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The first systematic theory of the relationships between human languages began when Sir

William Jones, "Oriental Jones," proposed in 1786 that Greek and Latin, the classical languages
of Europe, and Sanskrit, the classical language of India, had all descended from a common
source. The similarities between the languages had already been noted in 1768 by Gaston
Curdoux, who informed the French Academy. The evidence for this came from (1) the
structure of the languages -- Sanskrit grammar has detailed similarities to Greek (and, as would
later be seen, Avestan), many similarities to Latin, and none to the Middle Eastern languages,
like Hebrew, Arabic, or Turkish, interposed between Europe and India [note] -- and (2) the
vocabulary of the languages. Thus, "father" in English compares to "Vater" in German, "pater"
in Latin, "patr" in Greek, "pitr." in Sanskrit, "pedar" in Persian, etc. On the other hand, "father"
in Arabic is "ab," which hardly seems like any of the others. This became the theory of "Indo-
European" languages, and today the hypothetical language that would be the common source for
all Indo-European languages is called "Proto-Indo-European." The following table shows a
genealogy for two "knowing" roots, which in modern English turn up as "know" and "wit."
Words that are related to each other by descent from a common source are called "cognates."
English "wise" and Sanskrit "veda" are thus cognates. Note that descent can become confused
when words are subsequently borrowed. English has borrowed "idea" and "agnostic" from
Greek, "video," "visa," and "cognition" from Latin, "vista" from Spanish, etc.
Another striking example of cognates are all the following words for "is" -- modern French and
Persian pronunciation is given in parentheses. By a series of simple steps, we see the relationship
between "is" in English and
"ast" in Persian.
Traditionally, all Indo-
European languages were
divided into "centum" and
"satem" languages, after
the Latin and Avestan words for "100," respectively. This is an "isogloss" (like an "isotherm" or
"isobar" in meteorology) that distinguishes languages where, in certain environments, an Indo-
European k has remained a k and where it has turned into an s or ch (and g to j, etc.), that is,
velars are palatalized into sibilants or affricatives (e.g. Latin rex/regis, "king," Sanskrit raja).
Most importantly, the Indo-Iranian (Sanskrit, Persian, etc.) and Slavic languages are "satem"
languages. However, this particular isogloss is now no longer taken to reflect a fundamental
division in descent. In the chart above, Russian, the principal Slavic language, will be seen to be
more closely related to German and to Latin than to Sanskrit; and Greek, a "centum" language, is
more closely related to Sanskrit (perhaps) than to the others. What has happened is that more
features have been taken into account and the overall greater similarities between Greek and
Sanskrit outweigh a lesser point that Sanskrit seems to share with Slavic languages. On the other
hand, the whole picture of branching descent, while perhaps appropriate for organic evolution,
may not be as appropriate for languages, which can borrow features from even unrelated
languages in geographical proximity. The Slavic and Indo-Iranian languages, because of their
geographical proximity (in Southern Russia), thus may well have shared a certain sound change,
even while retaining closer affinities to other groups.
English German French Latin Greek Sanskrit Persian
is ist
est
()
est esti asti
ast
()
The following chart demonstrates a way other than descent to look at the relationships of these
languages. I originally saw a diagram like this when I took an Indo-European linguistics class
with Raimo Anttila at UCLA in 1970. I recently found a similar diagram in The Oxford
Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World by J.P. Mallory and
D.Q. Adams [2006, p.73]. Unfortunately, Mallory and Adams actually do not discuss the
individual isoglosses. The
present diagram is thus based
on one by Thomas Pyles and
John Algeo [1993], though I
have added the tenth gloss
for the reason given below.
What we see here looks very
much like a dialect map of
languages that occur near
each other and so exchange
influences with adjacent
languages. The theory that
goes with it is called the
"wave model," that
innovations spread out across
the field like waves in a
pond. The line marked #1 in red surrounds the Satem languages. The line marked #2 in blue
surrounds Greek and the Italic languages (like Latin), where we have voiceless sounds for Indo-
European voiced aspirates, i.e. ph in Greek and f in Latin for Indo-European bh (Germanic
languages have b). The line marked #3 in light green surrounds the Italic and Celtic languages,
which have passive forms of the verb in -r, e.g. Latin laudor, "I am praised" (active laud). The
line marked #4 in light purple surrounds the "North-West" group of languages, which share
some common vocabulary that does not occur elsewhere among Indo-European languages. The
line marked #5 in dark green surrounds the south-eastern languages that have a prefixed vowel
in the past tense or aorist, e.g. Greek lipon, "I left" (present lep). The line marked #6 in gray
surrounds northern languages where (according to Pyles and Algeo) "medial schwa [an indefinite
vowel] was lost." The line marked #7 in orange surrounds the western languages that share some
common vocabulary not found elsewhere. The line marked #8 in light blue surrounds northern
languages that have a dative plural in -m, e.g. Gothic dagam, "to/for days" (nominative singular
dags, dative singular daga -- Modern German now has -n in the dative plural, den Tagen, but -
m in the [masculine/neuter] singular, dem Tag), or Russian dnyam, "to/for days" (nominative
singular dyen [with the final "soft" sign], dative singular dnyu). The line marked #9 in dark
purple surrounds the Indo-Iranian languages, i.e. the Indic and Iranian, where (according to
Pyles and Algeo) "schwa became i" -- though there are many features that unite the Indo-Iranian
group, including vocabulary items, e.g. the god Mitra in Sanskrit and Mi ra in Iranian
(Avestan, Persian). Finally, the line marked #10 in yellow surrounds Greek and Armenian, where
Mallory and Adams say, "[T]here were close contact relations between Greek and Armenian"
[p.79].
In a dialect map, we are usually looking at variations across a language that geographically stays
in place. With the diagram for the Indo-European languages, we may be looking at fossil
evidence of when the languages were dialects of a language in a particular geographical area,
probably Eastern Europe, stretching down into the Balkans and out into the Ukraine. From the
Ukraine, the Indo-Iranian group took off across the Steppe (following Tocharian). Once
separated, the language groups can experience changes that will not be reflected in any other
related languages, for instance that the Indic group acquires the retroflex consonants that figure
in the unrelated Dravidian languages but not elsewhere in Indo-European, or that New Persian
(like Urdu) borrows a large vocabulary from Arabic, a consequence of Iranians converting to
Islam. The absence of Tocharian and the Anatolian languages (Hittite, Luvian, etc.) from the
diagram is significant. Tocharian, from people who advanced across the Steppe all the way to
China and ultimately show up in India as the Kushans, could be expected to orginate from the
east side of the language community and thus most likely be a Satem language. But it wasn't. It
thus may well be that Tocharian speakers left the dialect area before palatalization occurred in
the Satem languages. Hittite, the earliest attested Indo-European language, and its related
Anatolian languages, seem to have left the dialect area even before Tocharian. Hittite retains
very archaic features of Indo-European, like laryngeals (or pharyngeals, though exactly what
these were is still unclear -- they would be like sounds that still exist in Arabic, and are to be
found the earliest in Ancient Egyptian), but then it is missing many features that may have
developed later in the dialect area.

