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LINGUIST List 22.2051

Thu May 12 2011

Sum: 11th Century North Indian Languages

Editor for this issue: Danielle St. Jean <daniellelinguistlist.org>

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        1.     Amitha Knight , 11th Century North Indian Languages

Message 1: 11th Century North Indian Languages
Date: 10-May-2011
From: Amitha Knight <amithaamithaknight.com>
Subject: 11th Century North Indian Languages
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Query for this summary posted in LINGUIST Issue: 22.1878
Hi everyone,

I recently posted a question to the list about languages spoken in
Northeastern India in the 11th century--specifically what the locals in
the Puri/Bhubaneswar and Chittagong areas would have called their
languages when speaking about it.

Here's a summary of the information I received (attributes in
parentheses, but any mistakes are all mine!):

First off, I was cautioned that the history of Oriya and Bangla is still
being hotly debated. Mike Morgan informed me that calling these
languages "North Indian" rather than "East Indian" is problematic and
Tanmoy Bhattacharya warned me to be careful when claiming that
Oriya is an older language than Bangla (both mistakes I made in my
initial email). Thanks for the corrections!

Mike Morgan suggested breaking my question into two more specific

1) What would WE call the language spoken at this time?

Bengali and Orya do have a common language ancestor, though
Magadhi Prakrit seems to more of a linguistic term or literary term
rather than a term for the spoken language of the time (Richard Barz,
Mike Morgan, Thibaut d'Hubert). They may have spoken a form of
Aprabrahamsa at this time (Richard Barz, Tanmoy Bhattacharya) but
some would argue that the common language had already broken up
by this time period and that we would probably call the languages early
Bengali or Oriya (Richard Barz, Mike Morgan, Thibaut d'Hubert).
Thibaut d'Hubert also states that the language spoken in Chittagong is
made even more complicated because of the strong influence of the
Tibeto-Burmese language, with the modern day Chittagongian dialect
being difficult for other Bangla speakers to understand at all.

2) What would THEY call the language spoken at this time? (i.e. What
would my character say the languages were called?)

As national identity and linguistic identity are thought to be more recent
concepts, Mike Morgan suggested that referring to "our speech" or
"Puri speech" might have been appropriate (and may still be in some
areas). Richard Barz also agreed that people were/are still "very
casual" about terminology for local spoken languages and cites as an
example that "Hindi" is the Persian word for "Indian", applied by 12th
century conquerors of Northern India. He suggests that people might
have called their languages "bhasha" (also suggested by Thibaut
d'Hubert), the Sanskrit word for 'language', "in pre-modern times used
for any spoken language that wasn't Sanskrit." Thibaut d'Hubert points
to "sanksrit commentary of Munidatta (late 13th century) calling this
language 'prakrita-bhasha', which is used here as the opposite of
Sanskrit." Ricard Barz also suggests "boli" or "buli", the term for

Some suggested references:

The Indo-Aryan Languages by C.P. Masica (Richard Barz)
The Origin and Development of the Bengali Language by S.K. Chatterji
(Tanmoy Bhattacharya, Thibaut d'Hubert, Naira Khan, Mike Morgan,
Bill Poser)

Many thanks also to a person who responded via twitter (tweezew)
who offered some general guidance about researching 11th century

Thanks again to everyone who responded to my query. I will keep you
posted if I manage to find a publisher for my manuscript!

Amitha Jagannath Knight
twitter: amithaknight
Linguistic Field(s): Anthropological Linguistics
                            Historical Linguistics

Subject Language(s): Bengali (ben)
                            Oriya (ori)

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