By Jayaram V
Sanskrit is a language which is mother of all languages.
Sanskrit, S-a-n-s-k-r-i-t, Sanskrit language. So this is the original
language of this..., not only of this planet. In other planets also,
this language is spoken. - Swami Prabhupada
Many people in India are familiar with the Indiana Jones of the
famous Hollywood series, but not with Sir William Jones, who lived
in India for 11 years from 1783 and introduced to Europe the antiquity
and true merits of Indian literature, languages, history and culture.
He originally went to India to work as a supreme Court Judge
in Calcutta. Proficient in many European and Asian languages from
an early age, he developed an interest in the study of Indian culture
and civilization. He found an outlet to his enlightened interests
in the form of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in Calcutta, which
he established in 1784, with the support of his friends and colleagues.
During this period, he made an exhaustive study of Indian history
and literature and published many books and papers of great merit
on a wide range of subjects, which were published subsequently in
1807, in Europe, into 13 volumes. Among the many projects he undertook,
worth mentioning were his translation of the Manu Smriti, some translations
of the woks of Kalidasa, translation of the Gita Govinda of Jaideva,
his studies of Indian plants and animal species, his exploration
of Indian astronomy and ancient Indian sciences, his paper on the
Indian Classical Music delivered to an European audience and so
on. Sir Jones was the first to suggest that Sanskrit originated
from the same source as Latin, Greek and Persian, thus laying the
foundation for the comparative study of what we now refer as the
Indo European languages.
In 1786, while delivering his third lecture, Sir William made
the following statement which aroused the curiosity of many scholars
and finally led to the emergence of comparative linguistics. Noticing
the similarities between Sanskrit and the Classical Languages of
Europe such as Greek and Latin he declared:
"The Sanskcrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of
wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than
the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing
to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs
and in the forms of grammar, than could not possibly have been produced
by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine
them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some
common source which, perhaps, no longer exists; there is a similar
reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the
Gothick and the Celtick, though blended with a very different idiom,
had the same origin with the Sanskcrit; and the old Persian might
be added to the same family..." (Jones, Collected Works, Volume
III : 34-5).
The Prot-Indo-European Language-PIE
The statement of Sir Jones was both revelatory and revolutionary.
It shook the foundations of the age old European belief that Hebrew
was the source languages of all the world languages and introduced
a new concept which, a few decades later in the 19th century, led
to the comparative study of the origin and evolution of all the
Indo European languages that possible came from a common source,
now referred as the Proto Indo European Language, or simply PIE.
Prominent among those who did the pioneering work in this field
were the Danish philologist named Rasmus Rask (1818), the German
philologist named Franz Bopp, (1791- 1837), Fick August, Ferdinand
de Saussure, Jacob Grimm, Karl Brugmann of the neogrammarian school
and many more. The term Indo-European was actually coined by Thomas
Young in 1914. The word Prot-Indo-European language was used to
designate the root or the source language, which existed probably
sometime in 7000 BC in a region about which we have no common agreement,
but which is considered by the majority to be Anatolia in Turkey,
otherwise known as Asia Minor or little Asia.(This view is however
currently disputed by some historians from India.)
What are these languages?
The following languages are supposed to have been derived from
the Proto-Indo-European Language and, after extensive research,
have been classified into the following groups or branches.
||Divided into Indic (Indo-Aryan)
comprising of Sanskrit and its derivative languages on one
side and the Iranian languages most popular among them being
Avestan, Persian and Pashto
||Lithuanian, Latvian, etc.
||Russian, Polish, Serbo-Croatia,
||Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, and
||Latin and its descendants.
||Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese,
Romanian and others.
||German, English, Dutch, and the
||Hittite, Palaic, and Lydian, Cuneiform
Luwian, Hieroglyphic Luwian, and Lycian. Hitite is now extinct,
but considered by many as the oldest IE language with written
records (1700 BC). This author disagrees with this observation
and the reasons are sited elsewhere.
||Also called Tocharish, was spoken
in northern Chinese Turkistan during 1st century AD, written
in a form of Brahmi and used by the Buddhists.
What proof do we have to suggest that these languages had a common
ancestor.? Firstly the linguists were able to find some most widely
shared common words among these languages. These words give credence
to the theory that they all emerged from the same source. Readers
can verify a list of such words from the links we have provided
at the end of this article. Secondly, in order to understand how,
over a period of time, the languages acquired distinct characteristics
of their own and also gave birth to other languages, the linguists
tried to study the origin and evolution of the various words of
each language and their possible connection with similar words in
other comparable languages. Their attempts yielded irrefutable evidence
of their common origin and gradual evolution.
