Sanskrit to be an elective subject in schools

l.m.fosse at l.m.fosse at
Mon Oct 10 10:48:42 UTC 1994

Is Sanskrit a living language?

In order to be considered a living language, I think the rule is that a
certain amount of people learn the language as their *first* language (on
their mother's lap, so to speak) and constitute a speech community. I am
not sure if Sanskrit is the first acquired language of anybody in India
today, but the fact that some people speak and write it does not mean that
it is alive in the same sense as e.g. Hindi or Urdu. Sanskrit today still
seems to have some of the status that Latin had in former centuries here in
Europe. Everybody learned Latin at school (that is everybody who received
an education), and it was the lingua franca of all Western European states.
Latin lost this status in the last century, when scholarly books
increasingly were written in English, French or German (or any other modern
living language). In diplomatic circles Latin went out of use already in
the 17th century, when it was replaced by French. 

Saying that the relationship between Sanskrit and a modern language like
Hindi is comparable to the relationship between Latin and a modern romance
language like e.g. Italian would be rather misleading. Roughly, we might
say that the relationship between Latin and Italian resembles the
relationship between Sanskrit and Pali, but this does certainly not hold
for all linguistic parameters, and the comparison should not be stretched.
The relationship between Sanskrit and Prakrit is a bit like the
relationship between Latin and French, but again: Don't put too much into
the comparison. We are speaking more in terms of phonetics than in terms of
structure. Modern Indian languages have developed way beyond anything
comparable among romance languages, and a comparison with Sanskrit is
therefore somewhat artificial. There is a genetic relationship, and the
phonetics are basically the same, but structurally there is nothing left of
Sanskrit grammar. NIA languages have gone through a major shift compared to
Sanskrit, and the connection with Sanskrit is today more transparent on the
cultural (vocabulary) level.

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

Lars Martin Fosse
Department of East European
and Oriental Studies
P. O. Box 1030, Blindern
N-0315 OSLO Norway

Tel: +47 22 85 68 48
Fax: +47 22 85 41 40

E-mail: l.m.fosse at


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