Bhartiya History

Reexamining history from a Hindu perspective and exposing the colonial distortion of their Vedic heritage that fails to recognize the spiritual root of Indic civilization.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Trials, tribulations & triumph of a cultural archeaologist

Trials, tribulations & triumph of a cultural archeaologist - I


Barbara Tuchman, the great American woman historian rightly observes: Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilisation would have been impossible. They are agents of change, windows on the world, lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.

These instructive and inspiring words are wholly applicable to 'AN ENTYMOLOGICAL DICTIONARY OF SOUTH ASIAN LANGUAGES' by Dr S Kalyanaraman and published by Asian Development Bank, Manila, Philippines. In more senses than one this is a landmark book in the world of languages, linguistics and culture. This book is a Multilanguage historical and cultural dictionary of South Asia; it is a lexicon; it is an encyclopaedia. To quote his own words: This is a comparative dictionary covering all the languages of South Asia (which may also be referred to, in a geographical/historical sense as the Indian sub-continent ). This dictionary seeks to establish a semantic concordance, across the languages of numeraire facile of the South Asian sub-continent : from Brahui to Santali to Bengali, from Kashmiri to Mundarica to Sinhalece, from Marathi to Hindi to Nepali, from Sindhi or Panjabi or Urdu to Tamil. A semantic structure binds the languages of South Asia, which may have diverged morphologically or phonologically as evidenced in the oral tradition of Vedic texts, or epigraphy, literary works or lexicons of the historical periods. This dictionary, therefore goes beyond, the commonly held belief of an Indo-European language and is anchored on proto-South Asian sememes.

The great pioneering Indologist Sir William Jones, founder of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1783, pronounced with authority the underlying genetic relationship between the classical languages, Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit in his third Annual Discourse to the Asiatic Society of Bengal on the History and Culture of the Hindus in February 1786 when he made the following epoch-making observation: 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 a common source, which perhaps, no longer exists; there is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothic and the Celtic, though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanskrit; and the old Persian might be added to the same family.
Long before Sir William Jones in 1786, the 16th century Italian scholar Sassetti apparently studied Sanskrit calling it 'a pleasant musical language' and uniting Deo with Deva. In the 17th century, the Dutch protestant missionary, Abraham Rogerius, published in 1651 the translation of Bhartrihari in Europe for the first time. So we find many Catholic missionaries of South India, French and Belgian, studying a little Sanskrit, and mixing with Tamil, producing the faked Ezour Vedam , the target of Voltaire's criticism; and Anquitil du Perron, visiting India before Sir William Jones, provoked the latter's sarcastic criticism of premature handling of Sanskrit texts. As early as 1725 we find the German missionary (translator of the Bible into Tamil) Benjamin Schultze emphasising the similarity between the numerals of Sanskrit, German and Latin.

Another remarkable Englishman, Horne Tooke, in his 'Diversions of Purley ' in 1786 anticipated Bopp and other pioneers of Comparative Grammar. The German traveller, Pallas, worked out the project of the mathematician-philopher Leibniz (1646 - 1716) and published 'Comparative Vocabularies of all the Languages of the World' in 1787. This uncritical work was soon superseded by the German grammarian-philosopher Adelung's Mithridates or General Science of Languages, published in four volumes between 1806 and 1817.

Dr S Kalyanaraman legitimately belongs to this great tradition of philologists and lexicographers, dictionary-compilers, etymologists, scholars and savants. He has compiled this unique, multilingual dictionary of the Dravidian, Arian and Mundarica language families which he took 18 years to complete. It has been published in three volumes, running to over 2000 pages with nearly 5 lakh words from over 25 ancient languages. This work covers over 8000 semantic clusters which span and bind the South Asian Languages. The basic finding is that thousands of terms of the Vedas, the Munda languages (eg.Santali, Mundarica, Soral), the so-called Dravidian languages and the so-called Indo-Aryan languages have common roots. This dictionary called Indian Lexicon has also been made available on the internet. He declares with humility: The author assumes full responsibility for the semantic and etymological judgements made and the errors that might have crept in with thousands of database iterations in organizing the semantic clusters found in the word lists (the lexicon includes over half-a-million Indian words). The author hopes that with the impossibility of 'dating' the origin of a word, all its inherent limitations, the omissions, intentional or otherwise and errors that will in due course be pointed out by scholars specialized in their fields, the Indian Lexicon will be a tentative, but bold start of a skeleton dictionary of the Indian linguistic area ca. 3000 B.C. and will be expanded further to include modern words.

