I am trying to understand how the modern Indo-Aryan languages of northern India emerged from the Prakrits of the 1st millennium AD. For example, for example, I learned these relationships:

  1. Shauraseni Prakrit > Gurjar Apabhraṃśa > Old Gujarati/Old western Rajasthani > Modern Gujarathi
  2. Shauraseni Prakrit > Śaurasenī Apabhraṃśa > Old Hindi > Modern Hindi
  3. Maharashtri Prakrit > Modern Marathi
  4. Magadhi Prakrit > Ardha Magadhi > Old Bengali > Modern Bengali
  5. Kamarupi Prakrit > Kamarupi Apabhraṃśa > Modern Assamese

I do not know if I have misinterpreted any relationships in the above list, or if someone could expand the list further to other modern languages that I have not considered. For example, what are the ancestors of modern Rajasthani, Pahari, Punjabi, Sindhi or Romani? What relation have above ancestor languages with the ancestor of Dardic and Nuristani languages?

Any clarification will be extremely welcome

1 Answer 1


The Prakrits are historically attested languages, whereas particular extant modern languages do not necessarily descend from an attested Prakrit in the way that Modern English descends from Old English. There are also attested "Old" versions of modern languages, for example Old Marwari, Old Gujarati, Old Marathi, Old Kashmiri, Old Hindi. In the case of Pahari meaning Northern Indo-Aryan languages, this is more a geographical classification and not necessarily a genetic one, whereas Western Pahari (which has most of the languages) is more generally accepted as a genetic unit. Masica in his 1991 book summarizes the various theories of sub-grouping: p. 459 has a "map" of partially-overlapping curves indicating shared isoglosses. He suggests

We might therefore be well-advised to give up as vain the quest for a final and "correct" NIA historical taxonomy, which no amount of tinkering can achieve, and concentrate instead on working out the history of various features, letting such feature-specific historical groupings emerge as they may, with their overall non-coincidence as testimonial to the complexity of the situation.

The Wiki article on Punjabi says of the earliest written Punjabi samples that "The language of these compositions is morphologically closer to Shauraseni Apbhramsa", which avoids the error of saying that it actually descends from Shauraseni Apbhramsa. Indeed, a significant lacuna in Modern Indo-Aryan linguistics is the lack of systematic reconstructions. Instead, people often speak of Punjabi as "a language", which may be politically advantageous (always good to have a standard language) but linguistically inaccurate (there are lots of dialects). As pointed out by Masica, the lack of severe geographical barriers means that a strict-separation tree model of language development is of limited utility, instead a wave model of variable influences is more appropriate for understanding historical development of the modern languages.

On the other extreme, the Nuristani languages aren't Indic, they constitute a sister sub-group with Indic and Iranian. Dardic is one of the first-level divisions listed here, and Masica's discussion of the position of Dardic seems to endorse the view that those languages are an autonomous subgroup, more divergent from the rest of modern IA.

If Eastern Pahari is a valid historical subgroup, then Dogri would derive from proto-Eastern Pahari, but somebody needs to reconstruct that language, it isn't an attested language. And the strict-separation model is, as Masica says, sort of questionable here.

  • 4
    worth noting that Modern English doesn't primarily descend from the best attested form of Old English (Late West Saxon) but rather the less well attested Mercian variety
    – Tristan
    Sep 1, 2022 at 8:36
  • A nice recent popular book on the subject is Mohan's Wanderers, Kings, Merchants.
    – jlawler
    Sep 1, 2022 at 15:04

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