The Pali Companion

Pali, the language of the Buddhist canonical writings, is the oldest literary Prakrit.

The Language Tree

1. Pali is one of the many vernacular dialects derived from Sanskrit called Prakrits. Prakrits are known to be used since the 3rd century BC (Middle Indo-Aryan period).

2. The development of Indo-Aryan languages is generally divided into three stages as follows: Old Indo-Aryan (3rd century BC and before), Middle Indo-Aryan (from about 3rd century BC) and Modern Indo-Aryan (from about 10th century AD).

3. The Old Indo-Aryan period comprises Vedic Sanskrit (used in Vedas, Brahmanas and Upanishads) and classical Sanskrit (used in Mahabharata, Ramayana and Puranas). However, contemporary Sanskrit and Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit (used in Mahayana texts) are later developments during the Middle Indo-Aryan period.

Family Sub-Family Branch Group Language
Indo-European Germanic West Germanic Anglo-Frisian English**
Netherlandic-German German
Italic Latin-Faliscan (Latinian)   Latin*
Romance Spanish, Portuguese, French
Slavic East Slavic Russian
Greek Greek*
Indo-Iranian Indo-Aryan (Indic) Old Indo-Aryan Sanskrit*
Middle Indo-Aryan Pali*
Modern Indo-Aryan Hindi, Bengali, Sinhalese
Afro-Asiatic (Hamito-Semitic) Semitic North Central Hebrew*
South Central Arabic*
Sino-Tibetan Chinese (Sinitic) Mandarin Chinese**
Tibeto-Burman Burmese, Tibetan
Japanese Japanese
Korean Korean
Austro-Asiatic Mon-Khmer   Khmer
Viet-Muong Vietnamese
Altaic Mongolian Mongolian
Tai Thai, Lao
Austronesian Malayo-Polynesian Western Malayo-Polynesian Malay** (Malaysia, Indonesia)
Dravidian Tamil**
* Languages used in major religious texts:
- Pali: Theravada Tipitaka (Buddhism)
- Sanskrit: Vedas (Hinduism), Mahayana Texts (Buddhism)
- Hebrew: Old Testament (Judaism, Christianity)
- Latin: New Testament (Christianity)
- Greek: New Testament (Christianity)
- Arabic: Koran (Islam)

** Four official languages of Singapore.

Table 1: A Simplified Tree of World Languages

To learn more about languages, please refer to Article on "Language" (Encarta Encyclopedia) and the Ethnologue at