Marathi language belongs to the southern branch of the Indo-Aryan group of languages. It is mainly spoken by the people of Maharashtra in western India and is the official language of the state, since 1966. During prehistoric times, Marathi was also called Maharashtri, Marhatti, Mahratti, etc.
Universally, there are roughly about 90 million Marathi speakers, whereas in India there are about 68 million. It is the 4th most spoken language in India whereas the 15th most spoken language in the world. The Marathi language is said to have started quite early on its own. It is the oldest of the regional literatures in Indo-Aryan languages.
Marathi is projected to be more than 1300 years old, having evolved from Sanskrit, which eventually was derived from Prakrit and Apabhramsha. Its grammar and syntax are said to have originated from Pali and Prakrit. The Marathi that we get to hear today is the result of the gradual process of change and modification over the years.
The literary tradition of the Marathi language is lengthy. Eastern Hindi, which is also the Indo-Aryan language, is closely related to Marathi. Marathi has a long literary tradition where the literary works of the saint and poet Dnyaneshwar, in the Marathi language, are very popular. Other famous saint-poets include Eknath, Tukaram and Namdev, who were instrumental in enriching Marathi from the grass-roots levels. Thus, Marathi is said to have the richest saint-literature of all Indian languages.
You will find Marathi speakers in Israel and Mauritius too. The first Marathi text was written in the 11th century as inscriptions on stones and copper plates. From the 13th to the mid 20th century, it was written in the Modi alphabet and since 1950, it is being written in the Devanagiri alphabet.
The Marathi language has about 42 dialects of which the dialect used in Thanjavur and Tamil Nadu districts have been greatly influenced by Tamil and Kannada loan words. Languages such as Konkani, Goanese, Deccan, Gowlan, Ikrani and Varhadi-Nagpuri are closely related to Marathi.
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