Descent with Variation

Bryan G. Levman


The Pāli canon contains thousands of different variants in the different recensions that have come down to us, principally Burmese, Sinhalese and Thai. Descent with variation, that is, diachronic change of a language over time from a common source, is one of the basic reasons why this happens, along with synchronic (dialect) variation, transmission errors, indigenous bilingual speakers constrained by a foreign phonological system, etc., to name only a few of the causes of linguistic change. Pāli also contains a lot of Sanskritizations where the words are “restored” to their Old Indic form, which results in different interpretations of the words’ meanings depending on context and the tradents’ expertise. This paper discusses sixteen different examples of these restorations from the early canon and in most cases demonstrates what the earlier transmission must have been in order to account for the variation. This reconstruction process is the same historical linguistic technique which led to the discovery of the Indo-European language family by William Jones in the late eighteenth century.

Full Text:

 Subscribers Only


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2023 Bryan G. Levman admin