Tamil vs. Sanskrit, or Indian ‘official classical languages’, and the first tongue in India (AKA. Indus Valley Civilization language)

I have read and heard many stupidities regarding linguistic status and language differences:

– Brazilian is a different language (i.e. not Portuguese), because Galician is a language also (yes, Galician is interestingly enough a ‘language’ which stops in the administrative division between Spain and Portugal – more or less like Valencian and Catalan).
– French is a beautiful language, and because of that many African countries learn it (yes, South-American Indians also wanted to learn Spanish because it was so cool).
– English comes from Latin, as French, Spanish or Portuguese (no comments)…
– Language x (say, Esperanto, Spanish or Polish) is great because it is read exactly as it is written! (yeah, let’s give a value to each letter or pair of letters, or invent new characters, and then invent something great to praise the own language!)
– Proto-Indo-European cannot be reconstructed, because it wasn’t written down, therefore it is, unlike Latin or English, not real (yes; we’ll wait till somebody invents a MET powerful enough to watch chemical bonds, instead of studying all those stupid unproven hypothesis…)
– Basques, Finns and Hungarians will hate speaking Indo-European in the EU (yes, they love to speak English; but a common Indo-European language? that’s colonization and racism!)
– and so on.

Now, only from time to time, there is a question so obviously misinterpreted that nobody seems ‘neutral enough’ to comment on it. Today is the time of the “Tamil question” – I like Indo-European languages, and I’m thus not ‘neutral enough’ for Tamil lovers, but I think it is not important, since everyone has an opinion and mine won’t change anything.

The whole question is summed up here (Wikipedia discussion), where some Tamil speakers are short from calling Tamil the Indus Valley Civilization language. It is not surprising, since N. Kazanas and others pretend that Sanskrit fits that role, being itself almost Proto-Indo-European, and this in turn spoken of course in the Indus Valley some thousands of years before any study can possibly lead us to (Out of India Theory).

Now, Indo-European studies are full of hypothesis, as comparative grammar. In the 20th century, physics and chemistry were disciplines where different hypothesis (their supporters) fought against each other, and nationals got involved defending their scientists. This had a good consequence, namely that normal people were involved in scientific evolution, and that scientists were like today’s football (or soccer) players – well, maybe not so important, but almost so renowned.

Nowadays, due to the neo-romanticism brought back by neo-nationalisms (in which race and genetics is not spoken about so loud, and thus only language remains as a differentiation factor), linguistics is a discipline spoken about by anyone, and linguists are cheered up by politicians and stupid followers alike. If I talk in the BBC about a research paper (whatever its value) on Tamil dating back to 9.000 BCE, I will be the hero of lots of Tamil speakers, whereas if I talk about Sanskrit being the oldest language on earth, Indo-Aryan speakers will lift me up to the category of ‘experts in linguistics worth mentioning in popular sites like Wikipedia or Yahoo! Answers’…

The question here is easy, and is not worth more than a paragraph to solve: roughly, Tamil corresponds to Hindi, Old Tamil to Old Hindi, Proto-Tamil (or Proto-Southern Dravidian) to Late Sanskrit, Proto-Dravidian to Sanskrit, pre-Proto-Dravidian to Vedic Sanskrit, pre-pre-Proto-Dravidian to Proto-Indo-Iranian, pre-pre-pre-Proto-Dravidian to Proto-Indo-European, and so on. The conclusion is simple: language history, reconstructed language, literature’s history, etc. all speak in favour of Sanskrit as the oldest attested language in India, and therefore India’s only classical language – just like Latin and Greek in Europe. The fact that the European Union recognizes in the near future, say, Balto-Slavic or Germanic as “classical languages of Europe” won’t change that fact either.

I could get deeper, but I wrote already about a similar question, “Basque:the oldest language“.

[tags]Tamil,Sanskrit,classical language,language,classic,classical,linguistics,comparative grammar,history,Indus Valley Civilization,Indus Valley,Indo-European,language,linguistics,hypothesis,Uralic,Nostratic,Anatolian,Greek, Indo-Aryan,Germanic,Italic,Celtic,Baltic,Slavic,dialect,Europe,writing system,grammar[/tags]

33 thoughts on “Tamil vs. Sanskrit, or Indian ‘official classical languages’, and the first tongue in India (AKA. Indus Valley Civilization language)

  1. Tamil is very structured and has well defined grammar dating older than sanskrit. As a language tamil is influenced by sanskrit in the words that are used. But sanskrit is influenced by tamil in the way the language is structured. So I would say that tamil has more proof that its older than sanskrit and the deserves the title of classical language

  2. The question here is easy, and is not worth more than a paragraph to solve: roughly, Tamil corresponds to Hindi, Old Tamil to Old Hindi, Proto-Tamil (or Proto-Southern Dravidian) to Late Sanskrit, Proto-Dravidian to Sanskrit, pre-Proto-Dravidian to Vedic Sanskrit, pre-pre-Proto-Dravidian to Proto-Indo-Iranian, pre-pre-pre-Proto-Dravidian to Proto-Indo-European, and so on. The conclusion is simple: language history, reconstructed language, literature’s history, etc. all speak in favour of Sanskrit as the oldest attested language in India, and therefore India’s only classical language – just like Latin and Greek in Europe. The fact that the European Union recognizes in the near future, say, Balto-Slavic or Germanic as “classical languages of Europe” won’t change that fact either.