Dr S Kalyanaraman was born on 20 October 1939. His mother tongue is Tamil. But all his school and under graduate education was in Telugu and Sanskrit in Andhra Pradesh. He is conversant with Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi and Sanskrit languages. He graduated from Annamalai University in Economics and Statistics. He has a Doctorate in Public Administration from the University of the Philippines and his thesis Public Administration in Asia, a comparative study of development administration in six Asian countries ?? India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines. He joined the Asian Development bank in 1978. Earlier he was a Member of the Indian Railway Accounts Service from 1962.

During the last 11 years, starting from 1995, he has been working on Sarasvati River Research Project through his Sarasvati Sindhu Research Centre in Chennai. Ever since his return to India in 1995 and his presentation of a paper in the 10th World Sanskrit Conference on his research findings, he has devoted himself to promoting projects for the revival of the Sarasvati River.

Apart from the massive multilingual dictionary of South Asian languages, Dr Kalyanaraman has also authored several volumes on Sarasvati Culture and Civilisation. His other notable work is Indian Alchemy: Soma in the Veda. He has also contributed to Professor Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya's multi-volume work on History of Science and Technology in Ancient India

To return to Dr Kalyanaraman's Multilingual Etymological Dictionary of South Asian languages once again. The history of civilization is more than a tally of our dynasties, governments, wars, class struggles and cultural movements. Dr Kalyanaraman proves through this book that it is also the story of how human beings in the South Asian Region have learned to develop and operate systems of reference and information retrieval that are external to the brain. According to current estimates, Homo has been in existence for about 2 million years, although it may not have become Sapiens till around 100,000 years ago. If this estimate is reliable, then for 99.75% of the existence of the species Homo and for some 95% of the time that it has been Sapiens, there were no external systems at all. The brain with its erratic memory was the only apparatus available for knowing, referring and recording??and that was the natural state of things. The bulk of our ancestors would have found anything else unimaginable, and for some aboriginal peoples today, in remote areas, this statement still holds true.

This Etymological Dictionary clearly brings out the fact that language in the region which Dr Kalyanaraman has covered has been the master tool which man, in his endless adventure after knowledge and power, has shaped for himself, and which, in its turn, has shaped the human mind as we see it and know it. It has continuously extended and conserved the store of knowledge upon which mankind has drawn. It has furnished the starting point of all our science. In this context the great words of L.S.Amery come to my mind: 'Language has been the instrument of social cohesion and of moral law, and through it human society has developed and found itself. Language, indeed, has been the soul of mankind'.

We learn from Dr.Kayanaraman's Himalayan effort that language is the most massive and inclusive art we know, a mountainous and anonymous works of unconscious generations. Language exists to communicate whatever it can communicate. Language is itself the collective art of expression, a summary of thousands upon thousands of individual intuitions. George Steiner in his great work Language and Silence observed: 'Languages code immemorial reflexes and twists of feeling, remembrances of action that transcend individual recall, contours of communal experience as subtly decisive as the contours of sky and land in which a civilization ripens. Any outsider can master a language as a rider masters his mount; he rarely becomes as one with its undefined, subterranean motion'. Eros and Language mesh at every point. Intercourse and discourse, copula and copulation, are sub-classes of the dominant fact of communication'.

As a learned and dedicated etymologist, Dr Kalyanaraman finds the deadest word in the South Asian Region to have been once a brilliant picture. We are delighted to learn at his feet that every language is indeed fossil poetry.

