What is this famous quote taken from? The quote is from a famous speech. What is the speech? Who made the speech? When was the speech given (approximately)? Where was it given? What is the significance of this speech? Why is it so famous? What subfield of a popular Humanities field of studies was actually begun with this speech?
You don’t have to get all the answers right, but if you can tell us who made the speech, the approximate date and the significance of the speech that would be good enough.
That is actually all one sentence below. It seems like a run-on, but back in those days, people liked to write long twisting and turning sentences like that. I actually like the writing from this era a lot.
The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a 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 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 Gothic and the Celtic, though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanskrit; and the old Persian might be added to the same family, if this were the place for discussing any question concerning the antiquities of Persia.
16 thoughts on “Sprung from Some Common Source”
William Jones, sometime in the late 1700s? He was speaking of the Indo-European language being the source of several major languages that we know of.
Yes that is it!
However, he’s now considered the linguist equivalent of an Afrocentric, making up lies to make losers appear less loserly, IIRC?
No, not at all. He founded the fields of Historical Linguistics and its subfield, Indo-European Studies. Everything he hypothesized in this speech has turned out to be true.
Sir William Jones of Bengal. He’s all over history books here. The Hindutvadis LOVE William Jones, a rare Westerner that could be considered an honorary Hindu for acknowledging the superiority of Vedic civilization over the West, supporting Hindutvadi claims such as ancient Hindus being actually the first ones to build atomic weapons, flying machines, space travel to Moon, cellular networks, touchscreen devices, underground sewage systems etc.etc 🙂 Then the Muslims invaded and occupied India for 1000 years followed by the White man. During these 1200 years everything turned to shit because India lost its former glory. Now that India has a rightwing government with Hindutvadi prime minister Narendra Modi, everything’s hunky dory and we beez superpower and sheet all ova’h again.
On February 2, 1786, Sir William Jones — a British judge in India who studied oriental languages and literature — delivered a lecture in Calcutta entitled “The Third Anniversary Discourse, on the Hindus,” in which he outlined his growing belief that certain languages spoken from India to the European Atlantic shores were related by virtue of having a common ancestor, just as Italian and French had evolved from Latin, and English from an older Germanic tongue. His Discourse and other writings ignited an academic interest in the evolutionary history of languages that continues to this day; a key paragraph from his Discourse reads as follows:
The Hindutvadis LOVE William Jones…
This was that brief period when European scholars believed that the Indo-European languages actually came from India. While that is still one of the proposed theories around, no serious and unbiased scholar today supports that view. There’s a long list of Western Indologists that Hindutvavadis can’t tolerate, all the way back from Max Mueller and H H Wilson in the 19th century to Michel Witzel and Stephanie Jamison today. And don’t even mention Wendy Doniger!
What do you think of the Hittite language? Its quite different from Greek, Latin and Sanskrit.
Greenberg used to talk of Indo-Hittite as another name for Indo-European because Anatolian is so different from the rest of IE. However a good argument has been made that Anatolian is not so different after all.
Is there many Hittite and Luwian cuneiform records? I heard that most of the cuneiform tablets found in the Hattusa palace are in Akkadian and Hurrian.
