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dream_weaver

Vedic Sanskrit

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The battle of philosophers is a battle for man's mind. If you do not understand their theories, you are vulnerable to the worst among them. — Philosophy: Who Needs It?

I looked up a partial phrase I've heard somewhere along the course of my life. I did a search for 'the language of the gods', and came back with this as the lead item:

In Vedic religion, "speech" Vāc, i.e. the language of liturgy, now known as Vedic Sanskrit, was considered the language of the gods. Later Hindu scholarship, in particular the Mīmāṃsā school of Vedic hermeneutics, distinguished Vāc from Śábda, a distinction comparable to the Saussurian langue and parole.

Etymology Online gives a readable version of what  The Sage Dictionary provided. Here is the more readable version:

liturgy (n.)

1550s, Liturgy, "the service of the Holy Eucharist," from Middle French liturgie (16c.) or directly from Late Latin/Medieval Latin liturgia "public service, public worship," from Greek leitourgia "a liturgy; public duty, ministration, ministry," from leitourgos "one who performs a public ceremony or service, public servant," from leito- "public" (from laos "people;" compare leiton "public hall," leite "priestess;" see lay (adj.)) + -ergos "that works," from ergon "work" (from PIE root *werg- "to do"). Meaning "collective formulas for the conduct of divine service in Christian churches" is from 1590s. Related: Liturgist; liturgics.

In ancient Greece, particularly at Athens, a form of personal service to the state which citizens possessing property to a certain amount were bound, when called upon, to perform at their own cost. These liturgies were ordinary, including the presentation of dramatic performances, musical and poetic contests, etc., the celebration of some festivals, and other public functions entailing expense upon the incumbent; or extraordinary, as the fitting out of a trireme In case of war. [Century Dictionary]

Amazon.com has a number of books listed:

The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India, 0th Edition by Sheldon Pollock

Language of the Gods, Second Edition Edition by Judith Tyberg (Author)

Language of the Gods, Paperback – June 29, 2016 by B R Taylor (Author)

From the descriptions, all of these approach the subject from the ancient Sanskrit, a good approach if the desire is to get lost among the ancient runes of the Hindu writings (where the festival of lights, Diwali, has its origins rooted as well.)

 

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This has parallels in the west. Christianity used Latin long after it had otherwise gone out of use. Hebrew occupied a similar place in the Jewish liturgy until Israel made it a living language again.

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You might know this already, but Sanskrit is considered an "Indo-European" language. Indo-European languages broke into two streams: Indo-Iranian and European. Many words that our ancestors uses thousands of years ago are thus shared. The word for mother is the archetypical example. BUt, there are some other interesting ones. For instance "Agni" is fire in classical Hindi ('Aag" more colloquially), and it is relate to the English word "ignite". See other cognates here.

It isn't just words that are shared. The fairly tales we tell our kids are often rooted in tales from ages ago, which have then morphed slightly in different cultures, but if a Swede hears a classic Iranian fairy tale and looks past the concretes drawn from Iranian culture, he will often recognize a classic Swedish fairy tale. Even the story of Solomon saying he's cut a baby in half is found in Eastern scripture.

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A little more digging uncovers the fact that Sanskrit is still used and studied by the priests in some of the eastern religions, Reidy, as theology students are expected to study Greek and Hebrew in preparation for their ministries.

 

And as you indicate softwareNerd, Sanskrit, being one of the oldest known languages, has left its fingerprints on just about every widely used language on the planet.

The analogy of looking past the concretes and finding the similarities, when I find myself doing it, it is like searching for something elusive, giving a hint of being there, but never quite materializing. Is it your experience that more times than not, a morphed story is just that. . .a morphed story?

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7 hours ago, dream_weaver said:

And as you indicate softwareNerd, Sanskrit, being one of the oldest known languages, has left its fingerprints on just about every widely used language on the planet.

I believe African languages, Chinese-related languages and Uralic languages are the exceptions. I assume that native-American languages -- so far as they still exist -- would also be the exception. Strictly speaking, Sanskrit did not leave its fingerprints. The term "proto Indo-European" is sometimes used for whatever language was being spoken by the people who had migrated out of Africa and were living somewhere in central Asia, before they migrated further. So, "proto Indo-European" left its fingerprints on the European languages, on the Iranian branch, and on the Indian branch (represented by Sanskrit).

7 hours ago, dream_weaver said:

The analogy of looking past the concretes and finding the similarities, when I find myself doing it, it is like searching for something elusive, giving a hint of being there, but never quite materializing. Is it your experience that more times than not, a morphed story is just that. . .a morphed story?

It is hard to tell what stories truly are morphed version of an original. After all,  fairy tales are the way we teach our children certain ideas, and (similarly) myths are also the way we "document" ideas in an oral tradition. Two clans that have split up hundreds of years previously may both find (separately) that they need to transmit a certain new idea. This might in two myths or fairy-tales that seem to share a core, but really have no shared author (unless you count reality as an author).

BTW: Sanskrit is still taught in Indian schools for a few grades. Usually by rote and soon forgotten. Hindu priests can read and understand Sanskrit in scripture, and a few others can speak it too (think of the Esperanto crowd). The script used is Devnagri, which is also used for Hindi, so most literate Indians will be able to read Sanskrit in the way an English speaker could read Latin...both without knowing what it means.

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4 hours ago, softwareNerd said:

I believe African languages, Chinese-related languages and Uralic languages are the exceptions. I assume that native-American languages -- so far as they still exist -- would also be the exception. Strictly speaking, Sanskrit did not leave its fingerprints. The term "proto Indo-European" is sometimes used for whatever language was being spoken by the people who had migrated out of Africa and were living somewhere in central Asia, before they migrated further. So, "proto Indo-European" left its fingerprints on the European languages, on the Iranian branch, and on the Indian branch (represented by Sanskrit).