Greek, Sanskrit, and Closely Related Languages
Tense and Aspect in Greek
The Spread of Indo-European and Turkish Peoples off the Steppe
The Germanic Languages
The Slavic Languages
Philosophy of Science, Linguistics
Philosophy of Science
Philosophy of History
History of Philosophy, Indian Philosophy
History of Philosophy
Home Page
Copyright (c) 1998, 2000, 2008 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved


Greek, Sanskrit,
and Closely Related Languages

The Sanskrit language whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more
perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined then
either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in
the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong,
indeed, that no philosopher could examine them all three, without believing them to
have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.
Sir William Jones (1746-1794), speaking to the Asiatick Society in Calcutta, February 2, 1786.

The following chart zeroes in on the relationship between Greek and Sanskrit, with the closely
related Iranian and other Indo-European steppe languages, and the modern descendants of them
all. Greek can be seen to radiate into a number of dialects, later to be consolidated into the koin
or "common" dialect of the Hellenistic period. The name Yuzhi, "Moon Tribe," was given by
the Chinese to an Indo-European group who came off the eastern end of the steppe. Latter, under
pressure of Turkish or Mongol peoples -- especially a defeat by the Hsiung-nu in 170 BC -- they
fell back into the Tarim Basin (the "Lesser" Yuzhi, ) and Transoxania (the
"Greater" Yuzhi, ). The latter eventually descended into India, as the Kushans (1st
century AD). The texts that survive in the Tarim Basin, in languages usually called "Tocharian,"
attest this obscure branch of Indo-European [note]. The Iranian group of languages also includes
that of a people, the Saka, who had previously (1st century BC) also ended up in India, providing
the benchmark historical era for India (79 AD). Otherwise we see several modern descendants of
Iranian languages, from Modern Persian and Kurdish all the way to the unique survivor of the
North Eastern group, Ossetian, in the Caucasus (though this is now North West of the others).
Iazyges were settled in Britain by Marcus Aurelius, and Alans spread across Gaul and Spain after
crossing the Rhine in 407 AD. Although students of both Greek and Latin may be impressed
with their similarities, Latin does not have a dual number, a middle voice, or an aorist tense,
which both Greek and Sanskrit share. These features, and others, draw Greek away from Latin,
to be more closely associated with the Indo-Iranian languages. In general, this is the most
conservative branch of the Indo-European languages. My Indo-European linguistics professor at
UCLA said once that you can get a sort of "instant Proto-Indo-European" by combining Greek
vowels and Sanskrit consonants.