I have studied Sanskrit more extensively than most Indologists and let me tell you it is not a supernaturally superior language at all, though it is interesting by many aspects. It is not a pure language in any sense, it comprises about 60% rather IE roots, and the rest is rather Dravidian or unknown. Same thing for the phonetics, which is clearly hybrid by combining dentals proper (Italian-like dentals )and retroflex linguals (American-like dentals) that are normally mutually exclusive. Sanskrit is rather an Esperanto that enjoyed lasting success. It actually appeared at a later date than Pali, despite having antiquated forms, in the same way Qur’anic Arabic appeared later than Biblical Hebrew despite having retained older-style grammatical concepts in a probably quite forcible way as a voluntary throwback ordered by political linguistics. Sanskrit grammar is just messy, there is no neat symmetry in the verbal system for instance, and semantic distinctions between verbal tenses are at best blurry and most often quite arbitrary from one author to another. There are for instance about four or five equivalent punctual narrarive preterite tenses Greek would all translate into aorist or English into simple preterite, but the aspect distinction that would normally allow for a past imperfect is just lacking. There are three ways to express futurity Sanskrit grammarian cannot tell the semantic difference between. The reason for that is that the Vedas are deemed to have been written in Sanskrit whereas they were written in a simpler dialect lacking intellectual expression more properly called Vedic, that was coalesced into other layers of Indic expression to produce some kind of universal language. Sanskrit as a second language started out first as a casual and intellectual communication language for students and traders between different parts of India after the Buddhist era (formerly only Vedic had existed, which is gross compared to Greek), quite like Victorian English would be later on, and then only was highjacked by the Brahmins alone to become a sacred language forcibly barred from study by the lower orders.
Can you translate all that in English?
I don’t understand linguistic jargon but had to study Sanskrit in middle school (Grades 5-9). It does have one thing in common with European languages such as French – combining a word’s last vowel with the first syllable of that next one. Interestingly, both English and Hindi lack this complexity, you have to distinctly spell out each and every word.
Sanskrit is a perfectly SYMMETRICAL language, one has to be bit of a BEYOND HIGHBROW to be able to speak Sanskrit correctly and fluently. . The very word “Sanskrit” means “<b<put together, constructed, well or completely formed; refined, adorned, highly elaborated”. You can divide each and every Sanskrit word based on its syllables, and each syllable carries a distinct meaning. That’s how orderly and precise Sanskrit is. With every breath, you’re trying to say something different. Moreover, Sanskrit captures almost every possible sound that can be produced by human vocal cords (except “z” for some reason. My teacher had suggested that the pronunciation of “z” was not encouraged because it was deemed polluting.).
I never did like Sanskrit much as a subject the same as most of my classmates because even at an elementary level, it was really tough. Its grammar was too hard to get a grasp on and the number of cognates or derivatives from a single root word is MIND-BOGGLING. What we studied in school was basic, conversational elementary level Sanskrit. I wouldn’t be able to use my schoolbook Sanskrit to converse with a native speaker from the 5th century.
I wouldn’t go to the extent of calling Sanskrit “supernaturally superior” but it’s definitely harder, stylized and more complex than Latin or Arabic. If I had nothing else to do and all the free time in the world, I could master either one of them. Sanskrit, I tell you, is a tough nut to crack.
Here’s a fun fact for Hindutvadis and other right wing fanatics from India: India wasn’t the first place where Sanskrit was recorded. It was Syria. The present day ISIS terrorists have more claim to Sanskrit than Hindutvadis. Heh heh, seriously, interesting bit of trivia.
[QUOTE]Fact check: India wasn’t the first place Sanskrit was recorded – it was Syria
As the Narendra Modi government celebrates Sanskrit, a look at the oldest known speakers of the language: the Mitanni people of Syria.
After yoga, Narendra Modi has turned his soft power focus to Sanskrit. The Indian government is enthusiastically participating in the 16th World Sanskrit Conference in Bangkok. Not only is it sending 250 Sanskrit scholars and partly funding the event, the conference will see the participation of two senior cabinet ministers: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who inaugurated the conference on Sunday, and Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani, who will attend its closing ceremony on July 2. Inexplicably, Swaraj also announced the creation of the post of Joint Secretary for Sanskrit in the Ministry of External Affairs. How an ancient language, which no one speaks, writes or reads, will help promote India’s affairs abroad remains to be seen.
On the domestic front, though, the uses of Sanskrit are clear: it is a signal of the cultural nationalism of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Sanskrit is the liturgical language of Hinduism, so sacred that lower castes (more than 75% of modern Hindus) weren’t even allowed to listen to it being recited. Celebrating Sanskrit does little to add to India’s linguistic skills – far from teaching an ancient language, India is still to get all its people educated in their modern mother tongues. But it does help the BJP push its own brand of hyper-nationalism.