Trials, tribulations & triumph of a cultural archaeologist-II

'One goes to the potter for pots, but not to the grammarian for words. Language is already there among the people'

-Patanjali in Mahabhashya

In his historic work 'AN ENTYMOLOGICAL DICTIONARY OF SOUTH ASIAN LANGUAGES', published by Asian Development Bank, Manila, Philippines, Dr S Kalyanaraman states: 'In philology, as in archaeology, the search for 'truth' is an extension of a researcher's imagination. Imagination is not an act of faith, but a statement of hypothesis based on relational entities in linguistic structures identified through painstaking lexical work. Two such entities in linguistic structures are: morpheme and sememe which bind an etymological group. Sememe may be defined as a phoneme imbued with 'meaning'. Morpheme is defined as a 'meaningful' linguistic unit. Sememe constitutes the semantic substratum of a morpheme or simply, 'meaning'. What is 'meaning'? It is a concept closely linked to a social compact for inter-personal communication. The 'private language' of a speaker's brain (with 'personal' experiences embedded in neutral networks) is revealed through sounds uttered by the speaker. Language is formed if these uttered sounds echo the 'private language' of a listener. Such an echo constitutes meaning or the semantic sub-structure of a language. Sememes are the basic semantic structural units of a language which combine to yield morphemes or words. A sememe can, for example, be distinguished from a phoneme or a gesture which does not communicate a message in a social compact. Only those uttered sounds which are heard and accepted in a social compact can constitute the repertoire of a language. Sememes (or, dhatupada' ) are given a variety of phonemic and morphological forms in the lingua franca to constitute semantic expressions, or the vocabulary of an evolving and growing civilization'.

Ramana Maharishi asked the question: 'Who am I?' Likewise Dr S Kalyanaraman asks the introspective question: 'What is the justification for this comparative etymological dictionary of South Asian languages currently spoken by over a billion people of the world?' He says that an answer can be given at a number of levels:

1) The paramount need to bring people closer to ancient heritage of South Asian language family of which the extant South Asian languages (Indo-Aryan, Dravidian and Munda language streams ) are but dialectical forms.

2) There is an imperative international public need to generate further studies in the disciplines of a) South Asian archaeology, b) general semantics and comparative linguistics , c) design of fifth-generation computer systems

3) There is a need to provide a basis for further studies in grammatical philosophy and neurosciences on the formation of semantic patterns or structures in the human brain?? neurosciences related to the study of linguistic competence which seems to set apart the humans from other living beings.

Finally Dr Kalyanaraman declares with magisterial clarity: 'The urgent warrant for my etymological dictionary is the difficulty faced by scholars in collating different lexicons and in obtaining works such as CDIAL (A Comparative Dictionary of Indo-Aryan Languages) even in eminent libraries. In tracing the etyma (literally meaning truth in Greek) of the South Asian languages, it is adequate to indicate the word forms which can be traced into the mists of history'.

Dr Kalyanaraman's Dictionary deals with more than 8000 semantic clusters relating to the South Asian Languages. Overarching this vast region??in geographical, linguistic and cultural terms??there is an areal 'South Asian Language Type'. Dr.Kalyanaraman seeks to prove this fact by establishing a semantic concordance among the so called Indo-Aryan, Dravidian and Munda languages. This area covers a geographical region bounded by the Indian Ocean on the south and the mountain ranges which insulate it from other regions of the Asian Continent on the north, east and west.

The semantic clustering attempted by Dr.Kalyanaraman in this Dictionary rests on the following hypothesis:

1 It is possible to reconstruct a proto-South Asian idiom or lingua franca of circa the centuries traversed by the Indus Valley Civilization (C.2500 to 1700 BC)

2 South Asia is a linguistic area nursed in the cradle of the Indus Valley Civilization.

Operating within this framework, Dr Kalyanaraman summarily rejects the two long standing and earlier assertions:

a) Sir William Jones's assertion in 1786 of an Indo-European Linguistic Family

b) F W Ellis's assertion in 1816 of a southern family of languages.