I had leafed thru the chapter on Sanskrit in Empires of the Word. The extent of its influence was the impression I got from a quick speed-read refresher of 50 pages.

4 hours ago, softwareNerd said:

It is hard to tell what stories truly are morphed version of an original. After all,  fairy tales are the way we teach our children certain ideas, and (similarly) myths are also the way we "document" ideas in an oral tradition. Two clans that have split up hundreds of years previously may both find (separately) that they need to transmit a certain new idea. This might in two myths or fairy-tales that seem to share a core, but really have no shared author (unless you count reality as an author).

This is clarifying. Zeroing in on the parenthetical remark, counting reality as an author potentially raises the specter of dissociation of reality as the material source.

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The fingerprints that Sanskrit has placed on other languages come in three main varieties. First, there are direct descendant fingerprints on Hindi, Panjabi, Sindhi, Bengali (etc: the list extends to hundreds of languages), which are the modern descendants of Sanskrit. Then there are the massive traditional cultural influence fingerprints, as in Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, which are unrelated languages of India which nevertheless have adopted many Sanskrit words (and even parts of grammar, in the formation of compounds). This cultural influence decreases and becomes harder to recognize in the case of languages which adopted Sanskrit terminology due to the expansion of Buddhism (and Hinduism, to a lesser extent). So there are many words in Thai, Lao, Khmer which come from Sanskrit, and even some words in Chinese and Japanese. The name of the national language of Indonesia, Bahasa Indonesia, comes from Sanskrit bhāṣa “language”. There are also a few quasi-universal words which derive from Sankrit, such as “sugar” (śarkarā) and “rice” (vrīhi). These are influences on the order of a thousand years old.

Finally there are contemporary ubiquious words like “dharma, karma, yoga, avatar, nirvana, Buddha, guru”, and even more words probably not taken from Sanskrit itself but instead taken from a modern Indic language, for example “rupee” (used in East African language) is from Hindi, where the word ultimately comes from Sanskrit rūpyakam, likewise  “gunny (sack)”, “guar”, “jungle”, “thug”, or “juggernaut” which is said to some from a less-known modern language Odia. There are Indic words in languages of East Africa – “bhang, gunny”. It is hard to tell if those words went directly from Indic into Swahili, or indirectly via local English; but these words come from modern Indic languages, not Sanskrit (except, of course, anybody with an internet connection in Nairobi can select their own avatar and blog about how yoga classes are good karma, or something like that). There is an arcane industry of figuring our word-origins, whereby we determine how a particular word got spread. “Butter” has been in English for millenia: it got there from Latin butyrum, which comes from Greek boutyron (βούτῡρον) which itself could be a compound of Greek for “cow” and Scythian for “cheese”. On those grounds, I would suspect that Hindi “guru” (गुरु) is a cultural re-borrowing from Sanskrit. It seems to have gained traction in English in the early 1800 when Western interest in India rose, but there is no question that William Jones, a British official, became fluent in Sanskrit and very well knew the word guru, and myriad other words of Sanskrit.

Because of the ubiquitous words plus the fact that it’s easy to adopt a word for a new thing, especially if you didn’t already have the thing (I don’t know what else to call a tanbour other than a “tanbour”, and I can’t think of a more convenient Germanic word for kebab other than “kebab”), there will be very few languages that are devoid of ultimate Sanskrit influence. I’m reasonably confident that speakers of Saami, Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian (Uralic) use “kebab” when talking about kebab.

 

I know, TMI.

 

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20 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

There is an arcane industry of figuring our word-origins, whereby we determine how a particular word got spread. “Butter” has been in English for millenia: it got there from Latin butyrum, which comes from Greek boutyron (βούτῡρον) which itself could be a compound of Greek for “cow” and Scythian for “cheese”.

This is one of the reasons I like to resort to the product of the etymologists. Every concept had to be originated by someone. The lineage of "butter" indicates how it may have come to be and providing potential concretes from which it may have been churned.

While Sanskrit has been dubbed "the language of the gods", it doesn't appear to be the origin of the phrase.

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22 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

 The name of the national language of Indonesia, Bahasa Indonesia, comes from Sanskrit bhāṣa “language”.

Interesting. I recently learnt that they have the Hindu god Ganesh on their currency (Rupiyah) even though they're a Muslim country.

This aspect of history fascinated me. Not just language but other similarities: for instance the days of the week in Hindi are named after planetary bodies, and they (mostly) match the names of the bodies we use in English. I think this side of history is not taught enough in schools. After teaching about the history of their own country, I think the next most important topic in history should be to step back and tell the tale of humankind. Only then should we swivel back to specific cultures and countries.

Middle schoolers should understand the the story of Adam and Eve is closer to the truth than they might otherwise think: that humans came from common roots. Instead of stressing the differences -- as the multiculturalists do -- kids should be taught how fuzzy these differences really are. If we change the time-axis, we are all Africans. Every kid should understand this perspective.

Edited by softwareNerd

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Wikipedia has a page on Divine language that gives another indicator:

Divine language, the language of the gods, or, in monotheism, the language of God (or angels) is the concept of a mystical or divine proto-language, which predates and supersedes human speech.

While philosophy is not a proto-language predating or superseding speech, the notion of philosophy as the language of the gods has been simmering on and off for a few days in my mind. Of course this would involve elevating the philosophers to the roles of the gods. A rather complex theme for a potential work of fiction.

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