Unfortunately, reality is often a lot more complex than simplistic nationalist myths. While Sanskrit is a marker of Hindu nationalism for the BJP, it might be surprised, even shocked, to know that the first people to leave behind evidence of having spoken Sanskrit aren’t Hindus or Indians – they were Syrians.
The Syrian speakers of Sanskrit
The earliest form of Sanskrit is that used in the Rig Veda (called Old Indic or Rigvedic Sanskrit). Amazingly, Rigvedic Sanskrit was first recorded in inscriptions found not on the plains of India but in in what is now northern Syria.
Between 1500 and 1350 BC, a dynasty called the Mitanni ruled over the upper Euphrates-Tigris basin, land that corresponds to what are now the countries of Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. The Mitannis spoke a language called Hurrian, unrelated to Sanskrit. However, each and every Mitanni king had a Sanskrit name and so did many of the local elites. Names include Purusa (meaning “man”), Tusratta (“having an attacking chariot”), Suvardata (“given by the heavens”), Indrota (“helped by Indra”) and Subandhu, a name that exists till today in India.
Imagine that: the irritating, snot-nosed Subandhu from school shares his name with an ancient Middle Eastern prince. Goosebumps. (Sorry, Subandhu).
The Mitanni had a culture, which, like the Vedic people, highly revered chariot warfare. A Mitanni horse-training manual, the oldest such document in the world, uses a number of Sanskrit words: aika (one), tera (three), satta (seven) and asua (ashva, meaning “horse”). Moreover, the Mitanni military aristocracy was composed of chariot warriors called “maryanna”, from the Sanskrit word “marya”, meaning “young man”.
The Mitanni worshipped the same gods as those in the Rig Veda (but also had their own local ones). They signed a treaty with a rival king in 1380 BC which names Indra, Varuna, Mitra and the Nasatyas (Ashvins) as divine witnesses for the Mitannis. While modern-day Hindus have mostly stopped the worship of these deities, these Mitanni gods were also the most important gods in the Rig Veda.
This is a striking fact. As David Anthony points out in his book, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, this means that not only did Rigvedic Sanskrit predate the compilation of the Rig Veda in northwestern India but even the “central religious pantheon and moral beliefs enshrined in the Rig Veda existed equally early”.
How did Sanskrit reach Syria before India?
What explains this amazing fact? Were PN Oak and his kooky Hindutva histories right? Was the whole world Hindu once upon a time? Was the Kaaba in Mecca once a Shivling?
Unfortunately, the history behind this is far more prosaic.
The founding language of the family from which Sanskrit is from is called Proto-Indo-European. Its daughter is a language called Proto-Indo-Iranian, so called because it is the origin of the languages of North India and Iran (linguists aren’t that good with catchy language names).
The, well, encyclopedic, Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, edited by JP Mallory and DQ Adams, writes of the earliest speakers of Proto-Indo-Iranian emerging in the southern Urals and Kazakhstan. These steppe people, representing what is called the Andronovo culture, first appear just before 2000 BC.
From this Central Asian homeland diverged a group of people who had now stopped speaking Proto-Indo-Iranian and were now conversing in the earliest forms of Sanskrit. Some of these people moved west towards what is now Syria and some east towards the region of the Punjab in India.
David Anthony writes that the people who moved west were possibly employed as mercenary charioteers by the Hurrian kings of Syria. These charioteers spoke the same language and recited the same hymns that would later on be complied into the Rig Veda by their comrades who had ventured east.
These Rigvedic Sanskrit speakers usurped the throne of their employers and founded the Mitanni kingdom. While they gained a kingdom, the Mitanni soon lost their culture, adopting the local Hurrian language and religion. However, royal names, some technical words related to chariotry and of course the gods Indra, Varuna, Mitra and the Nasatyas stayed on.
The group that went east and later on composed the Rig Veda, we know, had better luck in preserving their culture. The language and religion they bought to the subcontinent took root. So much so that 3,500 years later, modern Indians would celebrate the language of these ancient pastoral nomads all the way out in Bangkok city.
