Bharatiya sprachbund (linguistic area)

Date: 20 Aug 2009

Comment Bharatiya sprachbund (linguistic area) Rejecting colonial constructs about Indian languages – Shishir Thadani Background The following works postulate an Indian linguistic area, that is an area of ancient times when various language-speakers interacted and absorbed language features from one another and made them their own: Emeneau, MB, India as a linguistic area, Language 32, 1956, 3-16 Kuiper, FBJ, Proto-Munda words in Sanskrit, Amsterdam, 1948 The genesis of a linguistic area, IIJ 10, 1967, 81-102 Masica, CP, Defining a Linguistic area. South Asia. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971 Przyludski, J., Further notes on non-aryan loans in Indo-Aryan in Bagchi, P. C. (ed.), Pre-Aryan and Pre-Dravidian in Sanskrit. Calcutta : University of Calcutta 1929: 145-149 Southworth, F., Linguistic archaeology of South Asia, London, Routledge-Curzon, 2005 Ancient texts of India are replete with brilliant insights into formation and evolution of languages. Some examples are: Bharata’s Natya Shastra, Patanjali’s Mahabhashya, Hemachandra’s Deshi naamamaalaa, Nighantus, Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, Tolkappiyam – Tamil grammar. Manu (10.45) notes the linguistic area: aarya vaacas mleccha vaacas te sarve dasyuvah smrtaah [both aarya speakers and mleccha speakers (literary and colloquial dialects) are all remembered as dasyu]. Hindu civilization tradition has handed down perhaps the most ancient literary corpus of humanity with astonishing integrity – the vedic texts. Shishir Thadani should be complimented for a lucid exposition of his thesis for rejecting the colonial constructs about the formation and evolution of bharatiya languages. (Bharati according to Amarakosha refers to the language of the people of Bharat). Some excerpts from his article follow: …The "Indo-European" Model and Beyond Most educated Indians know that most Indian languages are divided into two broad linguistic streams - i.e. the "Indo-European" and the "Dravidian". Tied in with this linguistic classification is the theory that the North Indian languages came with "Aryan" settlers. During colonial rule, it may have seemed comforting to North Indians to know that they enjoyed a historical genetic and cultural connection with the "superior" races of Europe who had by then come to rule much of the world. Of course, this provided little comfort to the South Indians who were indirectly told that their own cultural history was inferior to that of the North because they lacked the all-important European connection. .. ut is this classification truly "scientific" or a construct that derives more from purely political considerations as some recent critics have argued? … Phonetically speaking, from North to South, the languages of the Indian subcontinent have more in common with each other than with any European language - (especially English and French). Pan-Indic Linguistic Features Writing in Language in India (9, Jan, 2002), G. Sankaranarayanan observes how repeating words and forms is a significant feature that extends across the Indian subcontinent and includes not only the Sanskrit and Tamil derivatives but also Munda and languages from the Tibetan-Burmese group. While some forms of rhyming reduplication are also to be found in English such as bow-wow or willy-nilly, other types of reduplication appear to be entirely absent or very rare in English. For instance, the expression "Ram Ram" may be used to express anguish in Hindi, but its analog "God God" or "Jesus Jesus" would be not be idiomatic in English. Likewise Hay-re-Hay or Baap-re-Baap used to express shock or dismay would be hard to replicate in English - the latter translating to father-oh-father. In both Tamil and Hindi, a guest may be welcomed with the expression "va:nga va:nga" or "aiye aiye" - i.e. "come, come" to suggest a special enthusiasm and graciousness. The correct analog for such a greeting in English might be "please do come", but not come come. Repeated words may be routinely used to designate emphasis - "piyo piyo" (drink drink) or "jaldi jaldi" (quick quick) or "dekho dekho" (look look). Such usage is also to be found in other Asian languages such as Bahasa Indonesia where "tengo tengo" (look look) is a perfect translation of "dekho dekho". In other contexts a repeated word (whether noun, pronoun, adjective, adverb, or verb) acquires a special semantic significance. Consider the Tamil " ra:tri ra:tri maLHai peyyutu" (night night it rains ) meaning that it rains frequently - every night or every other night. Or the Hindi "apne apne vichar hain" (their their views/thoughts/opinions are) meaning that people have their own opinions. In the interrogative form, in Hindi one might ask "kya kya kiya" - (what what did) meaning what all did you do? Or, "kahan kahan gaye" (where where went) meaning where all did you go? One could also repeat a verbal participle: "bolte bolte thak gaye" or "kahete kahete thak gaye" - (talking talking got tired or telling telling got tired) i.e (I/we) got tired telling (him/her/them) again and again. Thus word repetition is an economic but meaningful way of expressing varied forms of frequency, plurality or multiplicity. Note too that Indic languages permit the dropping of pronouns (which become implied). In the previous example both the subject (I/we) and object pronouns (him/her/them) may be dropped, but (got tired telling) would be impermissible in English. Another form of repetition is the use of an echo word to suggest a broader category than the word echoed. Note that the echo word may not be a word itself and its only requirement would be to partially repeat the first word. Thus we may have "cha:y sha:y" to suggest (tea etc), or (tea and something with it), or (tea or something like it). Or, "kuch kaam vaam kiya" to ask if (you/he/she) did any work or anything else constructive? Here "kaam" is work