This cleavage was mischievously created by the Colonial British Rulers as a part of their strategy of Divide and Rule. Dr Kalyanaraman also dismisses the exclusion of the so-called Austro-Asiatic or Munda (or Kherwari) languages. His thesis is that there was a proto-South Asian Linguistic area (C 2500 BC) which included these three language groups. His underlying assumption is that the so-called Dravidian, Munda and Aryan Languages can be traced to an ancient South Asian Family by establishing the unifying elements in semantic terms. This is in keeping with the views of G.U.Pope in another context: ..that between the languages of Southern India and those of the Aryan family there are many deeply seated and radical affinities; that the differences between the Dravidian tongues and the Aryan are not as great as that between the Celtic for instance and the Sanskrit. It is in this spirit that Dr Kalyanaraman has dedicated this great dictionary to Panini and Tolkappiyam

Reading this fascinating book, we understand that each language is only in part an individual instrument. It is in the main, a community instrument used for community purposes. As such each language tends to launch out on a career of its own, to which individuals contribute very much as the coral insect contributes to the growth of a coral reef or island. The essence of language lies in the intentional conveyance of ideas from one living being to another through the instrumentality of arbitrary tokens or symbols agreed upon and understood by both as being associated with the particular ideas in question. In short language in this world is for keeping things safe in their places. Martin Heidegger rightly says that language is the house of being.

Words are but the signs and counters of knowledge, and their currency should be strictly regulated by the capital which they represent. The finest words in the world are only vain sounds, if you cannot comprehend. Words, when written, crystallize history; their very structure gives permanence to the unchangeable past. Francis Bacon said; 'men suppose their reason has command over their words; still it happens that words in return exercise authority on reason'. Words may be either servants or masters. If they are servants, they may safely guide us in the way of truth. If they become our masters, they intoxicate the brain and lead into swamps of confused thoughts where there is no solid footing.

Language is the amber in which thousands of precious thoughts have been safely embedded and preserved. It has arrested thousands of lightening-flashes of genius, which, unless thus fixed and arrested, might have been as bright, but would have also been as quickly passing and perishing as the lightning. Samuel Taylor Coleridge rightly observes: 'Language is the armoury of the human mind; and at once contains the trophies of its past, and the weapons of its future conquests'.

We can infer the spirit of a nation in great measure from the language, which is a sort of monument to which each forcible individual in a course of many hundred years of social history has contributed a stone. And, universally, a good example of this social force is the veracity of language, which cannot be debauched. In this context Ralph Waldo Emerson rightly sums up: 'In any controversy concerning morals, an appeal may be made with safety to the sentiments which the language of the people expresses. Proverbs, words and grammar-inflections convey the public sense with more purity and precision than the wisest individual'.

Language contains so faithful a record of the good and of the evil which in time past have been working in the minds and hearts of men, we shall not err, if we regard it as a moral barometer indicating and permanently marking the rise or fall of a nation's life. No wonder Noah Webster in his Preface to the great AMERICAN DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLIGH LANGUAGE wrote in 1828: 'Language is the expression of ideas; and if the people of our country cannot preserve an identity of ideas, they cannot retain an identity of language'.

Viewed in this light language is the most valuable single possession of the human race. Man does not live on bread alone: his other indispensable necessity is communication. We shall never approach a complete understanding of the nature of language, so long as we confine our attention to its intellectual function as a means of communicating thought. Language is a form of human reason, which has its reasons which are unknown to man. The mastery over reality, both technical and social, grows side by side with the knowledge of how to use a language?more particularly words. A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanging. In all senses it is the skin of living thought.

I enjoyed reading this Dictionary by Dr Kalyanaraman. I would pay my tribute to his work in the words of W H Auden: 'Though a work of literature can be read in a number of ways, this number is finite and can be arranged in a hierarchical order; some readings are obviously 'truer' than others, some doubtful, some obviously false and some absurd. That is why, for a desert island, one would choose a good dictionary, rather than the greatest literary masterpiece imaginable, for, in relation to its reader, a dictionary is absolutely passive and may legitimately be read in an infinite number of ways.'


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