East of the Caspian Sea, the Indo-Iranian group of languages came down into the Middle East
and India. The furthest penetration west into the Middle East was by the Mitanni, who provide
the earliest texts using Vedic gods and other Indo-European words. The Mitanni, however, do
not last all that long, and it is Persian and Avestan (the language of the Zoroastrian book, the
Avesta) that produce most of the Indo-Iranian inscriptions and literature. A difference in
pronunciation of the name of the Vedic god Mitra is indicated in the chart, between India, the
Mitanni, and Persian. Meanwhile, the rya had descended into India, c.1500 BC, the first Indo-
European group to do so (before the Sakas & Kushans). As discussed elsewhere, the rya
plunged India into its Dark Ages, until around 800 BC, when an alphabet was borrowed from the
Middle East.
The map shows the present distribution of the Indo-
Iranian languages, from Kurdistan to Sri Lanka.
Ossetic (Ossetian) is all the remains of the former
Iranian presence on the Steppe, being derived from
Scythian and Alan, which used to dominate the
European Steppe in and around the Ukraine. The
Sakas, who were on the Asiatic Steppe, are long gone,
though their invasion of India is remembered there.
The Dravidian languages, which are not Indo-
European, are shown because their outliers bespeak
their former presence in the North, as well as the
South, of India, while features of Dravidian languages (like the retroflex sounds) influenced the
Indic languages, starting with Sanskrit itself.
The word rya, which later simply meant "noble" in Sanskrit, was of course used in European
theories of the "master race," the "Aryans" -- as we even see in the writings of Friedrich
Nietzsche. This had one curious consequence. Airya was the form of the same word in Avestan,
and Irn is its modern Persian descendant. When Shh Rez Pahlavi heard that the "Aryans"
were supposed to be the master race, he thought, "Hey! That's us!" The official name of his
country was then changed from Persia to Irn. This ended up being an unfortunate move for him.
In World War II, he was more than a little sympathetic for the "Aryans" of Nazi Germany, and
the result was that he got overthrown and Irn was occupied by British and Russian forces.
In the Indian Dark Ages, a sacred oral literature developed, the Vedas. The language of the
Vedas can then be called the Vedic language, and Indian history from c.1500 down to c.400 BC
can be called the Vedic Period. Even though the Vedas could be written down after 800 BC, they
have always been taught and remembered orally, and have always been thought of as essentially
sound -- in contrast to Jewish beliefs about the Trah and Moslem beliefs about the Qur'n, that
they were essentially written. The Vedas are still taught orally.
Once the Vedas came to be written, a disturbing thing was soon noticed. The spoken language
was diverging from the written language. Language, indeed, changes all the time, but this may
not be noticed in an oral tradition. When it was noticed, the reaction was horror, for the belief
was that the Vedas had to be remembered with absolute accuracy for them to be ritually
effective. The result was an effort to describe and fix the language of the Vedas so that it would
never change again. The process culminated about 400 BC with the grammar of Pn.ini.
The language that resulted was tidied up a bit and not precisely identical to the surviving
language of the Vedas. It was called Sam.skr.ta, Sanskrit, which means "prepared," "cultivated,"
"polished," "correct." The language based on Pn.ini can be called "Classical Sanskrit," and that
of the Vedas "Vedic Sanskrit." Classical Sanskrit remained the language of religion, philosophy,
and high literature in India for centuries, and survives today as the indispensible language of
religion and serious scholarship.
Meanwhile, the spoken language had not only changed but split up into dialects that eventually
grew into separate languages. These new spoken languages are called "Prakrits," from Prkr.ta,
"natural," "ordinary," "common," "vulgar." The first examples of written Prakrit words are in
Sanskrit texts where someone is speaking, e.g. from a Once Born caste, who is not allowed to
speak Sanskrit. Eventually, however, some Prakrits developed their own literature. When the
canon of essential Buddhist texts was set down in Sri Lanka, the Prakrit Pli was used -- hence
the "Pli Canon." That has suggested to some that the Buddha himself spoke Pli, but this does
not seem to have been the case. The Buddha probably spoke Mgadh.
From the Prakrits, most of the modern languages of India are derived. The exceptions are the
languages of the Dravidian group, largely spoken in the south. Some examples of Dravidian
languages, and discussion of the relationship of Hindi to Urdu, can be found elsewhere.
The oldest alphabet used in India was the Brhm script. Later, other alphabets developed, like
Kharos.t.hi; but Sanskrit is written in an alphabet especially
designed by the grammarians for
it: Devangar. This is also used with some modern
languages, like Hindi, and is the source for many more,
including the alphabets for Burmese, Thai, and Cambodian. Actually,
Devangar is not a true alphabet but a syllabary. It writes syllables, and it does so on the basis of
a couple of odd conventions. For one thing, even though Sanskrit has many consonant clusters,
every syllable is written ending with a vowel. This means that all the consonants, even ones from
preceding words, are piled on to the beginning of the following syllable.
The word Sanskrit itself has three syllables. Most Devangar letters have a
horizontal line on top and a vertical line at the right. The plain form for each letter
automatically is read with the vowel a. In the word at right, therefore, reading
from left to right, we first have the letter s, which is read sa. Over it is a dot,
transcribed as an "m" with an underdot, which stands for the nasal sound found as
the "n" in the French word on. This is very common in Sanskrit. The second syllable in the word
is skr., where the r is given an underdot to show that it is a vowel. Both "r" and "l" can be vowels
in Sanskrit -- though no longer in Hindi (r. is prounced ri). The basic form of the syllable is the
letter k. Attached to the front of it is the letter s, which we've already seen, without its vertical
stroke, and under it is attached a hook that indicates the vowel r.. For the final syllable we write
t, which is given the vowel a. A short final a, it should be noted, is not pronounced in
Hindi: thus, Sanskrit words like yoga and names like Arjuna can now actually be found
pronounced yog and Arjun.
Another Sanskrit word to consider might be that for the supreme Being of the
Upanishads: Brahman. Here there are two syllables and a final consonant. In
inflection, the final n is ordinarily going to be lost or written with the following
syllable; but we can add a diacritic to show that it is without a vowel. In the first
syllable, bra, there is a little complication. R, even when it is a consonant and
not a vowel, is written more like a vowel, with a diacritic. The basic form of b is
a loop with a line through it. The r is indicated with a diagonal stroke attached to
the bottom of the loop. The vowel a is then understood. An r that precedes, rather than follows,
another consonant, is written with a hook at the top of the letter. The second syllable, hma, poses
another problem. H is one of the letters that does not have a vertical line at the right, as it is
shown written independently below Brahman. Combining h with m requires running them
together, as shown. The form of this combination is conventional and cannot always be
predicted. It must simply be learned. The full form of m can be seen in the next example, below.
Finally, the absence of a vowel on the final n is indicated with the diagonal stroke at the bottom
of the vertical line.
Next, we can examine a whole sentence. This is the famous tat tvam asi,
"Thou are that," one of the four Great Sentences of the Upanishads. This
consists of three words, but four syllables, where the final consonant in the first
two words is attached to the first syllable of the following word. Ta is familiar.
The second syllable, ttva, involves a conventional combination. When two t's
are stacked on each other, one straightens out into a horizonal line. This can be
seen in the tta combination given below the sentence. Va itself is just a loop,
like b without the line through it (the similarity is no accident; v and b were both recognized as
"labials," i.e. letters that use the lips). The third syllable is ma, where we simply write the form
for m, with the understood vowel. Finally, the form for s is familar, but this time we must
indicate that it has the vowel i rather than the vowel a. This is done by adding another vertical
line to the left of the letter and connecting it to the letter with the loop at the top.
Finally, we might consider the sacred syllable Om, as found in the Mn.d.kya
Upanis.ad. Here, at left, we have the independent form of the letter a with a diacritic
(vertical line and stroke) indicating that it has the vowel o (originally au). M follows
with the diacritic indicating no vowel. A more compact form of the word, however,
can be written. If the m is considered to be the nasalized m., it can
simply be written with a dot over the o. The m is a real m, but
everybody knows that anyway, so the more compact form can be
written for convenience.
Since the syllable Om is written down frequently, for good luck and as a
blessing, it is not surprising that abbreviated forms have developed. In the one at right preserves
recognizable parts of the fully written (though already reduced) form.
Some more examples of Devangar writing can be seen in the essay on karma.
In many Sanskrit words, like the name of the Mn.d.kya
Upanis.ad, it will be noticed that the letters t, d, n, and s may
have underdots (written on the line here, i.e. t., etc.). These are a
separate order of letters from ordinary t, d, n, and s. The ordinary
t, etc. are what in linguistics are called "dentals," because the
tongue touches the teeth (#1 in the diagram). The underdot t.,
etc., are called "retroflexes," because the tongue curls up towards
the roof of the mouth (#3 in the diagram). This makes for very
distinctive sounds, which Sanskrit and the descendants of the
Vedic language share with Dravidian languages, but not with any
other Indo-European languages. Curiously, t, d, and n in English
are not true dentals. The tongue touches the gums above the
teeth, the alveolus, rather than the teeth (#2 in the diagram). This makes them "alveolars" rather
than dentals. In India, this sounded to people more like the retroflexes than like the dentals.
English words borrowed into Hindi, like "doctor," are thus pronounced with the retroflexes --
d.oct.or. At the same time, Hindi has lost separate n. and s. sounds. N. occurs as a dental n, and
s. occurs as an ordinary palatal sh (often written for Sanskrit as an "s" with an acute accent on it).
The name of Krishna in Sanskrit is Kr.s.n.a, but this then is just pronounced in Hindi as, of all
things, Krishna.

