Authored by: George Cardona , Silvia Luraghi

The World’s Major Languages

Print publication date:  November  2008
Online publication date:  January  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415353397
eBook ISBN: 9780203301524
Adobe ISBN: 9781134261567


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Sanskrit (samskrta- ‘adorned, purified’) refers to several varieties of Old Indo-Aryan, whose most archaic forms are found in Vedic texts: the Rigveda (Rgveda), Yajurveda, Samaveda, Atharvaveda, with various branches. Associated with these are groupings of explicatory and speculative works (called brahmarias, aranyakas, upanisads) as well as texts concerning the performance of rites (kalpa- or srauta-sutras), treatises on phonetics, grammar proper, etymological explanations of particular words, metrics and astrology. Early Vedic texts are pre-Buddhistic — the composition of the Rigveda is plausibly dated in the mid-second millennium BC — although their exact chronology is difficult to establish. Brahmanas and early sutra works can properly be called late Vedic. Also of the late Vedic period is the grammarian Pamni (not later than early fourth century bc), author of the Astddhyay - who distinguishes between the language of sacred texts (chandas) and a more usual language of communication (bhasa from bhas ‘speak’), tantamount to Classical Sanskrit. Epic Sanskrit is so called because it is represented principally in the two epics, Mah^bh^rata and R^m^yait^. The date of composition for the core of early epic is considered to be in the first centuries bc. It is in the Ra-ma-yanta- that the term samskrta- is encountered probably for the first time with reference to the language. Classical Sanskrit is the language of major poetical works, dramas, tales and technical treatises on grammar, philosophy and ritual. It was not only used by Kalidasa and his predecessors but continued in use after Sanskrit had ceased to be a commonly used mother tongue. Sanskrit is a language of learned treatises and commentaries to this day. It has also undergone a literary revival, and original works are still being composed in this language. Indeed, Sanskrit is used as a lingua franca by panditas from different parts of India, and several thousand people claim it as their mother tongue.

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