One recurring pattern that has really struck me as I have studied Pali is just how much variation there is in all sorts of paradigms. To take a random example (which we happened to be discussing in @johnk’s class tonight), in Gair and Karunatillake’s summary chart of the forms of the demonstrative pronoun ima ‘this, that’, most case/gender combinations have more than one form:
Some of the variation isn’t that shocking, certainly, it’s not hard to imagine how imebhi and imehi would be in variation. But gentive singular imissā and assā, or instrumental singular iminā and anena, for instance, are quite distinct. If there is some phonological or phonetic pattern at work, it’s pretty deep and doesn’t seem terribly predictable.
And of course, this pattern of variation is hardly limited to this particular pronoun — most nominal declensions and many verb conjugations also have this pattern. To my still barely-trained eye, it seems extensive variation is actually the default in most Pali paradigms.
My intuition is that just how much variation there is in the language is unusual. At least, in my limited familiarity with other languages with lots of paradigmatic patterning, you don’t see this much variation within “the same cell,” as it were.
So, here are my questions:
Why is Pali this way?
Is this kind of variation considered evidence for the “Pali as lingua franca” that Gombrich and others have put forward? I don’t recall any mention of this particular fact in his short book, but perhaps I have forgotten.
If it has to do with dialectal variation, do we know what the dialects were?
It would seem to me that if there were some number of dialects involved, then we would expect to see patterns of co-occurrence in the variation. In other words, if you see Dialect A’s instrumental singular in a particular text, you also expect to see that dialect’s ablative plural (or whatever) in that text.
I’m not sure I’ve made myself clear, but it’s something I find myself thinking about pretty much every time I open a Pali grammar book.