At right is the entire Devangar
syllabary. In an alphabet
invented by grammarians, it is
not surprising to see it laid out
according to phonetic principles.
Thus, the alphabetical order
begins with the vowels, then
runs through the diphthongs, the
stops, the semi-vowels, the
sibilants, and finally h. The
vowels, when syllabic, have
independent forms; when not,
they are, as we have seen,
indicated with diacritics.
The stops, which means sounds
where the vocal tract closes,
pose some pronunciation
challenges. K is pronounced as
in English skit, and kh as in
English kit. This is the
difference between an
unaspirated and an aspirated
stop -- one has no breath coming out, the other does. Similarly, t is pronounced as in English
stop, and th as in English top. The "th" sounds in English "thin" or "that" do not occur in
Sanskrit. P is pronounced as in English spot, and ph as in English pot. "Ph" is never pronounced
f. Sanskrit c is like the ch in English, but is unaspirated, making it unfamiliar. The voiced stops
(g, j, d, d., & b), where vocal chords vibrate, all also have their corresponding aspirates. In
sounds like gh, jh, etc., however, the breath coming out is also voiced. Consequently, the voiced
"aspirates" are also called murmur stops, since the sound is more like murmuring than breathing.
These are sounds rarely seen in other world languages.
Several of these phonetic characteristics of Sanskrit can also be found in the
(unrelated) Mandarin Chinese. Notice that "swastika" is a word from Sanskrit
(svastika). In the Nazi version, the top bar points to the right. In India, or in
Buddhism, the top bar tends to point to the left, but traditionally this is not always
the case and both right and left handed swastikas can be found. It was not just a
coincidence that the Nazis liked this symbol. They saw themselves as the heirs of the rya.

