http://www.peacehall.com/news/gb/englis ... 0400.shtml
Modern scholars suggest that Pali was probably never spoken by the Buddha himself.In the centuries after the Buddha's death, as Buddhism spread across India into regions that spoke different dialects, Buddhist monks increasingly depended on a common tongue for their discussions of Dhamma and their recitations of memorized texts. It was out of this necessity that the language we now know as Pali emerged.
I have explored this popular opinion.
Here's what the modern scholars actually suggest.
Oskar von Hinüber writes in detail about the supposed absolutive endings and other hypothetical earlier Pali forms, which would conform to general phonetic pattern of Middle Indo-Aryan:
Pāli as an Artificial Languagehttp://www.indologica.com/volumes/vol10 ... inuber.pdf
Pāli: How Do We See It Eighty Years After Geiger’s Grammar?http://books.google.com/books?id=dQTawXTc6vcC&pg=PA459
Pāli and Paiśācī as Variants of Buddhist Middle Indichttp://books.google.com/books?id=dQTawXTc6vcC&pg=PA505
Daniel Boucher quotes Norman and Bechert:
"K. R. Norman, for example, has argued: "It cannot be emphasized too much that all the versions of canonical Hinayana Buddhist texts which we possess are translations, and even the earliest we possess are translations of some still earlier version, now lost."(123) Heinz Bechert, on the other hand, has suggested that translation - a linguistic transfer between mutually unintelligible languages or dialects - is too strong a characterization of this process:
Some scholars believed that this transformation was a real "translation" of texts which at that time already existed as written literary texts. Others think - and I agree with them - that the transposition was no formalized translation. It was another kind of transformation from one dialect into another dialect, that took place in the course of a tradition, which was still an oral tradition, but had already entered the process of being formalized linguistically . . . .(124)
However, these positions are not necessarily as sharply opposed as they might first appear. Norman has shown that these "translations" were often carried out by scribes who applied certain phonetic rules mechanically.(125)" http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-EPT/daniel.htm
So essentially, scholars are talking about a probable "transposition" of certain consonant clusters - mostly the conversion of -(t)tā or -ṭṭha absolutive endings to -tvā and -svā.
In practice, this would mean minor differences in some words, and the supposed earlier form of Pali would be similar to the language of Hathigumpha inscription, as Kenneth Norman writes:
"It has been claimed in the case of Pali that as there are resemblances between it and the Girnar dialect of the Asokan inscriptions, and also between it and the language of the Hathigumpha inscriptions, Pali must have been the language of one or other of these two areas. A careful examination of the language of these inscriptions shows that Pali is not identical with either of them, and there is, moreover, some doubt about the language of the Girnar version of the Asokan inscriptions, since it is possible that it represents, in part at least, the scribe's attempt to convert the Eastern dialect he must have received from Pataliputra into what he thought was appropriate to the region in which the edict was being promulgated, rather than the actual dialect of that region. The language of the Hathigumpha inscription, although it agrees with Pali in the retention of most intervocalic consonants and in the nominative singular in -o, nevertheless differs in that the absolutive ending is -(t)tā, and with two doubtful exceptions there are no consonant groups containing -r-.
While it is not impossible that there existed in India in the third century B. C. an unattested dialect of Middle Indo-Aryan which had all the features of Pali, the fact that some of the consonant clusters found in Pali are unhistoric and must therefore represent incorrect attempts at backformation, e.g. disvā (which cannot be from dṛṣṭva) and atraja (which cannot be from ātmaja), makes it more likely that by the third century B.C. the dialect of the canonical texts of the Theravadins conformed to the general pattern of Middle Indo-Aryan dialects of that time, and all consonant clusters had either been assimilated or resolved. It is probable that this represented the form of the language of the Theravadin canon at the time of the reign of Asoka, which was perhaps the lingua franca of the Buddhists of Eastern India, and not very different from the language of the Hathigumpha inscriptions."http://ahandfulofleaves.files.wordpress ... n_1983.pdf
For more details about the Hathigumpha inscription see:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hathigumpha_inscriptionhttp://gujaratisbs.webs.com/Abstracts%2 ... 20More.pdfhttp://orissa.gov.in/e-magazine/Journal ... f/9-10.pdf