The Middle Indo-Aryan languages (or Middle Indic languages, sometimes conflated with the Prakrits, which are a stage of Middle Indic) are a historical group of languages of the Indo-Aryan family. They are the descendants of Old Indo-Aryan (OIA; attested through Vedic Sanskrit) and the predecessors of the modern Indo-Aryan languages, such as Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu), Bengali and Punjabi.
The Middle Indo-Aryan (MIA) stage is thought to have spanned more than a millennium between 600 BC and 1000 AD, and is often divided into three major subdivisions.
The Indo-Aryan languages are commonly assigned to three major groups: Old Indo-Aryan languages, Middle Indo-Aryan languages and Early Modern and Modern Indo-Aryan languages. The classification reflects stages in linguistic development, rather than being strictly chronological.
The Middle Indo-Aryan languages are younger than the Old Indo-Aryan languages but were contemporaneous with the use of Classical Sanskrit, an Old Indo-Aryan language used for literary purposes.
According to Thomas Oberlies, a number of morphophonological and lexical features of Middle Indo-Aryan languages show that they are not direct continuations of Vedic Sanskrit. Instead they descend from other dialects similar to, but in some ways more archaic than Vedic Sanskrit.
The following phonological changes distinguish typical MIA languages from their OIA ancestors:
Note that not all of these changes happened in all MIA languages. Archaisms persisted in northwestern Ashokan prakrits like the retention of all 3 OIA sibilants, for example, retentions that would remain in the later Dardic languages.
The following morphological changes distinguish typical MIA languages from their OIA ancestors:
A Middle Indo-Aryan innovation are the serial verb constructions that have evolved into complex predicates in modern north Indian languages such as Hindi and Bengali. For example, भाग जा (bhāg jā) 'go run' means run away, पका ले (pakā le) 'take cook' means to cook for oneself, and पका दे (pakā de) 'give cook' means to cook for someone. The second verb restricts the meaning of the main verb or adds a shade of meaning to it. Subsequently, the second verb was grammaticalised further into what is known as a light verb, mainly used to convey lexical aspect distinctions for the main verb.
The innovation is based on Sanskrit atmanepadi (fruit of the action accrues to the doer) and parasmaipadi verbs (fruit of the action accrues to some other than the doer). For example, पका दे (pakā de) 'give cook' has the result of the action (cooked food) going to someone else, and पका ले (pakā le) 'take cook' to the one who is doing the cooking.
Main article: Pali
Pali is the best attested of the Middle Indo-Aryan languages because of the extensive writings of early Buddhists. These include canonical texts, canonical developments such as Abhidhamma, and a thriving commentarial tradition associated with figures such as Buddhaghosa. Early Pāli texts, such as the Sutta-nipāta contain many "Magadhisms" (such as heke for eke; or masculine nominative singular in -e). Pāli continued to be a living second language until well into the second millennium. The Pali Text Society was founded in 1881 by T. W. Rhys Davids to preserve, edit, and publish texts in Pāli, as well as English translations.
Main article: Jain Prakrit
Known from a few inscriptions, most importantly the pillars and edicts of Ashoka found in what is now Bihar.
Main article: Gandhari language
Many texts in Kharoṣṭhi script have been discovered in the area centred on the Khyber Pass in what was known in ancient times as Gandhara and the language of the texts came to be called Gāndhārī. These are largely Buddhist texts which parallel the Pāli Canon, but include Mahāyāna texts as well. The language is distinct from other MI dialects.