"Knowing" Words in Indo-European Languages, Note

A conspicuous feature of Indo-European grammar is the original extensive inflection of nouns
and verbs. In the table are the cases that occur in the inflection of nouns in a selection of Indo-
European languages.
The vocative (Voc) occurs when someone is
being addressed -- which is why
Shakespeare has Caesar say Brute rather
than Brutus when addressing Brutus. The
nominative (Nom) is the subject of a
sentence. The genitive (Gen) can mean
possession, "of" or "from." The accusative
(Acc) is the direct object of a sentence or
motion towards. The dative (Dat) is the
indirect object or means "to" or "for." The
ablative (Abl) means "from" or motion away
from. The instrumental (Ins) is the agent for
the passive voice or the means. And the
locative (Loc) means "at" or the location of
something.
All these languages actively inflect nouns
and adjectives for case, gender, and number,
except English, where there is only a remant
of the system, mainly in the pronouns. Thus,
he/his/him, she/her/her, and it/its/it, give us
the most complete inflection that English
still possesses. Sanskrit, on the other hand,
retained nearly the full Proto-Indo-European
system, including inflection for the dual number (like Greek) as well as the singular
and plural.
English German Greek Latin Russian Sanskrit
Voc Voc Voc Voc
Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom
Gen Gen Gen Gen Gen Gen
Acc Acc Acc Acc Acc Acc
Dat Dat Dat Dat Dat
Abl Abl

Ins Ins
Loc Loc
Sumerian
Absolutive
Ergative
Genitive
Except for the vocative, German still has the same cases as Greek, but there is a
great deal of ambiguity in the case endings, whose identity must often be
determined from context. See the discussion of Nietzsche's language. As
prepositions come to be used more extensively, they can have different meanings
when used with different cases, or they can be fixed to take a particular case, which
happens a lot in German. In English, all prepositions simply take the accusative,
though in usage people are often confused and use the nominative "I" with
prepositions after a conjunction (e.g. "between you and I").
It is always important to keep in mind, not only what something is, but what it isn't.
Indo-European languages, with cases like nominative and accusative, are not
"ergative" languages, like Basque, languages in the Caucasus, or Sumerian (which
beats out Sanskrit with ten cases for its nouns, as seen at right). In an ergative
language, the subject of an intransitive verb and the object of a transitive verb take
the same case, the "absolutive." The subject of a transitive verb then takes the
ergative case. While this all seems strange, the division is natural enough. Only the
subject of the transitive verb is actually doing something (Greek rgon is "work") to
something else. The difference between nominative-accusative languages and
ergative-absolutive serves to mark fundamental differences in language families.
Return to Text


