Languages and Their Evolution
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 22 Nov 2021
There are hundreds of languages that exist in the world despite countless number dying every few years due to political, socioeconomic factors.
Some languages such as Greek, Hebrew, Sanskrit and Tamil (of South India) are termed as classical since they existed hundreds of years ago and gave rise to other languages in different parts of the world. In that sense, we could term them as mother languages.
Greek is perhaps the oldest European language that was in vogue more than fifteen hundred years years before Christ. It is the language in which the Christian New Testament was first scripted. Many Greek words are found in European languages. Hebrew is also quite ancient and had all but disappeared, but Israel revived it and is their official language now. It is a Semitic language and has similarity with Arabic.
Sanskrit is also very ancient and classical and the Vedas and other epics of India were first written in it. Its importance declined in India due to certain political and economic factors but it is again being given its due by making it one of the official languages of the Indian Constitution. One finds the presence of Sanskrit words in languages spoken around India (Thailand etc) apart from several Indian languages — Hindi, Bengali etc. Even in Indonesia, home to the largest number of Muslims in the world, one can find several words of Sanskrit.
India has 22 officially recognised languages of our Constitution. These include apart from Sanskrit and Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, Sindhi and even Nepali languages. Unfortunately, the state of Sindh became part of Pakistan in 1947 when India was divided and today this language is steadily dying in India. In addition to these official tongues, there are several more spoken in small tribal regions of India. Although Mahatma Gandhi was a Gujarati, he promoted Hindustani (Hindi) in India. Today, one finds Hindi spoken and understood in most parts of India.
Hindi has its own distinctive script. Some scripts such as those of Gujarati, Bengali have some similarities with it. Due to the invasion of many Moghul (Moslem) rulers (Babar, Akbar, Shahjahan, etc), the Urdu script with similarity with the Arabic script written from right to left, is also prevalent in India today. Spoken Hindi and Urdu are quite similar to each other. The Moghul rulers used Persian as their official language with the script being almost identical with the Arabic script.
Due to this, hundreds of words derived from Persian/Arabic exist in our languages — Hindi and others. Some Hindustani writers (Premchand) wrote in Urdu script before they switched to the Hindi script. In this connection one should mention the name of our former PM — Manmohan Singh who would read out the Independence Day speech from the Delhi Red Fort, written in Urdu script. My own father knew the Urdu script before he learnt the Hindi script.
Interestingly, not only are there countless Persian words in the Hindi language, there are several French words prevalent in Farsi (the Persian language) apart from the presence of French in the English language.
Today, the English language or rather its American form is the most prevalent one in the world. It is used in all world institutions with French also as a junior partner to English. India was ruled by England for two hundred years and consequently it is widely used in India and also scores of words have become part of many Indian languages.
As we all know, England ruled in many parts of the globe; it used to be said that the Sun never sets on the British Empire. As a result English destroyed the indigenous languages of these regions such as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Fortunately one tribal language — Maori survives and is the official language, in addition to English, in New Zealand. In South and eastern parts of Africa, their local languages — Swahili etc have almost disappeared. In North West Africa (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia), French is still the dominant language.
India fortunately was able to defend itself against this language onslaught and as mentioned earlier, we have 22 officially recognised languages by Indian Constitution. In addition, English is also recognised and is prevalent all over the country.
Languages are intrinsic part of culture and their evolution or devaluation are the result of socioeconomic factors. But, I feel that languages are beautiful and learning a new language is a joy, both academic and spiritual. Keeping this idea in mind I try to learn and speak some language other than my mother tongue, Hindi or English. I had learnt some European languages and still can converse in French.
Incidentally Goa, which was under Portugal rule, is a beautiful city on the western coast of India. The Portuguese rulers were forced to leave Goa and some other regions of India in December 1961, but some Portuguese words survive even today in India.
The Portuguese-speaking Editor of TMS, Antonio C S Rosa, would be happy to read this and hopefully find this article of interest to post on the TMS Digest.
Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi. firstname.lastname@example.org
Tags: Education, Languages
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 22 Nov 2021.
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