Early Medieval Period – Linguistic Developments

There were a number of significant linguistic developments. First, there was the onset and growth of the third stage of Middle Indo-Aryan languages, i.e. the Prakrits (Old Indo-Aryan languages include Classical and Vedic Sanskrit), from about 600 CE. This third stage of the Middle Indo-Aryan languages is termed Apabhramsha by the linguists, out of which the New or Modern Indo-Aryan languages such as Hindi and Marathi began to evolve from the tenth century CE. Second, the predominance of Sanskrit continued to grow as the official language of the states and one used for trans-provincial communication throughout the culture region of South and South-east Asia, apart from as a language of literature and religion; towards the end of early medieval period even the Jainas were beginning to give up their Ardha-Magadhi Prakrit in its favour. In the history of Sanskrit legal literature, this period marks a watershed, during which the last of the Smritis, the Katyayana Smriti, was composed, and towards the end of which the great tradition of Sanskrit commentaries on these Smritis made its first beginning with the commentary of Asahaya on the Narada Smriti.

Third, there was the continuing ascent of Tamil along with the foundations of Kannada and Telugu as a literary language. The growth of Tamil received a great fillip from the Bhakti movement. Although no extant works can be ascribed to this period, epigraphic references as well as the later literary ones show nevertheless that Kannada was flourishing as a literary language, aided by state patronage and royal participation. For instance, Durvinita, who is mentioned as a celebrated literary figure of the language, was probably the sixth-century Ganga king Durvinita of southern Karnataka. As for Telugu, the discovery of fragments of an early text on prosody, called Janashraychhandas, points to a strong likelihood that its rise as a literary language may have commenced as early as the first references to Telugu words in stone inscriptions of the fifth and sixth century CE.

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