Sanskrit - Why is it called the mother of European Languages

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by geek, Jun 13, 2016.

  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Although Einstein was born in Germany, he fled the country in 1933 when Hitler came to power.

    Actually, he was already here in the USA and wisely decided not to go back. He was Jewish (by ancestry although not particularly religious) and had no intention of going back to the antisemitism that was becoming the face of Germany. He was granted U.S. citizenship in 1940, and spent the last couple of decades of his life working in and for the USA.

    Much of his great work, notably his later work, was performed in the USA. Therefore, many people simply regard him as American--especially since, at the end of his life, he certainly was.
    Well duh? Deaf people all over the world use sign languages. Each culture tends to develop its own and today more than 100 are recognized.
    Some African languages still incorporate bird calls and other sounds of the forest.
    When Jean Auel began writing her "Clan of the Cave Bear" series of novels, the prevailing notion was that the Neanderthal brain did not have a speech center. So she invented a rich sign language for the Neanderthal characters in her books. Communication was the problem that kept the Neanderthals and the recently arrived Homo sapiens at odds with each other.

    However, more sensitive instruments have been developed. It was recently determined that the Neanderthal skull did indeed have a place for a speech center, almost identical to ours.
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  3. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    That 500,000 word estimate for English is an underestimate that probably doesn't count some specialised technical terms and the like. Probably English has at least twice that many words.

    If Sanskrit has 74 million words, one wonders what use they would be. Many of them would probably have to be single words for complex concepts, that could be broken down into a few simpler words. In fact, I'd like to know what is counted as a "word" in that count. For example, if we were counting English words, would "quick", "quicker", "quickly", "quickness", "quickest" be counted as separate words, or words all based on the same "root"?

    No individual human being would ever have a working vocabulary remotely approaching even 100,000 words. Shakespeare, for example, may have had a working vocabulary of about 25,000 words.

    The possible meanings expressible in English are practically infinite, but this is true in just about any natural language. When a language needs to express something new, writers or speakers invent new words as necessary. Often, they borrow from other languages, but in many cases (e.g. technological advanced) new words are coined.

    No language has words that are completely determined by grammar, including Sanscrit. Meanings must be assigned to words. Prefixes, suffixes, word forms and the like can be used to indicate the grammatical role of a given word in context, but the "root" of any given word is essentially arbitrary (which is not necessarily to say random).
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  5. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I once heard a plausible-sounding argument (I don't know if it's true) that Finnish has an infinite number of words. It seems that in Finnish, words for numbers like 10,036 are single words where in English they are multiple-word phrases ("ten thousand and thirty six"). Since there are apparently rules in Finnish for constructing number names of any length, and there are an infinite number of integers...
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2016
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  7. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Significantly less than ten thousand years for event the initial compositions that became the oldest, the Rig Veda, anywhere I can find an argument.
  8. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    That is common but incorrect. The correct way to write and pronounce 10,036 is "one thousand thirty-six."

    It is always wrong to include the word "and" in the construction of an integer in English. "And" is reserved for fractions, for example: The employees at my factory can manufacture six and a half tons of nylon every day.
    This seems more like one of the language's idiosyncrasies than a principle to enshrine in its grammar books.

    Numbers have always given humans problems as their civilizations grew to the point that they needed to express larger and larger numbers.

    Just look at English: "eleven" is the remnant of a phrase meaning, in ancient Anglo-Saxon, something like "there's one remaining after we counted ten."

    We managed to straighten out the construction of numbers greater than 20: twenty-one, thirty-four, ninety-eight, etc. But the numbers between ten and twenty are a mess. The origin of "eleven" and "twelve" can fill a book of its own, but the ones from 13 to 19 are simply backwards: "fourteen" and "fifteen" mean "four and ten" and "five and ten."

    The Germans never got beyond this stage: 84 in German is vier und achtzig, "four and eighty." English retains an echo of that construction: we still sing a lullaby to our children with the line "four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie."

    The French never got that far. In their language, 94 is "eighty-fourteen."
  9. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    I don't know what the English and Americans do, but it is standard in Australian English to say (and write, if we're using words) "One thousand and thirty six". It would be exceedingly rare to ever hear "One thousand thirty-six" in Australia.

    Thus, judging by Australian usage it is always correct to do that.
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Interesting. No American editor would approve that construction.

    Do you even name years that way? We read 1492 (the year of Columbus's landing in the Western Hemisphere) as "one thousand four hundred ninety-two"--although the colloquial reading "fourteen-ninety-two" is far more common, and approved in almost any context.
  11. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    We'd normally say "fourteen ninety-two" for the year 1492. On the other hand, the number would be "One thousand, four hundred and ninety-two".

    A year like the year 2007 is "Two thousand and seven" in Australia, never "Two thousand seven".

