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Vernacular Grammarians or Historical Linguists?


· Rishi Rajpopat University of Cambridge (Cambridge, United Kingdom)


07/27 | 14:10-14:30 UTC+2/CEST


Broadly speaking, one can argue that the grammars of Prakrit and Apabhramsa are not grammars at all: these texts are written in Sanskrit, are based on the Pāṇinian style of writing rules, and document the changes that took place in Sanskrit, thereby giving birth to its daughter languages. In that sense, they are actually the world’s oldest texts on historical linguistics. But on the other hand, it is possible to argue that, despite this awareness of the familial relationship of the vernaculars with Sanskrit, the grammarians documented the evolution of mainly those languages which emerged as literary vehicles, namely Maharashtri (Prakrit) and Nagara (Apabhramsa). Besides, they derive Apabhramsa not from Prakrit but from Sanskrit, thereby prioritizing language regularization over documentation of historical sound change. Let us consider the two main kinds of operations these grammars teach, namely phonological and morphological. It makes sense to use Sanskrit as the base to document the phonological changes leading to Prakrit - if not to Apabhramsa - which leads us to the conclusion that these texts are indeed documenting language change. Yet, it is surprising that they teach substitution of suffixes artificially created by Sanskrit grammarians to derive morphological forms of Prakrit and Apabhramsa, instead of demonstrating that certain inflections and conjugations have historically prevailed over others, which brings us to think that they were merely writing grammars heavily incumbent upon the Sanskrit grammatical style. This paper will seek to answer the question: what was the actual purpose of writing grammars that derive a newer layer of language from an older one?