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Marathi Language

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Roots of the language: Three thousand years ago, the language of Sanskrit was spoken throughout India and laid the foundation for most of its modern languages. Over time, Sanskrit evolved into another stage called Prakrit, which encompassed many dialects over a large area. The most widely spoken of these dialects was Maharashtri Prakrit, which had speakers who were spread across the Indian subcontinent but concentrated in the Maharashtra area. As Maharashtri Prakrit slowly changed into modern-day Marathi, it reabsorbed many elements of Sanskrit from written sources. The Marathi language also shows external influences from Arabic, Persian, English, and other European and Central Asian languages.

Language characteristics: The basic characteristics of Marathi are often similar to other major Indian languages such as Hindi, more or less analogous to the similarities between the Romance languages of Europe. Marathi grammar was not studied in great depth until the intellectual revolution of the nineteenth century, resulting in today’s Standard Marathi which is used in official correspondence (and is based on the prestigious Pune dialect). Marathi is thought to have preserved a higher level of Sanskrit pronunciation than many other Indian languages.

Written form: Marathi is primarily written in either the Devanagari or the Modi script. Devanagari is the same script that is used to write Hindi, and tends to be the main script with which Marathi is represented. Modi, however, has a long history in Marathi writing and is in the process of being revived today. Modi was likely developed from the Devanagari script in older times, making it rounder and perhaps easier to handwrite in cursive, but this is only one of several theories.

There is an extensive literary tradition based around the Marathi language. Two religious sects, Mahanubhava and Warkari, developed much of the earliest Marathi literature (the Mahanubhava are known for their prose, while the Warkari are known for their poetry). During the tumultuous nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a number of artists and reformists wrote in Marathi as a part of their social movement.

Early on, written Marathi was not used often in a digital setting, since like many other Asian languages there was not much support for it in terms of input devices (like keyboards) and display software. As the most important writing system in India, Devanagari was quickly converted into a computerized form, but Modi has remained as a mostly handwritten script. Efforts are currently underway to popularize Modi in more typeset and computerized sources.

Last Updated : April 20, 2015