Was Sanskrit ever a spoken language

Sanskrit language

Sanskrit, the oldest Indian language, is the forerunner of the Middle Indian languages ​​called Prakrit as well as many new Indian languages ​​such as Hindi and Marathi.

Sanskrit as an Indo-European language

The Sanskrit language belongs to the so-called Indo-European (formerly: Indo-European) language family. The term Indo-European stems from the fact that this language family has most of the European Languages, Persian as well as a number of indian Includes languages. The Indo-European languages ​​can in turn be subdivided into smaller language groups or branches that summarize more closely related languages. Among these, Sanskrit belongs to the Middle Indian (Prakrits) and New Indian languages ​​as well as Old Persian and Avestian, which emerged from it Indo-Iranian (formerly: Aryan) language group. Again, Sanskrit is one of them Indo-Aryan Subfamily that includes all Indo-European languages ​​native to the Indian subcontinent, such as Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati and Nepali.

Original language

Research into the development of the Indo-European language family (Indo-European studies or comparative linguistics) has shown that Sanskrit, together with ancient Greek, Latin and the oldest known language levels of the Germanic, Celtic and Slavic languages, goes back to a common original language, the so-called Urindo-European. The forms of this assumed original language were developed as hypothetical "roots" in the course of the comparative research of Indo-European studies (cf. the dictionary of origin of the Dudens).

The existence of such a common original language was first postulated by the English orientalist William Jones in 1786. The methodical proof of the relationship between the Greek, Latin, Persian and Germanic languages ​​came from the German Franz Bopp in 1816, who thus established German Indo-European studies.

Original home

Assuming a common Original language of the Indo-European language family to which Sanskrit belongs, the question of a corresponding one inevitably arises Original homefrom which the development and differentiation of the individual languages ​​began. There have been very different hypotheses about this for a long time. Today, those who assume the original home of the Indo-European language family roughly in the middle between their westernmost (south-western Europe) and easternmost extent are among the more likely. This roughly corresponds to the area between the Black and Caspian Seas. More precise delimitations presume the Indo-European original home in the southern Caucasus (Transcaucasia), in the steppe area of ​​the so-called Kurgan culture or in Asia Minor (Anatolia), the area of ​​today's Turkey.

Age and Spread

According to current knowledge, it is estimated that the Indo-European original language, from which Sanskrit arose, was spoken around 6000 years before Christ, i.e. around 8000 years ago. Over the millennia, the ethnic group speaking this language spread in all directions, with the language of the individual tribes developing further and further apart. Around 2500 BC most of Eurapa was still populated by non-Indo-European speaking peoples. Around 1000 BC, the Indo-European languages ​​reached roughly their current area of ​​distribution, with the exception of the extreme west and north-west of Europe. The immigration of the Sanskrit or Vedic-speaking Indo-European tribes into the areas of today's Pakistan and northern and central India is assumed to be around the middle of the second millennium BC (around 1800 - 1200 BC).

Traditional Indian point of view

Deviating from the findings of comparative linguistics and Indo-European studies, there is still the traditional Indian view of Sanskrit as the "mother of all languages". According to this view, Sanskrit is not a branch of the Indo-European original language, but rather the original language from which all Indian and European languages ​​arose. This view is based on the knowledge that modern Indian languages ​​such as Hindi or Bengali emerged from so-called Central Indian languages ​​(the Prakrits, which also include Pali), which in turn go back to Sanskrit or the Vedic dialects of Sanskrit. This absolutely correct view was transferred to the related non-Indian or non-Indian languages, which is no longer tenable today due to the research based on the comparison of all available sources of the oldest Indo-European languages ​​and should be called an "indocentric" view.

Sanskrit as a cultural language

Vedic, Classical and Epic Sanskrit

The oldest (initially orally) transmitted Sanskrit texts belong to the Vedic literature, the so-called Samhitas (text collections) of the Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvaveda. The time of origin of these texts is believed to be around 1500–1200 BC, making them one of the oldest indo-European literature that has been preserved. Texts of more recent origin, which still belong to the Vedic language period, are the Upanishads, Aranyakas and Brahmanas.

The Vedic Sanskrit is thus the oldest Sanskrit language level known to us, which was described around 400 BC by the grammarian Panini in his Sanskrit grammar called Ashtadhyayi. A special feature of Vedic were the three melodic pitches or accents (Udatta, Anudatta and Svarita) as well as a greater variety of forms of the declension and conjugation endings (Vibhakti).

