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Number of Speakers: 70 million

Key Dialects: Cochin, Gawdi of Goa, Kasargod, Kosti, Kudali, Nagpuri Marati, Malwani, Varhadii, Dangii

Geographical Center: The Indian state of Maharashtra and adjacent states.

Marathi is the southern-most Indo-Aryan language. It is spoken by over 90 million people in India, 70 million of whom speak the language natively. The remaining 20 million people speak Marathi as a second language. This places Marathi among the top 15 languages of the world with respect to total number of speakers. Outside India, Marathi is spoken in Israel and Mauritius.

Marathi is a Southern Zone Indo-Aryan language of the Indo-European language family.

Like most Indic languages, Marathi divides into an older written or literary dialect that is not spoken and a colloquial form. Colloquial Marathi exhibits a relatively large degree of dialectal variation. Indic scholars distinguish 42 dialects of spoken Marathi. Dialects bordering other major language areas have many properties in common with those languages, further differentiating them from standard spoken Marathi. The bulk of the variation within these dialects is primarily lexical and phonological (e.g. accent placement and pronunciation). Although the number of dialects is considerable, the degree of intelligibility within these dialects is relatively high.

Marathi is written in a modified (cursive) version of the Devanagari script known as Balbodh. The horizontal top line connecting the graphemes is present, as in the Devanagari; however, the vertical lines that form the skeletal component of the Devanagari graphemes are less developed in the Marathi alphabet. The Marathi script consists of 16 vowel and 36 consonant graphemes. Both phonemes and allophones are represented in the alphabet. The Marathi writing system is syllabary and is written from left to right. Balbodh was invented in the 17th century by a Shivaji minister.

The Marathi phoneme inventory consists of 25 consonants and 9 vowels, depending on the analysis. Main stress falls on the initial syllable of the word, though it is often described as weak stress. Consonant clusters are tolerated. Many of the phonological properties of Marathi mirror those of Sanskrit.

The principal word order in Marathi is SOV. Nouns inflect for gender (masculine, feminine, neuter), number (singular, plural), and case (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, locative, instrumental, oblique). Notably, Marathi is the only Indo-Aryan language of Sanskrit origin to preserve the Sanskrit locative case. Additionally, Marathi preserves the neuter gender found in Sanskrit, a feature further distinguishing it from many Indo-Aryan languages. Typically, Marathi adjectives do not inflect unless they end in long a, in which case they inflect for gender and number. Marathi verbs inflect for tense (past, present, future). Verbs can agree with their subjects, yielding an active voice construction, or with their objects, yielding a passive voice construction. A third type of voice, not found in English for example, is produced when the verb agrees with neither subject nor object. Affixation is largely suffixal in the language and postpositions are attested.

Over the years, Marathi has borrowed extensively from a number of languages. The majority of Marathi loan words come from Urdu, Persian, and Arabic.

Marathi is the official language of the Indian state of Maharashtra. Furthermore, the Constitution of India recognizes Marathi as one of the twenty-two official languages of the country. As such, Marathi is used in government, mass communication, and in everyday speech.

The Marathi language has its origins in a Prakrit dialect of Sanskrit known as Maharashtri. Marathi was the official language of the Satavahana empire around the first and second centuries, and as such, came to be the most widespread Prakrit dialect of its time. Over the course of the 15th and 16th centuries, Maharashtri evolved into Marathi. The first written attestation of Marathi, a document found in Karnataka, dates from 700 A.D.

Berntsen, Maxine, and Jai Nimbkar. 1975. A Marathi Reference Grammar. Philadelphia: South Asia Regional Studies.

Berntsen, Maxine, and Jai Nimbkar. 1982. Marathi Structural Patterns. New Delhi: American Institute of Indian Studies.

Bloch, Jules. 1914. The Formation of the Marathi Language. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (Editor). 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth Edition. Dallas: SIL International.

Grierson, G.A. 1905. Linguistic Survey of India. Volume VII Indo-Aryan Family, Southern Group. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Kelkar, Ashok R. 1997. Language in a Semiotic Perspective. The Architecture of a Marathi Sentence. Pune: Shubhada-Saraswat Prakashan.

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