but "vaam" is used to denote something comparable in significance to work such as study or complete a chore or perform some other important task. Here again, we observe a linguistic feature that extends across all Indic languages (and even to other Asian languages ) and to a European non "Indo-European" language like Hungarian but is rare or entirely missing in an "Indo-European" language like English. Sentence Word Order It may also be noted that across India, both Sanskrit and Tamil derived languages use SOV (subject Object Verb) word order as a default. But several Indo-European languages such as English, French, Portuguese and Bulgarian use SVO word order. However, in colloquial or theatrical speech, (or even in poetic/literary texts) Hindi (like Arabic) also permits VSO. Moreover, when repeated words are used all Indian languages permit the omission of the subject and the word order becomes flexible - either OV or VO. Word order also becomes flexible in the context of question and answer exchanges. Thus in Hindi "Gaye the Tum?" (Went did you?), "Tum Gaye The?" (You went did?) and "Tum Gaye?" (You went?) are all possible. Replies to where did you go could be equally varied from the standard SOV "Main Allahabad gaya tha" (I Allahabad went) to an OVS "Allahabad gaya tha main" (Allahabad went I) or simply OV "Allahabad gaya tha" (Allahabad went) or even VO "Gaya tha Allahabad" (Went Allahabad) In this respect, Indian languages are similar to each other but not to less flexible "Indo-European" languages like English. On the other hand, Russian and Czech (like Hungarian) do not require a fixed or default word order. In conclusion, it might be stated that the present scheme of bifurcating Indian languages into the "Indo-European" and "Dravidian" scheme is unsatisfactory in many ways. Not only does it ignore vital commonalities between the languages of Northern and Southern India, it has also precluded comprehensive comparitive studies between these Indic languages and other Indic languages such as the Munda or those from the Tibetan-Burmese stream. Not only is the "Indo-European" classification based on very narrow grounds, it privileges an archaic oral history over later (and more important) developments when indic languages were studied systematically and formalized. Moreover, it entirely ignores the development of writing in the Indian subcontinent and also, the linguistic exchanges and enrichment that occurred between the Sanskrit and Tamil derived languages as well as borrowings that must have occurred between these languages and their Adivasi cousins . The classification also tends to minimize commonalities and exchanges between the Indic languages and the languages of India's land-connected neighbors and oceanic neighbors. Also obscured is the scientific analysis and rational organization that went into the formalization of Sanskrit (in both spoken and written forms) and other Indic languages that created a solid foundation for India's largely self-propelled progress in philosophy, epistemology, law and governance, mathematics, art, theatre and music, mathematics, and the biological and physical sciences. Consciously or unconsciously, the "Indo-European" scheme not only divided India from within but also set it apart from its intellectually-linked Asian brethren and oceanic neighbors in Africa. Undoubtedly, theories such as this complemented Britain's colonial "divide and conquer" strategy. Such disingenuous constructs (whether by accident or design) allowed the English to colonize, subjugate, and finally loot the Indian subcontinent - not only of of its legendary wealth, but by distorting its linguistic heritage, it also robbed the Indian people of their very essence and self-esteem. It is high time that linguistic scholars in India revisit afresh this entire field and rescue it from inappropriate and outdated colonial constructs. About the Author Shishir Thadani has an Undergraduate degree from IIT Delhi and a Post-Graduate degree in Computer Science from Yale where his area of specialization included Theoretical Computer Science, the Syntax and Semantics of Computer Languages and Natural Language Processing. Acknowledgements Giti Thadani, who is intimately familiar with several European languages including German, French and Hungarian (as well as Sanskrit) also contributed through several converstations with the author… Notes: Panini's use of metarules, transformations, and recursion together make his grammar as rigorous as a modern Turing machine. The Backus-Naur form (Panini-Backus form) or BNF grammars used to describe modern programming languages have significant similarities to Panini grammar rules. (See T.R.N. Rao. Panini-backus form of languages. 1998.) Chomsky: "The first generative grammar in the modern sense was Panini's grammar", In Optimality Theory, the hypothesis about the relation between specific and general constraints is known as "Panini's Theorem on Constraint Ranking". Paninian grammars have also been devised for non-Sanskrit languages. His work was the forerunner to modernformal language theorymathematical linguistics) and formal grammar, and a precursor to computing.O'Connor, John J; Edmund F. Robertson "Pāṇini". MacTutor History of Mathematics archiveOn Phonetic Awareness: It may be observed that modern Korean Hangul which replaced Korea's Chinese-related pictographic script also shows such awareness about sound production as Sanskrit. Certain pan-Indian aspirated consonants (dh, gh, bh etc) that are not to be found in "Indo-European" languages such as English, occur in some African languages and Arabic. The paper “A megalithic pottery inscription and a Harappa tablet: a case of extraordinary resemblance,” published in the Journal of Tamil Studies, Volume No.71, June 2007 (amongst others) reveals startling similiarities between the Indus script and megalithic and chalcolithic Tamil pottery markings. http://india_resource 000000000