They accomplished this by studying possible mutations in the
sounds and tones that were associated with different words, the
structure of the alphabet, the number, arrangement and expression
of the vowels and consonants in each comparable language and also
the comparative changes that might have taken place in other relevant
areas such as the usage of verbs, the nouns, the cases, the gender,
the syntax and so on. In course of time they relied upon two principal
techniques, namely, the comparative method and the method of internal
reconstruction. The former led to the formation of Grimm's law (1822),
Verner's law (1896) and neogrammarian hypothesis (1857) etc., which
enabled the linguists to compare certain corresponding or comparable
words from various languages in the family to understand their origin
and development. The Comparative method was very useful in reconstructing
the historical basis of many languages for which Latin was the source
language. The method of internal reconstruction relies upon the
study of the structure of words, especially the arrangements of
consonants and vowels, in a given language all by itself
The Origins of PIE
Anatolia: According to the most commonly held view, the source
language existed some where near Caspian Sea in the Eastern region
of Anatolia (present Turkey), also identified as Asia Minor, some
8500 years ago (6500 BC). This theory is based upon the descriptions
of landscape and climate, description of some plants and trees used
in agriculture and food gathering, knowledge of the wheel, description
of some domesticated animals and some tools in the earliest known
vocabulary of the derived languages. The available archaeological
evidence is in the form of excavations at Catal Huyuk in South central
Turkey by the British archaeologist James Mellaart, which revealed
an ancient settlement belonging to the 6th or 7th Century BC of
an advanced civilization who practiced hunting, observed fertility
rites, lived in mud-brick structures, engaged in trade and adorned
their houses with wall paintings and reliefs of geometric patterns,
humans, and animals.
Dravidian Origin: Another view which is not accepted in the west,
but which is proposed in India is that the common proto language
of Sanskrit was none other than some proto Dravidian language or
the language spoken by the Indus people. We are unable to make any
comments on this view, since very little work has been done in India
on this subject to prove or disprove the point. If you think that
you have some useful information, which can throw some light on
this subject, you may help us with your comments or article or post
a link to our site. (To add your link, please go to the bottom of
We would be curious to know if any one provides us with any information
on the theory or the possibility that the source language for Sanskrit
did not come from Asia Minor but from within the subcontinent, and
that an earlier version of Sanskrit itself was the source language.
Perhaps readers are aware that there has been a great deal of controversy
among historians about the origin and background of the Vedic people.
(For more information on this theory, please visit our history subsection,
the link to which is available from our Hinduism Main Page and read
the articles written by Rajaram). However we believe that enough
evidence is yet to be gathered to accept the Indian origin of Sanskrit
Independent origin and development: Another possibility is that
there was never a common root language, but only exchange and intermingling
of words and expressions form one language into another. This theory
is based upon the following assumptions.
It is not uncommon for us to see languages borrowing heavily
even today from one another. We are very familiar with the process
of the continuous permutations and combinations the languages undergo,
the way they influence and get influenced by the ever-changing nature
of the world around them. People do not generally switch over to
new languages unless there are very compelling reasons.
However this view is not acceptable because it fails to explain
the fundamental similarities that exist among the Indo-European
languages, which cannot arise out of mere contact with other languages.
Besides, we are very much familiar with the historical process of
old languages giving way to new languages. In the Indian subcontinent
itself after the emergence of Sanskrit, several new languages evolved
over a period of time and replaced their source language almost
to the point of the latter's complete elimination.
If so many new languages can evolve and develop in one region
of the world, the possibility of the evolution of new languages
from a source language in different parts of the world cannot be
ruled out. We have therefore sufficient grounds to believe that
the hypothesis put forward by Sir William Jones more than two hundred
year ago is correct and stands the test of linguistic evidence.
There was PIE language but there was no migration of people from
Anatolia: To draw an analogy, if people all over the world are using
the Microsoft Windows or the VB Script, it does not mean that they
have all descended from Bill Gates! It was possible that in the
beginning there was one language, perhaps the first language ever
to be invented by a human community in a region as vast as Europe
and Asia combined, and in course of time, along the trade routes,
it might have gradually spread to other areas unaccompanied by any
major migration of populations to such areas.
In other words the proto language might have spread to other
areas, without major movement of people and communities. It might
have happened through migration of individual scholars, ambitious
warriors or small trading or nomadic communities. Endowed with the
secret or the special knowledge of the language, these people might
have lured the local rulers or ruling classes with the prospect
of teaching the new language systematically in return for their
patronage and favors. The language they so brought and taught might
have got integrated with the local dialects in some places and in
course of time might have also evolved into new languages.
Skilled craftsmen, traders, scholars, poets, writers and warriors
traveling to far away lands in search of personal fortunes, recognition
or royal favors was not entirely unknown in the ancient world. We
cannot say that this might have happened in every area or in case
of every language. But it might be true in some cases, like the
south eastern movement of the language to Iran, India and Chinese
Tukistan. This broad based approach would also help us to address
satisfactorily some of the problems we encounter to explain the
chronology and antiquity of some of the oldest languages like Sanskrit.
