Origins of Vedic Civilization
consider in the next chapter, that Vedic civilization was either a precursor to the Indus-Saraswati civilization or an early contributor to its cultural and spiritual heritage. Vediccivilization arose in India many millennia before the speculative mythologies of thepast suggest.
Origins of the Indo-European Hypothesis
Linguistic similarities between Indian and European languages were recognized bythe earliest European scholars. In the late eighteenth century, it was observed thatSanskrit, Iranian, and most European languages share many common words andgrammatical structures. Early linguists classified Vedic Sanskrit and the majority of European tongues in the same
family of Indo-European languages.
Sir William Jones was the first to show that there are many common cognate wordsshared by Sanskrit and European languages. Speaking to the Asiatic Society in Calcuttaon February 2, 1786, Jones made a statement which was soon to become quite famous:
the Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of awonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, morecopious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined thaneither, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both inthe roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than couldpossibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed,that no philosopher could examine them all three, withoutbelieving them to have sprung from some common source,which, perhaps, no longer exists.
A quick glance at some of the common cognate words of English and Sanskrit showsdefinite family resemblances that Jones spoke about:
1Quoted in the
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language,
ed. William Morris (Boston andNew York: Houghton Mifflin, 1969), article by Calvert Watkins, p. XIX.