At the same time Panini recorded and codified the rules of the Sanskrit spoken in educated (Shishta) circles at that time, which from then on was called the so-called classical Sanskrit is taught to this day in universities in India and around the world. This is the language of "classical" Sanskrit literature, poetry (Kavya), Puranas and all sciences or Shastras such as legal theory (Dharmashastra), astrology (Jyotisha), medicine (Ayurveda), grammar (Vyakarana) as well as philosophical and religious literature .

Finally, there is another distinction between Vedic and Classical Sanskrit epic sanskrit, the language of the two great Indian epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, which essentially also go back to oral traditions. Epic Sanskrit occasionally deviates in its formations from classical Sanskrit and is therefore viewed as an independent literary language.

Buddhist and Tantric Sanskrit

In addition, one speaks of one Buddhist or "hybrid" Sanskritwhich also deviates from classical Sanskrit in certain word forms and meanings as well as grammatical structures. The oldest Buddhist texts (as well as those of the Jainas) are not written in Sanskrit, but in the Middle Indian dialect of Pali. At the time of the historical Buddha (approx. 500 BC), who himself did not speak Sanskrit, this was no longer spoken (and understood) by the common people and was henceforth reserved for the priests (Brahmins) and scholars (Pandita).

Only the later Buddhist scholars, who wanted to assert their teachings in the philosophical discourse against the Brahmanic-Orthodox or other doctrines, returned to Sanskrit, which in the meantime had become a kind of learned lingua franca in the entire Indian region, comparable to Latin in Europe of the Middle Ages or the ancient Greek in the Mediterranean area of ​​the pre-Roman times.

Even the texts of the medieval tantric Literature sometimes only follows the rules of classical Sanskrit, codified as a high-level language, to a limited extent, as its authors were less Sanskrit scholars than practicing mystics who, if necessary, subordinated the strict rules of classical Sanskrit to the metrical requirements of their originally secret (esoteric) texts.

Sanskrit as a sacred and mystical language

If you come to India, Sanskrit is still considered a holy language there, and even the younger generation usually has the highest respect. Depending on the degree and type of education, many Indians can still know Sanskrit verses, prayers and mantras by heart, and the official language of the priests of the main currents of the Hindu (Brahmanic-Orthodox) religions (i.e. with the exception of the Sikhs, Jainas and Buddhists) is still the Sanskrit. All important rites and ceremonies (samskara) on the occasion of birth, naming, marriage and death are traditionally accompanied by the recitation of Sanskrit formulas (mantra) and prayers that are sometimes several thousand years old.

Language of the gods

From an Indian point of view, Sanskrit has been spoken or spoken since time immemorial, the only language that the gods understand and that is pleasing to them. In all Vedic rituals, attention was and is paid to the extremely correct pronunciation of Sanskrit, since the success of the ritual is in question in the event of mistakes or negligence or, even worse, a negative result would be to be feared.

On the other hand, there is the firm certainty that a correctly performed ritual, the most essential element of which since the Vedic period has been the recitation of Sanskrit verses and mantras, virtually "forces" the gods to comply with the wishes of the victim. This belief underlies almost every mystical practice, and the ancient epic and Puranic texts are full of stories about ascetics (Tapasvin) and wise men (Muni) who, because of their strict spiritual practice and the strength gained by it, caused the gods to give them one or the other to grant multiple wishes (Vara).

Even the demons (asura), who are naturally the eternal adversaries of the gods (sura), were able to obtain mythical gifts or the fulfillment of their wishes from the gods in this way. The story of the demon prince Ravana, which is told in the epic Ramayana, is particularly well known. He practiced penance (tapas) for 10,000 years by sacrificing one of his ten heads to the creator god Brahma at the end of each 1,000 years in order to obtain immortality (Amrita) in return. This wish was granted to him before he had to sacrifice his last head, but with the restriction that he could be killed neither by a god nor by heavenly beings, but by a human being. The incarnate god Vishnu fulfilled this prophecy in his incarnation as Rama.

Online Sanskrit course

The online Sanskrit course offers you a thorough introduction to the Sanskrit language.

See also

Literature on Sanskrit and Sanskrit grammar

Sanskrit grammar web links


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