By Harshmeet Singh
Language is probably the best invention by mankind. It enabled the people to understand each other, to join their efforts and to leave behind a legacy for the upcoming generation. Close to 6,000 languages exist in the world. Most of the earlier languages were only spoken and not written. Even the Vedas, composed in Vedic Sanskrit, were first written around 500 BCE, about 500 to 1000 years after they first came into being. Until then, they were passed on from generations to generations verbally.
In many remote areas of the world, including the tribal areas of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the natives only use a spoken language. While such languages are much easier to learn due to flexible rules, it remains one of the elementary reasons behind their backwardness. Written languages, on the other hand, are easier to sustain and preserve. Languages evolve over time. New words, synonyms, grammar and slangs are added to languages over the time.
The world began with one language, which has now evolved into 6,000 languages. Expanding trade and communication have been behind the evolution of most languages. Like all animal species, languages also have a life cycle and face the possibility of extinction in the times to come. In the past, migrations and invasions have led to the death of many languages.
But what is alarming is that it is estimated that about 90% languages will become extinct by the time year 2100 ends. No language is pure anymore. Almost all languages borrow words from other languages. For instance, words such as Bungalow, Avatar, Chutney, Guru and Jungle are today found in the Oxford English Dictionary. There is always a possibility of misunderstood interpretations unless the gestures and the tones of the words are conveyed with perfection. Though English works as the common language in most parts of the world today, it is also prone to such misunderstandings. Is there any other language which can be more suitable for communication than English?
Sanskrit – The mother language
Sanskrit speakers constitute a minimal proportion of population in India today, the country where it originated. Interestingly, it is the ancestor of some of the most widely spoken languages in today’s time, viz. Hindi and Bengali. Sanskrit’s features make a strong case for its revival.
On February 2, 1786, Sir William Jones, a British jurist posted in India, gave a lecture in Calcutta. He said, “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”.
Sanskrit is regarded as a finely refined language, with finely framed rules and logic. It is perhaps due to its intricate rules that Sanskrit is a difficult language to master. According to the NASA researcher Rick Briggs, Sanskrit, of all the languages, is ideally suited to be used in artificial intelligence for computers.
Sanskrit’s design is also said to make memorization relatively easier. The earlier yogis were able to learn complete Vedas and Upanishads just by chanting the words repeatedly. This was largely possible due to Sanskrit’s design and structure.
We often blame the newer generations for their lack of value system without realizing that erosion of cultural values is closely associated with extinction of language. We must understand that English overpowered most of our native languages not because it is better, but because it was forced upon us by our rulers.
For instance, anyone standing in front of you would be addressed as ‘you’ in English, irrespective of his or her age. This takes away the gesture of respect while addressing someone elder to you. While in Sanskrit, there are different words to address the person depending on his or her relative age. This is how the value system changes with changing languages.
The world is slowing realizing the immense potential of Sanskrit with NASA undertaking research on the language for its artificial intelligence projects and many western countries including Germany witnessing a jump in the number of students willing to take up Sanskrit based courses. Rather than aping the west, it is time to go back to the basics.