Hindutvaising Sanskrit’s rich history
Unfortunately, while their language, religion and culture is celebrated, the history of the Indo-European people who brought Sanskrit into the subcontinent is sought to be erased at the altar of cultural nationalism. Popular national myths in India urgently paint Sanskrit as completely indigenous to India. This is critical given how the dominant Hindutva ideology treats geographical indigenousness as a prerequisite for nationality. If Sanskrit, the liturgical language of Hinduism, has a history that predates its arrival in India, that really does pull the rug from out under the feet of Hindutva.
Ironically, twin country Pakistan’s national myths go in the exact opposite direction: their of-kilter Islamists attempt to make foreign Arabs into founding fathers and completely deny their subcontinental roots.
Both national myths, whether Arab or Sanskrit, attempt to imagine a pure, pristine origin culture uncontaminated by unsavoury influences. Unfortunately the real world is very often messier than myth. Pakistanis are not Arabs and, as the Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture rather bluntly puts it: “This theory [that Sanskrit and its ancestor Proto-Indo-European was indigenous to India], which resurrects some of the earliest speculations on the origins of the Indo-Europeans, has not a shred of supporting evidence, either linguistic or archeological”.[/QUOTE]
Conceivably this Sanskrit would not have any Dravidian influences then and constitute something else? Or did it separate at some point and somehow as two branches with one being influenced by Dravidian and the other not so much? However, if they are the first speakers of the language, which might be unclear since it’s not been determined as to who the Mitanni were exactly.
Pakistan is a new country obviously, but so are all countries. My parents are from there and I’ve mostly studied things from the academic end. This guy’s pretty good on that front:
It has ties to the subcontinent, but this primarily in the east while the west was separated from Afghanistan and Iran (and thus the Iranian languages). As a whole though yes it’s similar to border areas, but these similarities diminish the further south and east you go. Pakistan did have a dharmic religion in the majority when the Arabs arrived, but it wasn’t Hinduism, it was more than likely Buddhism. This is attested by the Arabs themselves as they went about melting down gold Buddhas. Hindu dynasties ruled most of the east and parts of the northwest all the way into Kabul even (see the Shahis).
Genetically, probably 2/3 of the gene pool is virtually identical to northwest/western India. I had a genetic test done with Natgeo (not quite as extensive as others I know since they test for ancient lineage and I was curious how much Neanderthal I have in me). I clustered between the Pamiris (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pamiris) and Western India and the breakdowns really do appear as if I’m somewhere in-between with my elevated Northern European and much higher Mediterranean genes and significantly lower Southeast Asian background. I’m also more Neanderthal than the average person hovering around 3.2%. Also, of note many people were also pagans or followers of earlier Indo-Iranian religions before they morphed into Hinduism which originates along the Ganges.
Both countries distort their histories as do all the countries around there. Hell, here in the US we connect ourselves to the Greeks even though they never came to England, the true roots of American civilization. African Americans connect themselves to Egypt, with not even an intellectual as with the Greeks and the West and Latinos have no idea how to orient themselves given their misclassification as a race in this country.
Pakistan’s connection to the Arabs is pretty small other than religion. Their main connection is the many centuries of being ruled by Persia-based empires. Of course, ironically, when the founders made Urdu the official language they made certain that India would remain the closest cultural state simply due to the ability to communicate and watch those god awful Bollywood movies.
You are wrong about Sanskrit in Syria before India. The Mittani were emigrants from India in the late rig Vedic period. Mittani were Indians who invaded Syria and established their kingdom there. the answer to all the points you mentioned above have been answered by Shrikant Talageri in his latest research work, Rig Veda and Avesta: Final Evidence. Fact is India was home of Proto-Indo-European language.
I am studying ancient religion and can say without any doubt that Greeks folded Sanskrit into the Greek language as root words which as easily discernible even today. Sanskrit could easily be P.I.E. precursor to Greek.