    I think that you require to do more work than one para. Assuming that proto langusges were never written, why is it that we don’t find any written proof of the so called Vedic Sanskrit and the so called Classical Sanskrit prior to 200 CE?

    If Sanskrit was such a “great” language why does it not figure in the Ashoka’s edicts? Why is the first written evidence of Sanskrit in the Gupta script?

    Many peple like to talk os Sanskrit as an earth shaking language… but historically it is just a wimper.

  3. I think that you require to do more work than one para

    I think that the assertion that needs further explanation is the one that contradicts the generally accepted facts. So, if the majority of the scientifical community accepts that Vedic Sanskrit is dated well back before 200 BC, why should we accept your “one-paragraph” assertion that “we don’t find any written proof of the so called Vedic Sanskrit and the so called Classical Sanskrit prior to 200 CE“? Apparently you are contradicting yourself by acceptings such beliefs without proofs, and at the same time requesting (still more) proofs from others… You can begin reading what Wikipedia has to say on the subject, and then counterargument each period assigned to the different language styles of the Vedas after your knowledge… You can also bring some proofs from other researchers, you don’t need to do it yourself; but to come here and just say “it’s not true because I [we?] don’t believe it”…Hmmm, I guess that’s a cool sentence among Tamil hooligans, but not elsewhere.

    Your assertion is like those which deny Biblical Hebrew to be a spoken language older than the first writings known to us, when it is commonly accepted to be hundreds of years older. If you want others to believe your assertions on that or any other linguistic/archaeological/historical field, alternative arguments must be given, or at least the old ones must be thoroughly countered. Just saying “I don’t believe it” and having faith in Tamil’s “greater history”, knowing that you are backed by some community of history revisionists, is not enough to counterargument Sanskrit’s long proven history. At least not outside your friends’ circle…

    If Sanskrit was such a “great” language why does it not figure in the Ashoka’s edicts?

    Who talks about “great” languages? And who can say, by the way, that if it doesn’t appear in the Ashoka’s edicts, it wasn’t “great” at that time? is that your only proof of everything?? I think this whole (type of) ‘reasoning’ is a direct consequence of the recent trend of Tamil speakers trying to dismiss Sanskrit historical condition as India’s classical language, for some modern (political or social) interest in developing a “great” history (as you put it) for Tamil and Dravidian languages. In fact, no language is “greater” than other: Sanskrit has more international and national prestige and known history and literature, and it IS the classical language of India, that was and is all that can be said of it. For me Hindi and Tamil are equally “great”, and equally “small”, as are their speakers, whether their parent languages were more prestigious or well-known, or its known history and literature older…It’s not a question of proud, it’s about historical and linguistic facts, which Tamil-lovers try to destroy for who-knows-what-a-stupid-political/social-proud-question, and generally with no proofs at all. All this confrontation is completely unnecessary. But it’s you who enter that game of “which language is greater”, and not we who accept what is known about Sanskrit and Tamil, and it’s you in any case who must bring proofs of your Tamil-greatness or Sanskrit-invention dreams, not we who have to “convince” you Tamil ‘supporters’ – if such a thing is possible…

    Many people like to talk os Sanskrit as an earth shaking language… but historically it is just a wimper.

    Again, it’s all about Tamil speakers wanting to dismiss historical studies on Ancient and Classical Sanskrit. You can say that Sanskrit is “just a wimper”, if you like, but in any case, then, Tamil and Dravidian languages are still more of “a wimper” in history, prestige, literature, etc. It’s you again who want to play in the “which language is greater” game, and it’s you who are losing your own game since the very beginning. If it were Sanskrit speakers saying “my language is greater because of bla bla”, then you’d only had to say “no language is greater than other”; now, if you deliberately play this game, saying “the language with more prestige, history, literature, etc.” is “the greatest”, and “we want Tamil to be ‘the greatest language’ of India” or “as ‘great’ as Classical Sanskrit”, then you’ve lost that (absurd) ‘match’ already, and you are just entering into the game those who already won it want you to play

  4. King solomon in his PROVERBS says, ” A LIVE DOG IS BETTER THAN A DEAD LION”. No doubt when Sanskrit was alive the controversy would have been real, but now that only Tamil lives and Sanskrit is a DEAD ( not extinct) Language, the issue is IMMATERIAL. The issue we should ponder is when did the language die and how to resuscitate it!!! VUYIRUDAN VAAZHGA THAMIZH.