Greek, Sanskrit, and Closely Related Languages, Note

The word "Tocharian" is often said to be used
"as the result of a mistaken identification"
[Winfred P. Lehmann, Historical Linguistics,
Third Edition, Routledge, 1992, 1997, p.81].
The word was taken from Greek historians
who were talking about a people, the
Tokharoi, of the Fergana Valley (in the
headwaters of the Jaxartes [Syr Darya] River,
between the Pamirs and the Tian Shan
mountains) who converted to Buddhism and
migrated to India. This does sound like the
Kushans, but may have nothing to do either
with them or the Lesser Yuzhi of the Tarim
Basin.
Now, however, it turns out that among the
Tocharian manuscripts is one written in Uighur, which is close to Turkish and represents the
next wave of nomadic migrants into central Asia (c.600 AD). The Uighur text says that it was
Locative
Dative
Comitative
Ablative
Terminative
Directive
Equative
translated from a language called twghry -- the lack of vowels is an aritfact of Uighur using the
alphabet from Syriac, which, like Arabic and Hebrew, typically doesn't write vowels. Twghry
looks close enough to Tokharoi to now properly motivate the identification. So it must not have
been mistaken after all.
Return to Text
Suggestions of similarities between Indian and European languages began to be made by
European visitors to India in the 16th century. In 1583 Fr. Thomas Stephens, SJ, an English
Jesuit missionary in Goa, noted similarities between Indian languages, specifically Konkani, and
Greek and Latin. These observations were included in a letter to his brother which was not
published until the twentieth century.
[3]

The first account to mention Sanskrit came from Filippo Sassetti (born in Florence, Italy in
1540), a Florentine merchant who traveled to the Indian subcontinent and was among the first
Europeans to study the ancient Indian language Sanskrit. Writing in 1585, he noted some word
similarities between Sanskrit and Italian (these included deva/dio "God", sarpa/serpe
"serpent", sapta/sette "seven", aa/otto "eight", nava/nove "nine").
[3]
However, neither Stephens'
nor Sassetti's observations led to further scholarly inquiry.
[3]

