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“.
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