  5. @Zorba: The controversy is about Sanskrit vs. Proto-Tamil (or Proto-Dravidian, or whichever Dravidian dialect corresponds to Vedic and Classical Sanskrit), because the original question was something like “which is India’s Classical language?”. The answer was (and still is) just “Sanskrit“. Some Indians call “officially” Tamil “the other Classical language” because of modern political correctness or just raw nationalism, but those reasons don’t reach us foreigners.
    I agree with you in that the question is immaterial, given that there were (and thus are) no other “Classical languages” in India apart from Sanskrit, just many scattered languages – either Indo-Aryan, Dravidian or others. But, that’s what some people like to discuss today, and I don’t mind discussing it…

    1. Ridiculous, You are a Baramin or related racist. You find the ways to damage Classical Tamil. Not you, even if you forefather comes, you cant touch Tamil. Go to hell with you San language.

  6. I would like to point something here:

    The ancient southeast asian countries were hindu by religion & southindian in character yet they used the language Sanskrit,not any southindian present day language.

    Isn’t this something ? Also, great southindian saints of the last 1500 years like Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya & Madhvacharya used sanskrit for discourse. Why so ?

    Just a few points to ponder.

  7. Hi all,
    It is good that you are all talking about Indian languages. But there are a few views I would like to share.

    Tamil is a classical language.

    It was not just a political aspect that gave it that status. It was declared classical by the world countries long before it was accepted in India.

    http://tamil.berkeley.edu/Tamil%20Chair/TamilClassicalLanguage/TamilClassicalLgeLtr.html

    Tamil is older than Sanskrit:

    Atleast according to the written text proofs, Tamil has proof of two centuries older than Sanskrit. If we have to run on the fancy, even then Tamil also has citations of previous existence.

    # Classical Sanskrit (defined by Panini’s grammar, ca. 4th c. BC)
    # Classical Tamil (the language of Sangam literature[3], 2nd c. BC to 3rd c. AD)[4]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_languages

    Some facts about me:

    My mother tongue is Telugu. I speak English,Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. I can read Sanskrit, German, Italian and French. I am saying these to show that I can be neutral and not biased.

    No one is trying to degrade Sanskrit here. People are trying to establish some truth about Tamil long forgotten and suppressed for some strange reasons.

    Most of the research on the age and literature of Tamil and Sanskrit were done in foreign countries [to India], who are neutral to both the languages and so one need not worry about the genuineness.

    Attempts are made to earn respect for an Old language before it dies away like other Classical languages to give it its due respect.

    Hope things are taken in the right sense.

    Regards,
    Divya

  8. Although i am a North Indian. based from the sites that i have read,i think that Tamil is the oldest language. Shame to my north Indian people for lying all these years saying that Sanskrit was the oldest. I love T.A.M.I.L.

  9. All over the world, people used some language to communicate( even without script ). But the classical status to the language depends on lot of factors.thirukural by saint thiruvalluvar is 2040 is older as per the research.Entire thirukural written by perfect grammer.Before that lot of literature exists in tamil.

  10. Hi ALL:
    This discussion is interesting. From what I see, Indo-European seems to have done some research in this area, and thus speaks with confidence. If anyone wants to challenge Indo-European, he/she must either already be a researcher in this field or must start doing some non trivial work (such as publishing papers/books in this area) and then say whatever he/she wants.

    Sanskrit is “dead” now, if it is of any consolation to Tamil enthusiasts. 🙂 If you can now start adding, whatever you can, to the “history, prestige, literature, etc.” of Tamil, then maybe, after a few more thousand years, Tamil might become a ‘greater’ language, and of course, Sanskrit by then might have disappeared from human memory.

    – Panaiyadi Chozhan.

  11. To me, Indus Valley language and script appear like an elephant that is being perceived by six blind men. Perhaps there is a bit of truth in various theories, which need to be corelated to get the complete picture.

  12. I think Tamil is the oldest, as i see there are many prof, where as who ever say sanskrit dosn’t have any prof, they just force people to belive them.

    One of my friend told me that Sanskrit is God’s Language and spoken by God. and the reason he gave me is just because there is no in the world is talking it now.

    i think many think like that, but since the rulers in india are mainly from north they force sanskrit is better and in fact they don’t even want to analysie other languages.

    all i got to say is “Kal thontra maan thontra kalathie muun thontrea muutha kudi engal tamil kudi”

    that means tmail born even before sand and rock form in this world.

