What are the Ancient Indian Languages?

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ancient indian languages

Ancient Indian languages are the mothers of modern languages. These languages are classified as ancient because their original texts and vocabulary are not in use anymore and have evolved over time to become common dialects and multiple languages. The diversity of languages we have in India is attributed to these languages. Our history shows these languages are divided into Indo-Aryan and Dravidian. Some communities in states that share borders with different countries also have Austroasiatic and Sino-Tibetan languages as their base languages. 

About the Ancient Languages

A lot of these languages were only oral in the beginning and very little written evidence of such languages. They were used to propagate culture and teachings orally. Here are some features of the same.

  • The Indo-Aryan languages are majorly derived from the Indo-European language family. These languages are the basis of the majority of languages in India. 
  • Indo-Aryan languages are also divided into old, middle and new categories. 
  • Sanskrit was the most important and dominant language in ancient India. 
  • The evidence of some languages is very scarce and difficult to categorise in language or script. 
  • Some of these languages were used during the same time by different communities while others differ from others based on their time period. 

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Languages of Ancient India

Here is a short description of ancient Indian languages. One can go through the details of each to get an idea of their dominance and origin. 

Harappan Language

  • The language found during the Indus Valley Civilisations is still unidentified and unclassified. 
  • People often refer to it as the Bronze Age language or Harappan language when it is actually difficult to classify if it is a language or just a script. 
  • It is also referred to as the Indus Script and the language was both spoken and written to communicate. 
  • The resources to decode this language are still unavailable. Some commonly accepted words and loanwords are used to draw references to the language. 

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  • It is the most ancient Indian language that has been decoded and has proper grammar associated with it. 
  • Sanskrit is also closest to the European languages that emerged during that era. 
  • It became the first language to be spoken in many parts of India. The traditional Sanskrit language was used by the Aryans. 
  • Pali and Prakrit are descendants of the Sanskrit language in India. 
  • In 4th century B.C. Sanskrit emerged in its classical form, the period coincided with the era of grammarian Panini.
  • He gave grammatical context to Sanskrit with 3,959 rules of syntax, semantics, and morphology. 
  • After Panini, the language was called Samskarta, meaning “perfected or refined.” 
  • The literary works in Sanskrit began around 1500 BCE and by 1000 BCE Sanskrit transformed into a secondary language in the region. 
  • The Sakas of Ujjain and the Guptas majorly used the Sanskrit language. 

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  • Tamil is so old that a literary piece in the language has still left uninterrupted for more than 20 centuries. 
  • It is the oldest language in south India and holds the oldest literature amongst all the Dravidian languages. 
  • Manuscripts of Tamil literature are preserved over palm leaves in sections of India and Sri Lanka. 
  • Dating the language is difficult due to the existence of multiple copies at different points in time and the long oral transmission of the language. 
  • However, the earliest surviving works of the language date back to the 2nd century CE. 
  • The origin of the language is believed to lie in the Sangam era literature. Tolkappiyam the oldest Tamil book is believed to have been written during the second Tamil Sangam.

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  • Telugu is believed to have been branched out from Proto-Dravidian between 1500 and 1000 BCE. 
  • Today is the official language of the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. 
  • Languages such are Gondi, Konda, Kui, Kuvi, Pengo and Manda are related to Telugu in origin. 
  • In ancient times the language was ‘Tenugu’ and in the medieval era it was called ‘Andhra’.
  • Telugu is also culturally similar to Tamil and Kannada as these languages borrowed a lot of vocabulary and grammar from one another during the 5th century B.C.

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  • It is actually a group of vernacular languages that were popular in India during the 3rd and 7th Centuries BCE. 
  • The era of middle Indo-Aryan languages saw Prakrit languages flourish. 
  • As the language consists of a group of languages they were classified by scholars as: Religious Prakrits, Literary Prakrits, Theatrical Prakrits, Grammarians’ Prakrits, Extra-Indian Prakrits, Inscriptional Prakrits as well as popular Sanskrit.
  • These classifications have liquid borders as they collapse time and again into one another’s territory. For instance, Maharashtri and Shaurasen lie in all the categories. 
  • It was used for the longest time in history alongside Sanskrit as a side language. 

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  • Pali also belongs to the middle Indo-European language category. It is further a mixture of Sanskrit and Prakrit. 
  • It does not appear in any canonical texts and tantis. 
  • The name Pali originated in Sri Lanka when the language was rediscovered as a court language. 
  • It was also used as a literary language in the country. It was majorly used in Buddhist texts and literature
  • The Theravada Buddhists of India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia have been using the language for about 2000 years now. 
  • These Buddhists believed that Pali was the language of the Buddha.
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This was all about the ancient Indian languages. If you are interested in such content then you can find more informative blogs on Indian History by staying tuned to our General Knowledge section.

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