Languages and their Origins

The English word ‘attic’ has its roots in the Kannada word ‘aṭṭa’ (ಅಟ್ಟ). Even to this day, the English word has not changed much in terms of meaning and also how it sounds! Similarly, cut comes from Kannada ‘kaḍi’, make from ‘māḍu, kill from ‘kollu’, all from ‘ella’ and nation from ‘nāḍu’. This way, I can claim that all of English words have their roots in Kannada. And why should I limit to English? I can claim Kannada origin of all words of the entire family of Indo-European languages, including Sanskrit. If this sounds like a fantasy, wait! Let me throw in some bits that are well accepted by modern linguists as well. The words like ‘rice’ and ‘wootz’ have Kannada (or Dravidian) roots. Let me list a few more words like these and my argument starts sounding more credible.

Now that I am done with words, let me get to grammar. This will make my argument complete. That not just the words of the English language but the language itself (and all Indo-European languages) originated from Kannada. Let me start with a point I noted on verbs. In Kannada, verbs can function as adjectives when used with a noun. For example, consider the words ījukoḷa (ಈಜುಕೊಳ, swimming pool), and bīsugaaḷi (ಬೀಸುಗಾಳಿ, blowing wind). Doesn’t the word ‘swimming pool’ follow a very similar grammatical rule (verb or a verb form acting as an adjective)? In the case of English, the verb ‘swim’ has only been given a simplified form, ‘swimming’!

Many people who claim Sanskrit is the root of all of Indian languages (and even all of the world’s languages), often resort to such arguments. Of late, I have come across quite a few online articles, and social media posts with bizarre claims regarding Sanskrit’s relation with other Indian languages, especially Kannada. Some directly accord the status of motherhood to Sanskrit, and a few others claim a very high degree of Sanskrit influence on word and syntactic structures. Though the topic is very much linguistic in nature, people interweave various other subjects like education, culture, literature and even national integration into it, making it appear far more complicated than what it really is. In this article I will strictly stick to linguistics, and show why arguments made in favor of Sanskrit in this regard are mostly baseless. I will try to limit references to other topics, as each of these is quite complex in itself and discussing all of them together can become quite confusing. 

Let me begin with the often made claim that the grammatical structure of south Indian languages, like Kannada and Telugu, is inherited from Sanskrit. To make such a claim you need to show that these three languages were one single language at some point in the past and then they branched off, with the grammar of each branch undergoing different progressive changes, ultimately resulting in what they are today. But there is no evidence to show that the grammatical structures of Telugu, Kannada and Sanskrit were once the same and to explain their current grammatical structures as a result of evolution of the original structure into three different branches, each gradually undergoing distinct changes over time.

Is presence of similar case systems (vibhakti) in two languages good enough evidence to show that they are somehow related? Not really. Hungarian, a language of Uralic family, for example, has seven cases, one less than what Sanskrit has. Incidentally, like Kannada, it does not possess the ablative case, the panchama vibhakti. But that does not prove that the case system itself went to Hungarian from Sanskrit or was inherited from it, and that the panchama vibhakti was somehow later lost. Many Indo-European languages including ancient Latin and Greek too possess a case system. This is the result of their shared ancestry and not proof that they have Sanskrit roots. English, which as of today follows word order to indicate case, also once had a case system!

Now, let us take a closer look at the case system of Sanskrit and Kannada. Suffixes of each case in Kannada are not bound to the grammatical number or vachana of the word. Case suffix and number suffix are independent in Kannada. In Sanskrit, case suffixes vary with grammatical number of the word. For example, the second case (dvitīya vibhakti) suffix of the word ‘ಹುಡುಗ’ (‘huḍuga’, boy) is always ‘ಅನ್ನು’ (annu) regardless of whether the word appears in singular form (ಹುಡುಗನನ್ನು) or plural (ಹುಡುಗರನ್ನು). But in the case of Sanskrit, the dvitīya vibhakti suffix of the word ‘बालक’ (also meaning boy) varies depending on the word’s grammatical number. बालकम् is singular, बालकौ is dual, and बालकान्  is plural. Infact, Sanskrit has one suffix for each case and number combination, and both cannot be represented independently.  Also note that Kannada has only two categories of the grammatical number (singular and plural), Sanskrit has three (singular, dual, and plural). Clearly, case and number systems of both Kannada and Sanskrit are quite distinct.

Many, however, may claim that the dual grammatical number (dwivachana) has been lost from Kannada, but there is no proof to show that it ever existed and was later lost. 

Some new Kannada grammars still retain the panchama vibhakti. But does that mean it existed in Kannada in the past and was later lost? No. Early Kannada grammarians, including Keshi Raja, who wrote the ‘Shabdamani Darpana’, were of the opinion that Kannada had its roots in Sanskrit and that the grammatical structures of both languages were similar. So, they simply tried to adapt Panini’s rules into Kannada, and that explains why the panchama vibhakti sneaked into Kannada grammars. Blind adherence ensures it is retained to this date. Analysis of available old Kannada texts and classics that were written 9th century onwards, and even all the stone inscriptions that go back to the 5th century AD show no signs of the existence of panchama vibhakti in Kannada at any point in history.