In 1647 Dutch linguist and scholar Marcus Zuerius van Boxhorn noted the similarity among
Indo-European languages, and supposed that they derived from a primitive common language
which he called "Scythian". He included in his hypothesis Dutch, Greek, Latin, Persian, and
German, later adding Slavic, Celtic and Baltic languages. However, van Boxhorn's suggestions
did not become widely known and did not stimulate further research.
Gaston Coeurdoux and others had made observations of the same type. Coeurdoux made a
thorough comparison of Sanskrit, Latin and Greek conjugations in the late 1760s to suggest a
relationship between them, about 20 years before William Jones.
The hypothesis reappeared in 1786 when Sir William Jones first lectured on the striking
similarities between three of the oldest languages known in his time: Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit,
to which he tentatively added Gothic, Celtic, and Old Persian. It was Thomas Young who first
used the term Indo-European in 1813,
[4]
which became the standard scientific term (except in
Germany
[5]
) through the work of Franz Bopp, whose systematic comparison of these and other
old languages supported the theory. Bopp's Comparative Grammar, appearing between 1833 and
1852, counts as the starting point of Indo-European studies as an academic discipline.
The Sanskrit Connection: Keeping Up With the Joneses
The discovery of Indo-European first started with a British judge named William Jones who was
stationed in India in 1780. Jones, a bright fellow with classical training in Greek and Latin, had
determined to master the ancient Sanskrit tongue. He wanted to brush up on native Indian law
codes--many of which were written in Sanskrit script--before administering British law in the
region.
Jones was shocked to discover a regular pattern of similarities between ancient Sanskrit words
and ancient words in classical Western languages. Here are some examples:
Meaning: Sanskrit Latin:
"three" trayas tres
"seven" sapta septem
"eight" ashta octo
"nine" nava novem
"snake" sarpa serpens
"king" raja regem
"god" devas divus ("divine")
Other Sanskrit words were similar to Greek terms. For instance, the Greek word trias ("three") is
close to trayas and tres in the chart above. The Greek word pente ("five") is close to Sanskrit
panca ("five"), and so on. Jones began systematically charting the similarities, finding literally
thousands of such parallels between Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin. He presented his findings on
February 2nd, 1786, to the "Asiatick Society in Calcutta." He declared boldly that Sanskrit had
. . . a stronger affinity than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no
philologer could examine them all three without believing them to have sprung from some common
source, which perhaps no longer exists.
What Jones had uncovered, without realizing it initially, was the existence of a lost mother
tongue, what scholars call proto-Indo-European--a single, ancient, prehistoric language that led
to the development of many languages in Europe, India, Russia, and the Middle East. It required
nearly ninety years of comparative linguistics to fill in all the gaps.
Before Jones, earlier scholars had long ago noted that many languages shared such similarities. It
was no news, for instance, that Romance languages shared cognates with each other. Spanish
caballo (horse) was a cognate for Portuguese cabalo (horse), Italian caballo (horse), Provenal
caval (horse), French cheval (horse), and English cavalry (horse-riding troops). Scholars had
long known that all these words ultimately came from the vulgar Latin term caballus (horse), and
that French and Spanish and other Romance languages had developed from Roman provincial
speech--with some voiced /v/'s changing to unvoiced /b/'s, or some hard velar stops (/k/ sounds)
changing to aspirated <ch>'s. Likewise, Germanic languages like Low and High German,
Frisian, Dutch, Swedish, and Norse shared many cognates with each other in much the same
way, tracing their origins back to a proto-Germanic tongue in prehistoric times.
What astonished linguists was that Sanskrit had cognates to more than just Latin and Greek
words. Philologists found that Dutch, German, Old Norse, Gothic, Old Slavic, and Old Irish had
similar patterns of words with Sanskrit. These cognates had a related meaning and they also
sounded similar to each other either in terms of vowels or consonants (or both!). For instance,
consider the words for "father" and "brother" in a variety of Indo-European languages:
"father" "brother"
o pitar (Sanskrit)
o pater (Latin)
o pater (Greek)
o padre (Spanish)
o pere (French)
o father (English)
o fadar (Gothic)
o fair (Old Norse)
o vader (German)
o athir (Old Irish--with loss of original
consonant)
o bhratar (Sanskrit)
o frater (Latin)
o phrater (Greek)
o frere (French)
o brother (Modern English)
o brothor (Saxon)
o bruder (German)
o broeder (Dutch)
o bratu (Old Slavic)
o brathair (Old Irish)
It's hard to escape the conclusion that these words must have come from a common source--
especially if you chart the words out on a map of where each language is spoken. In the case of
the words for father, a linguist can almost visually see the unvoiced /t/ sounds changing to
voiced /d/ sounds as people migrated westward across the map, and then these letters changing to
<th> as they moved north through Europe along the Germanic branch. In the case of the words
for brother, the same sort of linguistic change is occurring with unvoiced /t/ and voiced /d/
sounds, but another pattern is happening simultaneously with voiced /b/ and unvoiced /p/ sounds.
Multiply the examples above for a few thousand other words, and the evidence looks fairly air-
tight.
All that remained for scholars to do was (1) to trace what rules governed these changes
linguistically--a task taken up by Jakob Grimm and later Karl Verner, and (2) to reconstruct as
far as possible what this original language must have sounded like and how it functioned. This is
tricky, given that proto-Indo-European is a prehistoric language existing before the written word,
but not impossible given the wealth of linguistic information we can garner from surviving
languages today