    I suspect that things are the same in Britain, and the US is the odd one out on this, but I could be wrong.
  12. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    Maybe I missed it in reading the above. But the word 'sanskrit' itself is telling of what it is. It means, literally interpreted, 'first writing'. san = first; skrit = writing: such as script, scribble, scribe, etc. It purports by its name to be the first written language. But whether that is true or not is likely the subject of continuing debate. I suspect that Egyptian is the first written language, but that might not be true, either.
  13. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    I'd go with "ten thousand thirty six", myself,

    but maybe part of the deal is that the major daily use of such numbers in the US has been to describe sums of money, and the US construction helps avoid potential confusion of cents with dollars as well as run-on confusion of numbers. The word "and", if it appears within a number, separates the fractional amount from the integral amount. So if it appears between two integral amounts in a formal situation, they are two different numbers. That is useful.

    That is especially clarifying and efficient when writing checks. It also comes in handy when writing or calling out measurements and dimensions - one hundred and forty and three and three tenths takes a bit longer to parse, and is more difficult to distinguish from one hundred and forty three and three tenths, than one hundred forty three and three tenths. I don't know whether it's the original reason or cause, but it's an advantage now.

    Say you are calling from a roof to the saw guy, one of the following: 100, 40, 3.3 / 140, 3.3 / 100, 43.3 / 143.3 . In US lingo they are clearly distinguished.

    Likewise reading this aloud: 336,578. Compare for clarity: Three hundred and thirty six thousand and five hundred and seventy eight; three hundred thirty six thousand five hundred seventy eight.

    But on topic: the earliest written language, which written Sanskrit is probably not old enough to be, would not even be the progenitor of all subsequent written languages - let alone the mother of all European languages written and unwritten.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2016
  14. sculptor Valued Senior Member

    Calling down to the saw guy
    140 would be voiced as "11, 8, and whatever eights (say 3/8)
    then "11, 8 and 3!" (say it loud, say it proud)
    = 11 ft, 8 and 3/8 inches = 140 3/8 inches
    iceaura likes this.
  15. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    C'mon, I'm talking to Australians here. I have to communicate.
  16. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Neither nor Wikipedia list "first writing" as the meaning of the name "Sanskrit." They both cite it as "refined" or "adorned" speech. Neither the word "first" nor the word "writing" appears in these definitions.
    This is the consensus of the community of linguists. The phonetic writing systems that sprang up after the immigrants who helped build the pyramids took the notion of writing home with them were (sometimes loosely) derived from the definitely NOT phonetic hieroglyphics. The Phoenician system came first, and the Hebrew, Arabic and other Mesopotamian writing systems are descended from Phoenician. And of course so is the Greek alphabet, which in turn is the ancestor of the Roman alphabet, which is now the most widely-used writing system on the planet.

    Of course there are other writing systems that were developed independently, notably Chinese. It is most definitely not a phonetic system, but nonetheless it was adapted by the Japanese and the Koreans, although the former augmented it with a syllabary and the latter ultimately dumped it and now use a home-grown phonetic system. (They only write their names in the Chinese symbols, and this is permitted only in South Korea.)

    The Olmecs also developed a written language, although several thousand years later than the Egyptians. It continued to be used by the Mayans who came after them, and by the Aztecs who came after the Mayans. It has not been in use since the Christian invasion, but plenty of examples have survived and it can still be understood.

    The only other writing system I know of that was developed in the Western Hemisphere is the Cherokee syllabary, which was devised by Chief Sequoia in the 19th century. For several decades, the Native people of Oklahoma had a much higher rate of literacy than their English-speaking neighbors, and even published their own newspapers. The modern Cherokees, arguably the most prosperous of all the tribes because of their oil wells, are proud of their writing system and many of them dutifully study it in order to keep it alive, even though in modern times they all speak English. I have a textbook in my own library, although I haven't gotten very far into it.

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    Last edited: Jul 11, 2016
  17. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    Perhaps that is correct. I was taught, ages ago by a Latin teacher, that it meant first-writing, and that the term 'skrit' was a cognate of script. Makes sense. Maybe she was mistaken, and passing on incorrect information. Perhaps someone fluent in sanskrit could edify us.
  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The Wikipedia article on Sanskrit makes it clear that the spelling and pronunciation "Sanskrit" is absolutely not the way the word was spelled or pronounced by its own native speakers. It's a simplification that makes it easier for us foreigners to spell and pronounce.

    The original word in the language itself is saṃskṛtam (pronounced səmskr̩t̪əm), from saṃskṛtā vāk, which translates as "refined speech." Written this way, it's clear that the syllable "skrit," in the popular spelling and pronunciation "Sanskrit," is a coincidence. There is no relation to our word "script," which derives from Latin scribere, "to write."