Coming to Sandhis, I noticed a couple of examples to show how Kannada Sandhis are similar to Sanskrit Sandhis. Again, these look like an attempt to find some similarity somewhere and claim all of it came from Sanskrit. The Kannada example, 

ಮನೆಯಲ್ಲಿ + ಇರ್ದಂ = ಮನೆಯಲ್ಲಿರ್ದಂ (maneyalli + irdam = maneyallirdam)

cannot be compared with any Sandhi of Sanskrit. In the above example, two similar short vowels (ಇ, i) join together resulting in the loss of one of them. But in Sanskrit, when two similar short vowels join together the resultant is a long vowel of the same kind. For example, 

रवि + इन्द्र = रवीन्द्र (ravi + indra = ravīndra)

Similarly, the comparisons of Kannada’s Agama and Adesha Sandhis with various other Sanskrit Sandhis are incorrect and baseless. Take the comparison between वागीश and ತಲೆಗೆಟ್ಟು. There is definitely, a replacement of one letter by another in both these Sandhi words. But the rules are completely different. In the former it is an unvoiced consonant combining with a vowel, and becoming the corresponding voiced consonant in the first word. No such Sandhi rule or tendency exists in Kannada. In the latter Kannada word, such a replacement happens in the second word, and it no way conforms to the Jashtva Sandhi rules, as defined in Sanskrit grammar. 

In a nutshell, Kannada Sandhis follow a completely different set of rules, and are very much different from those of Sanskrit. While Sanskrit Sandhis can be described using a set of strict rules, Kannada Sandhis can only be explained as tendencies, with lots of variations and exceptions – a symptom of a living, evolving language.

Like the Sandhis, there are fundamental differences between the Samasas (word compounds) of Kannada and Sanskrit. Some linguists even disagree the Sanskrit-like classification of Kannada Samasas, based on, which of the words in the compound is primary. I will not get into such a fundamental question here but let me give a couple of examples to show how the classification is quite unsatisfactory. Some people have claimed that Amshi Samasa of Kannada and Avyayibahava Samasa of Sanskrit are identical. As per the definition of Avyayibhava, an indeclinable (that cannot be inflected, an avyaya) word, combines with another word to form a compound that itself is indeclinable (avyaya). Now, have a look at the examples that many Kannada grammarians give for Amshi Samasa: ಮುಂಗೈ, ಮುಂದಲೆ, ಮುಂಗಾಲು etc. Clearly these are not avyayas or indeclinables. They are inflectable words and hence fall under the definition of Bahuvrihi Samasa, at best. Such ambiguities and confusions have arisen because of attempts to fit-in Sanskrit grammar into Kannada. In this case the ambiguity was so obvious that the suggested Kannada compounds simply did not fit the definition of Avyayibhava and hence were later given another name, Amshi, by Kannada grammarians. That has not solved the issue though!

Word structures of both Kannada and Sanskrit too are quite dissimilar. But there are considerable differences between Sanskrit and Kannada in terms of categorization of words, and how such words are used in sentences. This is again a very involved topic, and I will resist going into the details, as it cannot fit the scope of the current article.

When Kannada literature blossomed it was, without a speck of doubt, influenced by Sanskrit and Prakrit. The Sanskrit alphabet was directly copied for Kannada, with only small modifications. It is also true that later Kannada poets and authors have borrowed Sanskrit vocabulary and have used them in their writings. A fraction of such words have trickled down to speech as well. But that cannot be evidence to show that Kannada has Sanskrit roots or that it has deviated largely from its native traits and acquired Sanskrit-like characteristics. 

Just because some words or grammatical segments of Kannada (and other languages like Telugu) look similar to those of Sanskrit, it does not mean they have their roots in Sanskrit. If you argue in those lines, argument can be made in favour any language as the ‘mother of all languages’. This is exactly what I pointed out at the start of this article. Natural languages evolve over time, and it is only by tracing back changes, in a scientific way, several hundreds and even thousands of years into the past, it becomes possible to determine which languages are genetically related and organize them into language families. Linguists have long established that languages spoken in India belong to four different language families, Dravidian, Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic. Sanskrit belongs to the Indo-Aryan group, which itself is a branch of the Indo-European family. Languages of this family, including Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, etc evolved from a proto Indo-European language and hence Sanskrit cannot be considered as the root of even many of the languages in its own family. Arguing that it is the mother of languages of unrelated families is too far-fetched.

(Picture source: Wikimedia)


Nagashree Sheshadri said...

Wonderfully explained, very informative. Thank you.

Pradeep Kumar said...

I completely agree with you along with this one want to add one more thing that Sanskrit is not mother nor as old as any Classical Languages of India,, because Sanskrit is language which spoken by one cast or community of people and it has great literatures scientific inventions shastras recorded in this more than any language so all this happens only when mankind grown intellectually and intelligent enough, a language to consider as language should be spoken among all cast or community of people of the place if it's spoken by one cast people then by that it's clearly understood that it's for the sake of keeping there secrets and knowledge only among them, And Kannada or any classical language were spoken among tribes who are common people and that is even before man has grown intelligent enough to invent script and do the advancement in language, by this logic we can clearly understand that Sanskrit is not a language never spoken and it cannot be considered even language considering mother of all languages is too far..

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