Census Sanskrit

Stella Sandahl ssandahl at SYMPATICO.CA
Sun Aug 24 10:07:21 EDT 2008

Dear Robert,

At last something eminently sensible in the debate about living/dead,  
modern spoken/written Sanskrit. Thank you!

Regarding the Census figures I posted a while ago, I was very well  
aware of the fraudulent nature of these figures. As Robert has  
pointed out, nobody will check the claims about mother tongue. Take  
for example the number of Assamese speakers: many Bengali-speakers in  
Assam find it safer for political reasons to declare Assamese as  
their mother tongue instead of Bengali. The high figure for Sanskrit  
speakers  in the 1991 Census can easily be explained by the Hindu  
revivalism taking place in the late 80s with the televised Ramayana  
etc. which ultimately led to the destruction of the Babri Masjid in  
1992. The "missing"  35,601 speakers in the 2001 Census is harder to  
explain, but rather telling after several years of a BJP government  
at the Centre. Was it disenchantment with Hindutva educational  
policies? At any rate the so-called Sanskrit speakers make an  
entirely political statement. Quod erat demonstrandum!
Stella Sandahl

Stella Sandahl
ssandahl at sympatico.ca

On 21-Aug-08, at 6:01 PM, Robert Zydenbos wrote:

> I have followed the multi-threaded 'modern Sanskrit' discussion  
> with interest, and here come my two cents' worth on a few of the  
> issues that were raised --
> 1. Indian census reports: they are certainly useful, but they  
> cannot be taken seriously literally (cf. the strangely large number  
> of listed languages spoken in India by one single person, or the  
> number of castes with only one member). The census merely records  
> what people claim about themselves. If someone claims to be a  
> Sanskrit mother tongue speaker, nobody will check to see whether  
> this person has made a truthful statement. Hence also the bizarre  
> fluctuations in the numbers of Sanskrit speakers from one census to  
> the next.
> 2. Mother tongue speakers of Sanskrit:  I know persons who have  
> claimed they are. These persons are simply Kannada speakers with a  
> special love of Sanskrit, and they want Sanskrit to figure in the  
> census reports. Surely the same applies to the vast majority of  
> others (if not all of them) who have claimed the same.
> 3. The 'Sanskrit-speaking village in Karnataka': this is something  
> of a hoax; but as long as wishful thinking among romantics  
> persists, queries about the village and claims that it exists will  
> also persist. I know of a college teacher of Sanskrit (real  
> Sanskrit) in Bangalore who is from that place, and he finds it  
> rather embarrassing to say where he is from.
> 4. Politics: regrettably, the activities of organizations like  
> Akshara have a polarizing effect. Some persons feel attracted,  
> others feel repelled by the political message. In one issue of  
> their monthly magazine, years back, I read an ultra-short story  
> about a woman who had lost her three sons in a war with Pakistan,  
> and when asked whether she was sad, she replied: "yes, I am sad  
> that I could not send more sons to give their lives for the sake of  
> the motherland". This more or less illustrates the general atmosphere.
> 5. Dead or not: the popularity of Sanskrit as an exam subject in  
> high schools, in my own observation, is that it is thought to be  
> (and apparently indeed is) a way to score high marks and thus raise  
> the final average. And this is precisely because practically nobody  
> (teachers included) considers Sanskrit a language of which active  
> mastery is required or even desirable. The popular view is that it  
> is quite dead, only spoken by respectable priests and pundits, and  
> by a few less respectable dazed political right-wingers. I have  
> heard reports of a renowned American Sanskritist [name suppressed]  
> who travelled through Karnataka and Goa and wanted to speak  
> Sanskrit to just about everybody he met. He could; but he was  
> barely understood, and those who could answer in Sanskrit could be  
> counted on the fingers of one hand.
> 6. Eternal intelligibility: the same applies to other dead  
> languages, esp. Latin, Europe's equivalent to Sanskrit (for a  
> passionate plea to revive the active use of Latin, see the recent  
> bestselling book [!] by Wilfried Stroh, _Latein ist tot, es lebe  
> Latein!_).
> 7. Usefulness: it can be really useful to speak some Sanskrit. More  
> than once I have been in a situation where the only language in  
> which I could communicate with a person (these persons were always  
> scholars or temple priests) was Sanskrit even if in Karnataka it  
> is, let us say, enhanced with Kannada, and in Pondicherry with  
> Tamil and Telugu and English. The obvious reason for these  
> additions is that Sanskrit is so little spoken that no uniform  
> vocabulary for terms from modern and everyday life has developed.  
> If one compares bilingual X-Sanskrit dictionaries, one finds that  
> the compilers either declare neo-Sanskritic words from language X  
> to be Sanskrit, or they think up new words (words that may become  
> current in a geographically limited area, if at all).
> 8. Future: who knows? In the first issue of the Münchener  
> Indologische Zeitschrift (to appear later this year), an interview  
> in Sanskrit will appear which I did with a senior scholar in Udupi.  
> This is an experiment, and I hope that it will actually be read.  
> The man's Sanskrit is delightful: real (not the simplified stuff)  
> and alive. The experiment aims at (a) creating an awareness that  
> Sanskrit is still used, (b) encouraging people to help revive  
> Sanskrit, so that it may become a medium of scholarly communication  
> that eliminates the language barriers between various non-Indian  
> and traditional Indian scholars.
> Finally, for those who are interested: a few years ago I have  
> written an article about the imperishability of Sanskrit, and its  
> modern use: "Sanskrit: Ewige Sprache der Götter, wiedergeboren und  
> noch immer da," in P. Schrijver and P. Mumm (eds.), _Sprachtod und  
> Sprachgeburt._ Bremen: Hempen Verlag, 2004, pp. 278-300.
> RZ
> -- 
> Prof. Dr. Robert J. Zydenbos
> Department fuer Asienstudien - Institut fuer Indologie und Tibetologie
> Universitaet Muenchen
> Deutschland
> Tel. (+49-89-) 2180-5782
> Fax  (+49-89-) 2180-5827
> http://www.lrz-muenchen.de/~zydenbos

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