    Like all human languages, Sanskrit was spoken for many centuries before its speakers felt the need to develop a written version. In most cultures, this happened as they made the transition to the Bronze Age. The technology of metallurgy made it possible for communities to grow so large that everybody no longer knew everybody else personally, so they needed to keep records of transactions and obligations.
  19. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    Yes, it appears that my Latin teacher was taken in by the coincidence, passing on erroneous information. Thanks for the correct.
  20. geek Registered Member

    Some quotes:

    "In ancient India the intention to discover truth was so consuming, that in the process, they discovered perhaps the most perfect tool for fulfilling such a search that the world has ever known -- the Sanskrit language". Rick Briggs , NASA researcher on Knowledge Representation in Sanskrit and Artificial Intelligence - Artificial Intelligence Magazine 6(1) 32-39 1985.

    "It was the discovery of Sanskrit by the West, and the study of Indian methods of analyzing language that revolutionized our study of language and grammar, and gave rise to our science of comparative philology. The most striking feature of Sanskrit grammar is its objective resolution of speech and language into their component elements, and definition of the functions of these elements. The sounds represented by the letters of the alphabet had been arranged in an overly systematic form, vowels and diphthongs separated from mutes, semi-vowels, and sibilants, and the sounds in each group arranged according to places in the mouth where produced (gutturals, palatals, cerebrals, dentals, and labials). Words were analyzed into roots of which complex words grew by the addition of prefixes and suffixes. General rules were worked out, defining the conditions according to which consonants and vowels influence each other, undergo change, or drop out. The study of language in India was much more objective and scientific than in Greece or Rome. The interest was in empirical investigation of language, rather than philosophical and syntactical. Indian study of language was as objective as the dissection of a body by an anatomist." Walter Eugene Clark.

    "A philosophy, compared with which, in point of age, the lessons of Pythagoras are but of yesterday, and in point of daring speculation Plato's boldest efforts were tame and commonplace. A poetry more purely intellectual than any of those of which we had before any conception; and systems of science whose antiquity baffled all power of astronomical calculation. This literature, with all its colossal proportions, which can scarcely be described without the semblance of bombast and exaggeration claimed of course a place for itself - it stood alone, and it was able to stand alone".W. C. Taylor , The Journal of Royal Asiatic Society.

    "We Europeans, 2,500 years later, and in a scientific age, still employ an alphabet which is not only inadequate to represent all the sounds of our language, but even preserve the random order which vowels and consonants are jumbled up as they were in the Greek adaptation of the primitive Semitic arrangement of 3,000 years ago." Arthur A. Macdonell (1854-1930).

    "Sanskrit is patiently refined sound by sound...embracing all the levels of being physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. It is ideally suited to describe and govern the nature of phenomena from the spiritual level to the physical. This range of applicability makes this language, the most natural language, the language of nature."

    "Sanskrit literature is a perfect form of a perfect pleasure. It becomes a lifelong obsession for most connoisseurs; so wholesome, so cultivating and uplifting, and so timeless in its appeal.
    Sanskrit literature easily spans a period of some 5000 years; even though the language was no longer being spoken in the streets as far back as 1000 BC, literature continues to be created in Sanskrit to this day." B S V Prasad .

    Professor Leonard Bloomfield (1887-1949) of Chicago University holds that Sanskrit language specially the scientific basis of its grammar is "one of the greatest monuments of human intelligence."
    William Humboldt of Germany is of opinion that language cannot be created artificially, it is the manifestation of power and divinity in man.
  21. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Much has happened in the science of linguistics in the last 85 years. I wouldn't base an argument on something that was written a century ago.

    Moreover, we've put a lot more time and effort into analyzing the languages that are in current use. It is absolutely not true that all European languages use a writing system that is on the verge of obsolescence. Several important languages underwent spelling reform in the 19th century, including, notably, Italian, which was treated as one of the continent's most important because so much great literature was written there.

    In addition, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Czech, Polish, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Finnish and at least some of the languages of the former Yugoslavia can also be recited with very few gaffes.
    Well, some group of humans created the first spoken language about 70KYA, and since it had no ancestor it must be identified as "artificial," unless you're one of the folks who credit everything to an imaginary Supreme Being.
  22. geek Registered Member

    Which group, which area, which language
  23. sculptor Valued Senior Member

    What made you choose 70kya?

    as/re "god" aka supreme being
    I once experienced god. She was the embodiment of the ideal. Her voice took me to a place wherein excitation and tranquility met, joined and grew on the other side of chaos.
    For most of a day, I stood in rapt attention treasuring her every utterance. Later,in a quiet moment of introspection, I realized that I hadn't understood a single word------(strange, I had always thought that "god" would speak english >american).

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