Ancient Indian Languages Sanskrit: The Vedic language subsequently came to be known as Sanskrit. Sanskrit was similar to languages of the European continent spoken by tribesmen around 2000 B.C.E. The earliest surviving Sanskrit literature is the Rig Veda. As time went on many of the words of the original language were forgotten and became obsolete.

In 4th Century B.C.E., Panini, a grammarian in Takshashila, wrote a great grammar work in called Ashtadhyayi. Ashtadhyayi consisted of eight chapters. The standardization of the language resulted in a perfected language called Samskrita. This Samskrita was refined and anglicized Sanskrit. This classical Sanskrit became the language of the priestly class and later of the governing class.

Ancient Indian Languages Sanskrit Prakrit

The popular dialect of the language that developed naturally was called Prakrit or Prakrita. It was an unrefined or crude language. For almost thousand years lasting from the Buddha Period to the Gupta Period, Prakrit was the spoken language of India. The language of the edicts of Ashoka’s time was in Prakrit. Prakrit had several regional dialects as well.

The most popular in the North during Buddha’s period was Pali. Several Buddhist texts were written in Pali. Magadhan Empire had a dialect called Magadhi. Another form was Ardha-magadhi or Half Magadhi. This language became the sacred language of Mahavira’s Jains.

Ancient Indian Languages Sanskrit

Other important Prakrits were Saureshi and Maharastri. Bengali and a language used by Jains of Gujarat in the Middle Ages called Apabrahmsa also were derived from Prakrit. All of the modern vernaculars spoken in Northern India today are direct descendants of Sanskrit and Prakrit.

The South, however, developed its own languages. Subsequently, Sanskrit influenced them. The main languages of the South are Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Tulu, and Malayalam. Collectively these are called Dravidian languages or Panchbhasha.

Ancient Indian Languages Sanskrit Prakrit
Sanskrit Alphabet

Sanskrit naturally influenced Tulu, Kannada, and Telugu. These languages were spoken in more northern regions of the South, more than Tamil. Malayalam, which is closely related to Tulu and Tamil, became a separate language in the 11th Century.

Ancient Indian Languages Prakrit

The script of the Prakrit language may be similar to the Harappa scripts. However, those scripts have yet not been deciphered. There are visual resemblances between the two scripts. There are, however, no surviving evidence of any scripts during the assimilation of the Vedas or Upanishads.

The first evidence of written script is seen at the Ashoka’s inscriptions. These were written in the Brahmi Script. These were from the 3rd Century B.C.E. The inscriptions written on stone pillars have survived to demonstrate a sophisticated language of purely Indian descent. This led to the belief that the written language had developed in India long before this script.

Sanskrit Letters

The written language was then spread far and wide. This was specifically in South East Asia during Ashoka’s reign. It is controversial whether Brahmi script was related to Harappa script or to the Semitic script. There were many local variations to the Brahmi script. This, subsequently, led to the practice of joining of letters and words together with a line on the top of the letters. This was very much like that of today’s Hindi script. Eventually, this script came to be known as Devanagari script or the script of the City of Gods.