ANTI-SEMITIC LITERATURE: Literature that vilifies Jews or encourages racist attitudes
toward them. Much of the religious literature produced in medieval and Renaissance Europe
unfortunately engaged in anti-Semitism to one degree or another. This is due to a series of
sociological causes too lengthy to discuss here. Typical allegations accused Jews of killing and
cannibalizing Christians, secretly poisoning wells, spreading plague and leprosy among non-
Jewish neighbors, kidnapping Christian children, defiling communion wafers, and engaging in
various economic crimes.
The irony is that, although Jews were blamed for various outbreaks of plague and the
contamination of water supplies, in many such communities there were no Jews present at all.
They had often been kicked out of the country long before the "crimes" took place. In 1182
Philip II banished the Jews from France, causing many Jews to flee to England, where many
other Jews had sought shelter in the eleventh century. Anti-Semitic violence intensified after the
crusades, culminating in the church's Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, which passed laws
requiring Jews to wear distinctive clothing and forbidding them from holding political office in
Chrstian-controlled lands. Local bishoprics and principalities embraced these new laws, and
often added their own twists, such as requiring Jews to pay additional taxes, or requiring the
most senior Jewish Rabbi to submit to various ritual humiliations before the community at
Easter. (In one French city, for instance, the most prestigious Rabbi had to appear on the
doorsteps of the bishop's cathedral on Easter afternoon to receive a ritual blow and communal
rejection.) Other secular authorities followed the ecclesiastical example by making it illegal for
Jews to own land or to labor in an occupation that would compete with local Christians.
Ironically, this policy forced Jews to train themselves in highly skilled professions such as law,
medicine, accounting, gem-cutting, and whatnot. These lucrative professions only further
aroused the envy and ire of less-skilled, less educated, and less wealthy citizens of the European
kingdoms. In 1275, Edward I began to default on the loans he owed Jewish moneylenders, and in
1287, he imprisoned some 3,000 Jewish subjects, whom he ransomed to their families for cash.
In spite of the Jewish payment in good faith, he issued an edict in 1290 banishing all Jews from
England and confiscating all their properties. After Jews were allowed to return to France,
French King Philip IV expelled them again in 1306, forcing them to flee to Germany. Mass
burnings and executions of Jews took place in Germany in 1349 after an outbreak of plague, and
so on--right up to the Holocaust of World War II, in which the genocide was horrifying not for
its novelty, but rather for its continuation of a centuries-long tradition with the added efficiency
of modern technologies like gas chambers and incinerators.
Such occurrences affect the literature of a culture as well. The Legends of the Holy Rood, for
instance, recounts an Anglo-Latin story of how Jewish blasphemers drown in Christ's blood after
entering a Christian church. In the tale, the doors slam shutting locking the Jews inside. The
cross begin bleeding profusely until the liquid filled the entire structure. The Anglo-Saxon poem
Elena (St. Helen) describe the way the pious mother of Constantine tortures reluctant Jews in
order to locate the remains of the true cross, which the Jews had sneakily hidden away from her
in order to conceal the truth of Christ's resurrection. In Middle English, we see that Chaucer's
"Prioress' Tale" likewise depicts Jews as manipulative evildoers who murder a saintly young
choirboy. In the Renaissance, Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice presents a Jewish lawyer,
Shylock, as the villain scheming to extract a pound of flesh from his poor Christian victim, and
so on, ad nauseum.
Occasionally, it is ambiguous whether readers should accept the anti-Semitism readily. For
instance, the Prioress' earlier depiction in Chaucer's General Prologue suggests she has misplaced
secular priorities, so Chaucer might not intend for her to be a very authoritative or holy figure
when she tells her tale. Likewise, Shakespeare does a marvelous job of transforming Shylock
into an indignant and injured human being rather than a moustache-twirling, two-dimensional
stereotype in Shylock's "If they prick us. . . ." speech and in his soliloquies discussing the way
Christians have subtly mocked him, cheated him, and insulted his family. However, such literary
moments are rare in which an author questions the common anti-Semitism of the era. Thus, when
we do find material that suggests a more tolerant attitude, we must approach it with a skeptical
eye to make sure we are not misreading historical intent.
European scholarship in Sanskrit, begun by Heinrich Roth (16201668) and Johann Ernst
Hanxleden (16811731), is regarded as responsible for the discovery of the Indo-European
language family by Sir William Jones. This scholarship played an important role in the
development of Western linguistics.
[citation needed]

Sir William Jones, speaking to the Asiatic Society in Calcutta (now Kolkata) on February 2,
1786, said:
The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek,
more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a
stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been
produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without
believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.




Suggestions of similarities between Indian and European languages began to be made by
European visitors to India in the 16th century. In 1583 Fr. Thomas Stephens, SJ, an English
Jesuit missionary in Goa, noted similarities between Indian languages, specifically Konkani, and
Greek and Latin. These observations were included in a letter to his brother which was not
published until the twentieth century.
[3]

The first account to mention Sanskrit came from Filippo Sassetti (born in Florence, Italy in
1540), a Florentine merchant who traveled to the Indian subcontinent and was among the first
Europeans to study the ancient Indian language Sanskrit. Writing in 1585, he noted some word
similarities between Sanskrit and Italian (these included deva/dio "God", sarpa/serpe
"serpent", sapta/sette "seven", aa/otto "eight", nava/nove "nine").
[3]
However, neither Stephens'
nor Sassetti's observations led to further scholarly inquiry.
[3]

In 1647 Dutch linguist and scholar Marcus Zuerius van Boxhorn noted the similarity among
Indo-European languages, and supposed that they derived from a primitive common language
which he called "Scythian". He included in his hypothesis Dutch, Greek, Latin, Persian, and
German, later adding Slavic, Celtic and Baltic languages. However, van Boxhorn's suggestions
did not become widely known and did not stimulate further research.
Gaston Coeurdoux and others had made observations of the same type. Coeurdoux made a
thorough comparison of Sanskrit, Latin and Greek conjugations in the late 1760s to suggest a
relationship between them, about 20 years before William Jones.
The hypothesis reappeared in 1786 when Sir William Jones first lectured on the striking
similarities between three of the oldest languages known in his time: Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit,
to which he tentatively added Gothic, Celtic, and Old Persian. It was Thomas Young who first
used the term Indo-European in 1813,
[4]
which became the standard scientific term (except in
Germany
[5]
) through the work of Franz Bopp, whose systematic comparison of these and other
old languages supported the theory. Bopp's Comparative Grammar, appearing between 1833 and
1852, counts as the starting point of Indo-European studies as an academic discipline.