origins of Pali

L.S.Cousins selwyn at DTN.NTL.COM
Wed Jan 12 16:11:12 UTC 2000


>>I am afraid we have to start from Adam and Eve again, which I am
>>not really willing nor do I have the time to do:
>>* Asoka prefers to write in the  local language/dialect (Greek
>>/Aramaic in Afghanistan, or NW MIA dialect in NW Pakistan, with
>>typical NW metathesis: dhrama for dharma, etc. etc.)

This is what is in debate. Even for the northwest there is a recently
discovered inscription in Braahmii with no north-western dialect

>>* where he does not,this has to be explained, e.g. in S.India,
>>where he unfortunately did not write in Dravidian but in MIA...
>>(NB: I do not know of a cogent explanation for this last fact --
>>except maybe that Dravidian was not yet WRITTEN at that time ---;
>>interestingly, as far as I remember here at home, these southern
>>inscr. are in "Patna" chancellary dialect)

The converse is the case. We should perhaps view the north-west as
the special case which has to be explained i.e. it is probably a
product of pre-existent administrative practice in this area, using
the Kharo.s.thii alphabet.

>>* If one wants to deny the above two items, and go beyond circular
>>arguments, one has to link the inscriptions with other well known
>>facts -- (not directly with the "modern" and medieval form of Pali;
>>even the oldest MS, from Nepal, is only mid 1st mill.++, in Gupta
>>type script)--

It is a little later that that, but there are also Pali materials
from Burma (Pyu), dating to the fifth or sixth century A.D..

>>-- but with  the (much) later gramm. descriptions or with the
>>preceding Vedic dialects -- or even better, with near contemporary
>>(early post-Asoka) inscriptions.

This is well-known. However, it should not be exaggerated. The
discussions in the Pali commentaries do sometimes make it clear what
precise forms are at issue.

>>We all know of course that Pali is a literary Koine with many
>>dialect features (and Sanskritization even throughout the Middle
>>Ages, standard examples : -sattva instead of -satta, brAhmaNa
>>instead of bahmaNa etc.),  ---  but its basic dialect  has
>>(hackneyed) western nom. -o, not -e, has  r not l, etc . etc.

The form -sattva- is not found in any Pali text; you must be thinking
of BHS. Metrical studies may show that is sometimes or
always a later Sankritization and not an indigenous feature of Pali.

The point at issue is whether forms such as the nominative in -o are
geographically an exclusively western feature. And in fact they are
not. The inscription of Khaaravela does not have either the
nominative singular in -e nor the use of l for r. It is not alone in

Subsequent inscriptions from Western India in the century after
A'soka do not closely resemble the language of Girnaar. Conversely
the inscriptions from Bhaarhut and Saa~ncii have elements in common
with Pali which are not found in the inscriptions of A'soka.


L.S.Cousins at or selwyn at

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list