Evaluation of the East European connection of Sanskrit
If we have to accept the theory that the proto IE came from outside
India, then we need to answer some questions regarding the chronology
of ancient India very convincingly.
1. When exactly did this movement took place? Was it before or
after the formation of the Indus valley civilization?
In order to answer this question convincingly we need to resolve
the problem with regard to the antiquity and antecedents of the
Indus people, what language they spoke and what legacy they left
behind. Presently there is no unanimity among Indologists about
Some recent developments in our understanding of Indian history
suggest that the Indus civilization was basically an Indian affair,
with little or no influence from outside and that they were probably
the earlier cousins of the Vedic people, spoke a rudimentary form
of Sanskrit with some Dravidian elements and were experts in agriculture,
metallurgy, urban planning, trade and commerce.
The civilization probably began sometime around 6000 BC as farming
and food gathering communities spread over a vast area of the subcontinent,
right up to the borders of Iran. It attained its peak status in
two stages. In the first stage, probably around 4500 BC, it developed
into small village settlements and then evolved into well organized
and flourishing urban cities by 3500 BC or even before. The Indus
people possibly lived in an area by the Saraswathi River which is
now extinct, before they migrated into other areas, forced by the
The existence of the river Saraswathi is now established beyond
doubt by satellite imagery. The Indus people were great builders.
Their civilization was neither a borrowed one nor a superimposed
one. It developed and evolved over a period of time on the Indian
soil. It did not disappear completely, although the cites were buried
in the earth ravaged by some unknown calamities, but was integrated
into the Vedic culture in a peaceful way.
The Indus culture was probably succeeded by the early Vedic culture
around 2500 BC with Sanskrit as the principal language of communication,
at least among the elite and ruling classes of the society. By this
time Sanskrit had already evolved into a full fledged language as
is evident from the earliest Sanskrit verses found in the Vedas.
If these dates are true, which are based upon the astronomical
data available in the Vedic scriptures, then we have to look afresh
at the dates suggested by the European scholars to explain the movement
of the PIE into other areas. In our opinion, from the point of view
of the origin of Sanskrit, the PIE theory is not acceptable, unless
we are able to place the first movement of PIE in the direction
of Iran and India, possibly around 5000 BC or even earlier.
In the same manner the earliest Indo European Language cannot
be Hittite, whose suggested date of origin was 1750 BC, but Sanskrit
or an earlier version of Sanskrit which was in use as early as 2500
BC or even before. In other words if we want to accept the Anatolian
origin of Sanskrit language, and place the south eastern movement
of the Proto language from Anatolia to India in the proper of scheme
of things, we need to push back the possible period of its occurrence
by at least 3500 years to 5000 BC.(Please read the opinion of Prof.
Jay Kumar regarding the antiquity of Hittite language and the status
of Anatolian Languages from the links at the bottom of this page.)
Drawing conclusions on a subject of this nature, with the kind
of complexity involved in its study and understanding, and justify
such conclusions is a perilous task, and any attempt in this direction
is bound to invoke some criticism and disbelief. However for the
sake of clarity of our approach and thinking on this subject, and
in view of the fact that much of the previous study on this subject
was lopsided and one sided, for the sake of balance, we would like
to undertake this hazardous task and present the following view
points or conclusions.
1. There was a Proto- Indo-European language somewhere in the
2. The language might have either traveled to other parts of
the Asia and Europe along with migrating populations or individual
traders and fortune seekers, and was adapted by various local populations
as their medium of communication. Over a period of time the language
underwent transformation in each area and developed its own distinct
qualities, grammar, idiom and sound patterns, influenced by the
local needs, customs, climate, prevailing languages and other factors.
3. In case of India and probably Iran the language might have
traveled much earlier, probably around 5000 BC and retained much
of its old phonetic structure and syntax.
Note of Appeal
As we have already noted, this is a very complicated subject.
We do not claim any exclusive authority on this subject. It is quite
possible that we might have ignored some vital issues and drawn
some wrong conclusions. It is also possible that our dates for the
Indus valley civilization and Vedic civilization are much earlier
or much before the actual dates. If you disagree with some of our
conclusions or if you think that you can throw further light on
this subject, please feel free to send us your views, informing
us your background and familiarity with this subject. We will publish
your views in this section for the reader's benefit.
Knowing well the complexity of the subject involved, we have
assembled a few very useful and informative articles on the subject
in addition to some useful links to other websites on this subject.
Readers are requested to verify these links also for a better perspective
of the subject.
Suggested Further Reading