  13. I respect both the language equal. But we have to protect tamil since one of the oldest language is dead already.Though many people say there is no longer history for tamil ,6o percent of archeology found in tamil(magic).So we should learn to respect Tamil as it is an oldest language present in this modern world.God’s sanskirit & great Tamil.

  14. Hi to everyone…..I saw every ones discussion..I say tamil is the oldest bcoz the world’s ancient human’s DNA’s is found in India only in TamilNadu’s villages and he who carries that DNA is only a tamilian.So Tamil is the oldest language and me too say “Kal thontra maan thontra kalathie muun thontrea muutha kudi engal tamil kudi”

  15. It’s impossible a language like sanskrit used by “elites” could lose all their native speakers. Sankrit was probably mother tongue to NO BODY. Just like languages like Java, c++, etc can’t be mother tongue to anyone but created with some purpose.

    Sanskrit is just a language developed by “elite” dravidians/ancient Indians to utter prayers and preserve culture. Since, Tamil has influeced sanskrit’s syntax, speakers/creators of both the languages should be same.

  16. I am very proud to be in Tamil Nadu. Tamil is the most oldest launguage in the world as like latin, herbew, sanskrit etc,. this is being approved by US…. Tamil vazhga

  17. Some proofs would have been appreciated here, but none the less a very interesting topic and nice views/theories.

    But still I think the question “which language is older, Sanskrit or Tamil” remains unanswered and I think will remain unanswered as there are no pakka proofs…

  18. In India everything will become Sanskrit, Every word will be there in Sanskrit, There are hundreds of Sanskrit words for a single object, and people calling that as a single language itself is a joke. All Indian dead languages were conveniently called with a name Sanskrit. As a language it was never spoken by the commoners, Twisted sounds of then spoken languages were used as Mantras to cheat people by some elites. Now you should start studying Sanskrit properly i am sure you would end up in Mental hospital within a year.
    Regarding Tamil its also not so pure, As per my understanding it has more connection with European languages than other North Indian languages equal to its age, may be due to the area’s trade connection with the Romans through sea.

  19. dont hate other languages. we dont know the clear history of both tamil and sanskrit. first you try to develope your mother tongue and do something better for your mother tongue .

  20. Sir, Please note Tamil had reached the classical status long back. Because of Aryan majority, Sanskrit had to be given Classical status, by reducing age (years) because of which few other languages also had to be accommodated because of equality to Sanskrit. Tamil is already occupied a seat in World’s classical status, and every Indians should be proud of it.

  21. The grammatical structure of sanskrit is derived from tamil. Moreover the comparison “Tamil corresponds to Hindi, Old Tamil to Old Hindi, Proto-Tamil (or Proto-Southern Dravidian) to Late Sanskrit, Proto-Dravidian to Sanskrit, pre-Proto-Dravidian to Vedic Sanskrit, pre-pre-Proto-Dravidian to Proto-Indo-Iranian, pre-pre-pre-Proto-Dravidian to Proto-Indo-European, and so on” is not right. Tamil does not correspond to hindi which was formed centuries later.
    The indus valley civilisation was the oldest civilisation which has to have the oldest language. Research show that the inscriptions found from the excavations show that they have similarity with the Dravidian languages which dates back to 2600B.c. The only dravidian language at that point of time was tamil.
    Due various political reasons in India this information is not published and many of us are not aware of it.

  22. Undoubtedly Tamil is the oldest language. Due to Aryan’s dominance, Tamil was sidelined those days. Further Tamil was dominated by Jainas who aere speaking sanskirit which was flourishing till Chola’s period.There is Tamil Brahmi available but no sanskirit. Sanskirit has to use the Deve nahari- language of nahars for its writings. Sanskirit was a spoken language but Tamil is a well structured language.

  23. “n India everything will become Sanskrit, Every word will be there in Sanskrit, There are hundreds of Sanskrit words for a single object, and people calling that as a single language itself is a joke. All Indian dead languages were conveniently called with a name Sanskrit. As a language it was never spoken by the commoners, Twisted sounds of then spoken languages were used as Mantras to cheat people by some elites. Now you should start studying Sanskrit properly i am sure you would end up in Mental hospital within a year.”

    Not all. Some people write articles, even with whatever sanskrit they have learnt

    Sanskrit lovers. Please come up with the alphabets, Grammer and exact history of Sanskrit first. Without any reason you always claim Sanskrit is the most superior. Please dont spoil useful language discussions, with a reference to a useless language like sanskrit

  24. tamil is oldest language sumerian is a tamil people same language same culture go to google type tamil sumerian u get the full detales. tamil sangam 1st 9999 bc 2nd 4500bc 3rd 2bc-2ad

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