Sanskrit, centamiz, and diglossia

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Fri Jul 3 16:38:09 UTC 1998

In a posting entitled "Concept of text and its ramifications for Indian pre-
dated   04/06/97, I wrote:

<<This leads to interesting possibilities, was the concept of a refined/well-
made language, (and the associated concept of lower language), and
sophisticated grammatical analysis due to the Indo-European/Indo-
Aryan/Sanskrit genius per se? Or could they also be due to earlier impulses
which have also manifested in Dravidian/Tamil? Compare the parallels in
Sanskrit-centamiz, Prakrit-koTuntamiz, (the Tamil diglossia), the grammatical
traditions with meta-languages as Sanskrit and Tamil, the importance of
grammar for the Jains as evidenced by Tamil tradition, etc.>>

The recent examination on the origin of retroflexion in IA as governed by the
Fortunatov's Law and the corresponding rules of Tamil tolkAppiyam raise some
interesting possibilities regarding the role of a standard/higher language and
colloquial/lower language in India.

The Tamil grammatical tradition seems to be more realistic in terms of
accepting language change (than the Sanskrit tradition) while giving
importance to a standard/high form also. It is because of that Fortunatov's
Law's implications are very interesting. In essence, Fortunatov's Law applies
to what would have happened in the colloquial language. The fact that even
today, the split of *l into l and L is far less frequent in Tamil than the
occurrence of retroflexion satisfying Fortunatov's law in IA means that
tolkAppiyar was realistically portraying the situation prevailing at his time.
(In other words, it was not such a big issue and so he was justified in not
explicitly addressing it.) The split of *l into l and L occurs in colloquial

This means that in the so-called IA north of pANini and earlier, the
standard/high language had been developed on the basis of colloquial forms.
(To me this corroborates Ashok Aklujkar's view of Sanskrit being a spoken
language, mentioned in a different thread.) But the maintainers of this
standardization were far less willing to concede the changing nature of the
language once a standardization had taken place. This may have to do with the
northern religious doctrine of eternality of Sanskrit as discussed by
Deshpande  in his Sanskrit and Prakrit as opposed to the concept of a more
secular view of the language in the Tamil south.

This leads to an interesting contrast with respect to the Fortunatov's Law.
The Sanskrit of pANini said to be of 4th or 5th century BC reflects a language
which seems to have gone farther along the road of language change. But
tolkappiyam said to be of 1st or 2nd century BC reflects a language which has
preserved the phonemes (under discussion here) better. We should also consider
the fact that the correct pronunciation of Sanskrit was vested with religious
merit, but the correct pronunciation of Tamil did not have any such religious
association. These suggest to me that the tradition of deliberate fostering of
a standard/higher form of a language must have been pre-Sanskritic. During the
bilingual (IA/Dravidian) period of north India, as linguistic identity was
being switched from Dravidian to IA among the literates, the connection with
the original standard/high Dravidian language must have been severed. This
probably led to more tolerance for retroflexion (satisfying Fortunatov's law)
to become widely accepted. Then when standardization of Sanskrit tookplace,
these retroflexes became part of the standard language.

A person arguing for the origin of retroflexion within IE/IA may attempt to
say that what I have said shows that retroflexion is not borrowed from
Dravidian. That will not be true because of the lack of durable retroflexion
in Indo-Iranian or other IE languages.  Fortunatov's law seems to be
applicable to the splitting of Dravidian *l which can be seen in the
colloquial variety of Tamil. So, I would rather attribute the prevalence of
retroflexion satisfying Fortunatov's law in IA  to the elevation of colloquial
forms to a standard/higher form rather than a continuance of original
indigenous IA heritage.

What do the Sanskrit scholars think?

S. Palaniappan

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