
(Ardhamagadhi?). I cannot tell (can someone?) at this moment.

Further,  we would have to account for the older forms in the verses that
Lueders, etc., have distilled and that precede / or just are from a
different dialect than  'standard' Pali.  Much of all of this has recently
been discussed in the several volumes ed. by H. Bechert, (which I also do
not have here with me) but to which we can take recourse.

Die Sprache der altesten buddhistischen Uberlieferung = The language of the
earliest Buddhist tradition / herausgegeben von Heinz Bechert. Gottingen :
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1980.
( Symposien zur Buddhismusforschung ; 2 --Abhandlungen der Akademie der
Wissenschaften in Gottingen, Philologisch-Historische Klasse ; 3. Folge,
Nr. 117)
cf. also: Zur Schulzugehorigkeit von Werken der Hinayana-Literatur /
herausgegeben von Heinz Bechert. Gottingen : Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,
(Symposien zur Buddhismusforschung ; 3 = Abhandlungen der Akademie der
Wissenschaften in Gottingen, Philologisch-Historische Klasse ; 3. Folge,
Nr. 149, 154)

Again, not on my (already full) plate of things to be done. Nevertheless, I
can say at this stage, that the solution is not so simple as proposed in
past emails: when detailing the 'homeland' of the basic dialect underlying
Pali we have to compare all the items mentioned above: from late Vedic to
post-Asokan inscriptions of UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa. To say that
the area of typical Magadhi features does not include post-Asokan Orissa,
Madhya Pradesh  (etc.) is not enough. Rather, we have to zero in on *many*
of the isoglosses that separate it from other  dialects, also those in
N.Bihar, Eastern UP (eastern anaptyxis!) and NE  Madhya Pradesh, Orissa.


More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list