The Marathi language is the official language of India's Maharashtra state, where the major city of Mumbai is located. Given Mumbai's important cultural and economic status within India, it should come as no surprise that the Marathi language is of great significance to modern India. With roots dating as far back as the 8th century and a flourishing cultural history, Marathi has long played an important role in the country.
Classification and Early History of Marathi
Marathi is classified as part of the Indo-Aryan subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. The languages of the Indo-Aryan family are known to have developed in three major stages: Old Indo-Aryan, also known as Sanskrit; Middle Indo-Aryan, which includes Prakrit and Apabhramsha; and finally, the New Indo-Aryan, which dates from about the 10th century CE.
Historical records and other evidence suggest that the debut of Marathi as a distinct language can be dated to approximately the 8th century. Marathi is thought to have evolved through the Sanskrit, Prakrit and Apabhramsha stages of Indo-Aryan languages. Modern Marathi syntax and grammar points to a connection to Maharashtri Prakrit, an influential Indian language that remained active until the late 9th century.
Marathi Language Distribution in India
The modern Marathi language is primarily located in western and central areas of India, extending along the western coast from north of Bombay past Goa. Marathi is recognized as one of India's official languages by the country's constitution, serves as an official language in the Indian state of Maharashtra, and is also used for official purposes in the state of Goa. The current standard of Marathi is based on the dialect spoken in Pune, the eighth largest city in India and the second largest city, after Mumbai, in the Indian state of Maharashtra.
Marathi in Maharashtra
Since 1966, Marathi has served as the official language of the Maharashtra state, one of India's most significant states both within the country and internationally. It covers an enormous expanse of territory and is also home to the city of Mumbai (sometimes called Bombay), India's most populous city. Thanks to its coastal location, Maharashtra has also benefited from a strong shipping trade in the past. As the second most-populous and the richest state in India, Maharashtra plays a large role in the country.
Written Marathi Language: The Devanagari Script
The first known examples of the written Marathi language are found in inscriptions dating to about the 11th century. Today Marathi is most commonly written using the Devanagari script, which is also used in the Hindi and Sanskrit languages. The Sanskrit alphabet dates back to circa the 7th century AD and long served as the sacred and literary language of Hindi India. The form of Devanagari used to write Marathi is slightly different from that used to write Hindi and other Indian languages; variables may include characteristics such as diacritic marks inserted to alter pronunciation.
The Devanagari script is easily recognized by the horizontal line over each letter that connects groups of letters. In the Marathi language, the Devanagari script is used both for official purposes and printed literature, as well as for everyday handwriting. An alternative form of cursive Devanagari, known as Modi, is also used for handwritten Marathi, although less frequently.
Early Development of Marathi Language Literature
Marathi has an impressive literary tradition dating from about 1100 AD. The start of Marathi language literary culture was in part due to the adoption of the Marathi language by two religious sects, the Warkari and Mahanubhava. The poetry and prose published by members of these religious sects marked the beginnings of a literary Marathi language tradition.
Further growth of Marathi literature was promoted with the rise of the Yadava Dynasty, which ruled a Hindu kingdom spanning the area that is now modern-day Maharashtra from the 12th to 14th centuries. Under the Yadava Dynasty, Marathi was adopted as the official court language, promoting its use in both scholarship and the arts. Throughout the Yadava reign, a significant amount of Marathi literature, including poetry, prose and academic writing, appeared.
Standardization of the Marathi Language: Later Developments
The written Marathi language underwent changes throughout British colonial rule of India. During this time, steps were taken to standardize the Marathi language grammar. These efforts were primarily led by Christian missionaries who played a significant part in the publication of Marathi language dictionaries and grammar texts.
Aside from taking steps toward standardization, the Marathi language at this time also began to develop a more modern literary culture. The first Marathi language newspaper was created in the early 19th century, followed by the launching of a number of other periodicals and journals, many of which served as outlets for writers of the time. The 19th century also marked the dawn of Marathi-language drama, a medium that remains popular. Marathi language writers continue to live and work in India today, most of them in Maharashtra.
Modern Marathi Language and Dialects
The majority of Marathi speakers are located in India, especially western and central areas. Modern Marathi is also spoken by immigrant communities around the world, especially in the United States, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and areas of Europe. An estimated 70 million native Marathi speakers can be found in the world today, with approximately 20 million additional second-language Marathi speakers, bringing the total number to about 90 million.
A variety of regional dialects exist within the Marathi language, with the standard form of the language based on the dialect of Pune. This standardized dialect is influenced not only by the language of the media and academic institutions, but also by the dialect of the educated elite of the region. Differences in dialect within the Marathi language also appear along social lines as set by India's caste system.
Marathi Quick Facts
Alternate Names & Spellings: MAHARASHTRA, MAHARATHI, MALHATEE, MARTHI, MURUTHU
Language Family: Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan, Southern zone.
Spoken by Approximately 68,022,000 people
Spoken In: United States
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