Page:A history of Sanskrit literature (1900), Macdonell, Arthur Anthony.djvu/36

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Hebrew among the Jews or of Latin in the Middle Ages.

Whoever was familiar with Sanskrit at the same time spoke one popular language or more. The question as to what these popular languages were brings us to the relation of Sanskrit to the vernaculars of India. The linguistic importance of the ancient literary speech for the India of to-day will become apparent when it is pointed out that all the modern dialects—excepting those of a few isolated aboriginal hill tribes—spoken over the whole vast territory between the mouths of the Indus and those of the Ganges, between the Himālaya and the Vindhya range, besides the Bombay Presidency as far south as the Portuguese settlement of Goa, are descended from the oldest form of Sanskrit. Starting from their ancient source in the north-west, they have overflowed in more and more diverging streams the whole peninsula except the extreme south-east. The beginnings of these popular dialects go back to a period of great antiquity. Even at the time when the Vedic hymns were composed, there must have existed a popular language which already differed widely in its phonetic aspect from the literary dialect. For the Vedic hymns contain several words of a phonetic type which can only be explained by borrowings on the part of their composers from popular speech.

We further know that in the sixth century B.C., Buddha preached his gospel in the language of the people, as opposed to that of the learned, in order that all might understand him. Thus all the oldest Buddhist literature dating from the fourth or fifth century B.C. was composed in the vernacular, originally doubtless in the dialect of Magadha (the modern Behar), the birthplace of Bud-