Native speakers of Sanskrit...

zydenbos at zydenbos at
Mon May 6 22:15:00 UTC 1996

Replies to msg 06 May 96: indology at (dmenon at

 dns> Dan Lusthaus wrote:

>>no one was
>>born into a family whose native language was Sanskrit. Especially the
>>Paninian Sanskrit seems to have been almost as artifical a language as
>>medieval Latin.

 dns> To say that No one has Sanskrit is not the native language
 dns> is probably not
 dns> correct. THere is a village in Karnataka State in India
 dns> (the name escapes
 dns> me, may be some one else in the list knows?) who speakes
 dns> only Sanskrit.

Mattur, in central Karnataka (in transcription this would be "mattuuru" or
"mattUru". I am not sure what the 'standard' Latin spelling is).

That the people of Mattur speak "only Sanskrit" is a myth which some of the
villagers themselves cultivate. They speak Kannada, and the entire village
enthusiastically participates in the "Speak Sanskrit" movement. For instance,
some of the ladies have hung up charts in their kitchens with parallel lists of
names of vegetables etc. in Kannada and Sanskrit to help them in their Sanskrit

 dns> While the parents in this village may know other languages,
 dns> would you say
 dns> that the children who grew up hearing (only) Sanskrit would
 dns> consider
 dns> themselves to be native speakers of Sanskrit.

 dns> Further due to the 'Speak Sanskrit" movement in India,
 dns> where by there is an
 dns> increasing amount of families who speake only Sanskrit at
 dns> home, and the
 dns> children born into these families become "native" speakers
 dns> of the language.

Just as there are people (not very many) who are native speakers of Esperanto.
Also so-called "high Hindi" is not the naturally developed language which its
propagandists wish us to believe it is. (Which of course brings up the
difficult question of what a "natural langauge" is, and to what extent _any_
language is "natural" or "artificial".)

Let us not forget that there are a few families that have declared themselves
Sanskrit-speaking for several generations (I know of one, and that Sanskrit is
real and fluent Sanskrit), and not as a result of this recent movement.

 dns> The question as to who is Indian need to be answered not on
 dns> the basis of
 dns> languages, but on the basis of the indeginous people of the
 dns> Indian subcontinent.

When I brought up that question, I was thinking of previous centuries, when
India as a single political and legal entity did not exist, but in another
sense did exist as a geographical expanse that shared a basic common culture. I
am thinking of the kind of ideas that lay at the base of the legend that
Sankaracharya founded four ma.tha-s in the "four corners of India". (This
legend must of course be relatively recent.) I do think it is reasonable to
suppose that the westernmost limit of this area (an earlier one) was the border
between Aryavarta and Iran, and that this is the same as the border between the
Vedic and Zoroastrian territories (as Dan Lusthaus also remarked; for the
western limit, I think this is acceptable), ergo the same as the dividing line
between Sanskrit and Avestan territories. And as Islam advanced, Sanskrit was
pushed back.

About being indigenous: according to recent archaeological research, if we go
back _very_ far in time, it seems that India was not populated at all, and that
all the various ethnic elements of the Indian mosaic came from outside: from
Africa, from Southeast Asia (the Naga-Mizo-Burmese element in the northeast),
and a few successive waves of people from the northwest, beginning with the
first speakers of Dravidian languages. If true, then this would of course mean
that all the fuss about "Aryans vs. non-Aryans as the true Indians", which was
cultivated by the DMK and associated 'anti-Aryan' groups in the south, as well
as by 'pro-Aryan' groups like the Arya Samaj, is rather baseless.

Robert Zydenbos
Internet: zydenbos at

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