The language the Buddha spoke

Bryan Levman


This paper argues that the Buddha did not speak Pāli per se, but an earlier version of the language – a dialect or koine – which, although very similar to Pāli, differed somewhat in word form, morphology and sometimes semantic content. Comparing the different recensions of Pāli (Sinhalese, Thai, Burmese, etc.) to each other and also to parallel Prakrit transmissions uncovers earlier layers and allows us to reconstruct the earlier forms, by comparing cognate sound correspondence sets and reconstructing their earlier ancestors. While it is true that Pāli was affected by the synchronic forces of linguistic diffusion from both coeval Indo-Aryan dialects and non Indo-Aryan indigenous languages, diachronic forces (change over time) are just as important for us to understand earlier forms of the language and how it arrived at its present stage of development.

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Copyright (c) 2019 Bryan Levman