Pali (details)

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Wed Jan 12 04:56:19 UTC 2000

NOW, the details:
>(Prof.Cousins  wrote:)
>>>The view that Pali is a western dialect is largely dependent upon the
>>>Girnar version of the edicts of the Emperor Asoka... the similarities
>>>are due to the scribe at
>>>Girnar i.e. he has in effect Sanskritized (or put in a more 'learned'
>>>form) his exemplar.
(Witzel:) This takes a very narrow view of a much larger complex of data.
>> Unless all these data  can be explained away, no eastern
>(Greater Magadha) origin of the Pali Koine.

> What precise evidence do you have which locates specific features and
>forms with specific geographical areas in this period?

Common knowledge: even the old  GEIGER/PISCHEL  ETC ETC WILL DO; (and cf.
Patanjali at c.150 BCE.):

v instead of b
r instead of l;
  kh/ch,   cca/tiya, etc etc.
nom. masc. -o instead of -e
to quote only the most hackneyed ones; etc etc.
more from my office... on Friday(?)

>>>K.R.Norman has discussed this point in various papers. It seems more
>>>likely that Pali originates somewhere further east i.e. in the area
>>>of larger Maagadha, rather than in the narrower area where the
>>>Maagadhii dialect (as later defined by grammarians) was spoken.

>> debatable.  For summaries, see O.
>>v. Hinuber , Das aeltere Mittelindisch im Ueberblick.

>The latter states: 'The evidence, on which these conclusions are based,
>are (sic) the inscriptions of A'soka (3rd century BC), which allow us to
>draw a very rough linguistic map of northern India'. So OvH does indeed
>give primacy to the inscriptions of Asoka.

Of course, as our oldest written materials. And note the "rough" map, which
implies discussion of many individual items.  All this is not so prima
facie as it may sound in such summaries.

> In the present context that means the inscriptions at Girnar (and the
>fragments from Sopara), as these are the only western examples.

What about the NW, and Delhi???
To countercheck the W and E. inscriptions (plus the ones in Drav. territory).

In addition, there  has been a long discussion on Asoka's chancellary
language and its features, as compared to Maagadhii and other dialects...
Items of the administration dialect can pop up anywhere in the local
transpositions/translations made from Afghanistan to S. India.

>He also gives a footnote reference to his Ueberblick, .... But I do not
>doubt that he takes a rather conservative view on this issue.

Conservative? -- He stresses Sanskritization and Koine character of Pali

The point rather is:  Which BASIC features of Pali fit which local dialects?

Quoting purely from memory (maybe more details on Friday from my office), I
point to early, post_Asokan local  MIA inscriptions in the western areas
(some typical ones conveniently collected by DC Sircar, Selected
inscriptions)  which easily show typical western features, such as  nom -o
instead of eastern -e.

(Where does Pali have such eastern forms <again from memory> as in the
Lumbini  words:  hide Buddhe jaate??)  And Lumbini is roughly north of
Benares... not north of Patna ...

The western features can then be compared to early post-Asokan
inscriptional eastern ones:
Where exactly is  the Boundary? (see below).

> let me cite from p. 55 (in the concluding paragraph):
>"If we can disregard the evidence of the A'sokan inscriptions ...  Pali
>.... had its home much nearer Magadha. .... when the Maagadhisms and
>Sanskritisms in Pali have been disregarded, there is, in fact, very little
>difference between the language of the Theravaadin canon and the language
>of the Haathigumphaa inscription."
> Norman, K.R., "The Languages of early Buddhism," in Premier Colloque
>Étienne Lamotte, pp. 83-99, 1993.)

We need to compare a lot of data from early MIA inscriptions (NW, C, E, W,
S, see above) not just Orissa, and from a range of centuries if need be:
The exact E/W dialect  boundary line is to be determined. This is probably
a POINT (the only one?)  WHERE WE CAN AGREE.  But on the basis of hard
(early inscriptional) evidence. Unfortunately little edited so far (see
again  Intro to OvH Ueberblick). -- The details on Friday.

Orissa, by the way, seems to represent, in my private estimation, a special
case (even in medieval times):  while it has an eastern form of MIA, it
also has some curiously western features, for example on of Patanjali's
(introd.) examples for 'knife" (daatra?)  <or was it hammati 'to go'?> a
word that he quotes for Saurastra! -- I have seen the same in the middle
ages: around 500 AD, strong cultural western influences  via the Nagpur
area, -- later ,superimposition of northern/Bengali features.  This does
not solves things for Asokan times, but points to caution that should be

>Earlier in the paper examples are given of various cases (some of them
>new) in which A'sokan inscriptions are in a dialect which cannot have been
>that locally current.

This is well known, --  as far as individual features are concerned. See above.

>The most striking example remains Sopara (near to Girnar) which
>consistently changes l to r, even when this is historically inappropriate.
>It is very difficult to believe that the local dialect actually had phara
>(for phala) or ma.mgara (for ma.mgala).

To quote r/l is  not the best  example, (though the east likes l better ,
type   raajaa = laaja) -- because of the unstable characteristics of this
sound: it changes back and forth within the Vedic texts (see my paper in
Zimbun 1991)  and continued to do so (Lumbini <-devii> modern Rummin-dei).
O.v.Hinueber has a note in Ueberblick  on this point as well, somewhat
along these lines. (( The Sopara example with l > r could easily be due to
a mechanic, hypercorrect  change from  eastern dialect -l- to more typical
western -r- , whatever the local dialect actually had. -- Must take a look
at it. ))


Finally, this whole question has some connection with another one - a can
of worms I better do not open: the relationship between the Buddha's
eastern Koine-type dialect, the transpositions made from Buddha's dialect
into Pali (and other early MIA dialects/early half-Prakritic Buddh. Skt.),
early Maagadhii, and  Asoka's chancellary dialect.....
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: attachment.bin
Type: text/enriched
Size: 6890 bytes
Desc: not available
URL: <>

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list