14 August 2014

Sanskrit Resurected?

Before Israel became a state, Zionists worked to resurrect Hebrew, which had declined to the point where it was solely a liturgical language, as a living language. A similar movement, which has been embraced by India's Hindu nationalist party, is trying to restore Sanskrit, which is the source language for most of the Indo-European language of South Asia in much the same way that Latin it the source language for the Romance languages.
Sanskrit has somehow managed to remake itself as a living language. Universities around the world (including Penn), schools, and summer camps offer courses on spoken Sanskrit that are well attended, and there are villages in India where most of the people are conversant in Sanskrit. 
The reason I bring all of this up now is that BBC News Asia just published an article entitled "Why is Sanskrit so controversial?" which focuses on the political aspects of the spread of Sanskrit in recent times. One thing that I think needs to be made clear is that the modern rebirth of Sanskrit began long before the ascension of the BJP to power. 
"The 'Revival' Of Spoken Sanskrit In Modern India: An Ethnographic And Linguistic Study" (1998) 
Nonetheless, it is clear that the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is well disposed toward Sanskrit and that this venerable classical language can expect to see additional gains in the coming years.
FWIW, the village in India linked above is home to three major Hindu temples and hence is not really inconsistent with Sanskrit's character is a primarily liturgical language with this village being analogous in some ways to Vatican City in Italy where Latin is still used as a living language by a community of ordained Roman Catholic religious officials.

A revival of Sanskrit, like the revival of Hebrew in Israel, could serve to unify a fractured Indian state as a nation whose current conceptual basis is multi-ethnic (in terms of ethnic identity and regional ethnic diversity, India is more analogous to the E.U. than to a particular European nation), but would do so at the cost of alienating non-Hindu minorities from this national identity.

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