|Era||Perhaps from 5th century BCE; most texts 3rd–10th centuries CE|
Paiśācī is a largely unattested literary language of the middle kingdoms of India mentioned in Prakrit and Sanskrit grammars of antiquity. It is found grouped with the Prakrit languages, with which it shares some linguistic familiarities, but is not considered a spoken Prakrit by the grammarians because it was purely a literary language, but also due to its archaicism.
The etymology of the name suggests that it is spoken by piśācas, "ghouls". In works of Sanskrit poetics such as Daṇḍin's Kavyadarsha, it is also known by the name of Bhūtabhāṣa, an epithet which can be interpreted either as a "dead language" (i.e. with no surviving speakers), or as "a language spoken by the dead" (i.e. ghouls or ghosts), the former interpretation being more realistic and the latter being the more fanciful. Evidence which lends support to the former interpretation is that literature in Paiśācī is fragmentary and extremely rare but may have been once common. There is no known complete work in this language, however certain scholars specializing in Indology like Sten Konow, Felix Lacôte & Alfred Master have attempted to explain that Paiśācī was the ancient name for Pāli, the language of the Pāli Canon of Theravada Buddhism.
The 13th-century Tibetan historian Buton Rinchen Drub wrote that the early Buddhist schools were separated by choice of sacred language: the Mahāsāṃghikas used Prākrit, the Sarvāstivādins used Sanskrit, the Sthaviravādins used Paiśācī, and the Saṃmitīya used Apabhraṃśa.
The most widely known work, although lost, attributed to be in Paiśācī is the Bṛhatkathā (literally "Big Story"), a large collection of stories in verse, attributed to Gunadhya. It is known of through its adaptations in Sanskrit as the Kathasaritsagara in the 11th century by Somadeva, and also from the Bṛhatkathā by Kshemendra. Both Somadeva and Kshemendra were from Kashmir where the Bṛhatkathā was said to be popular.
Linguists have identified this as everything from an eastern Middle-Indic dialect close to Pali to a Munda language of inhabitants of the Vindhya Mountains […] In fact there is little reason to bother to choose […] Paishachi is the joker in the deck of South Asian discourses on language, having an exclusively legendary status, since it is associated with a single lost text, the Bṛhatkathā (The Great Tale), which seems to have existed less as an actual text than as a conceptual category signifying the Volksgeist, the Great Repository of Folk Narratives […] In any event, aside from this legendary work (which "survives" only in one Jain Maharashtri and several Sanskrit embodiments), Paishachi is irrelevant to the actual literary history of South Asia.
- Paiśācī Prakrit at MultiTree on the Linguist List
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Paisaci Prakrit". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- Yao, Zhihua. The Buddhist Theory of Self-Cognition. 2012. p. 9
- Pollock, Sheldon I. (2006), The language of the gods in the world of men: Sanskrit, culture, and power in premodern India, University of California Press, ISBN 978-0-520-24500-6