[Buddha-l] Ready for this, folks? Interesting idea.........

L.S. Cousins selwyn at ntlworld.com
Sat May 11 11:33:10 MDT 2013

Joanna wrote:
> Didn't the Buddha speak Magadhi?
> Joanna
Well, no. We don't know what precise dialect the Buddha spoke. Any guess 
would depend on what was the date when one thinks the Buddha lived and 
whether the dialects spoken in Māgadha proper, Kosala and among the 
Sakkas were exactly the same. And whether the Buddha spoke only one 

The standard epigraphical language used in the Gangetic plain and beyond 
in the last centuries B.C. and a little after was a form of Middle 
Indian rather close to Pali. We have no reason to believe that any other 
written language existed in that area at that time. Like Pali it is 
eclectic with word-forms originally from different dialectics and also 
with no standardized spelling (as was probably originally the case for 
Pali). So the first Buddhist texts written down in that area should have 
been in that form. Since the enlarged kingdom of Magadha eventually 
extended over nearly the whole Gangetic plain, that language was 
probably called the language of Magadha, if it had a name. And that of 
course is the correct name of the Pali language.

Pali is essentially a standardized and slightly Sanskritized version of 
that language. Māgadhī is a language described by the Prakrit 
grammarians and refers to a written dialect that developed later (early 
centuries A.D. ?) from the spoken dialect in some part of 'Greater Magadha'.

In effect, then, Pali is the closest we can get to the language spoken 
by the Buddha. And it cannot have been very different — we are talking 
about dialect diferences here, not radically distinct languages.

Lance Cousins

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