The history of the Indian language branch is often divided into three main stages: (1) Old, comprising Vedic and classical Sanskrit; (2) Middle (from about the 3rd century BC), which embraces the vernacular dialects of Sanskrit called Prakrits, including Pali; and (3) New or Modern, (from about the 10th century AD), which comprises the modern languages of the northern and central portions of the Indian subcontinent.
The Indian language of today is broadly classified into two groups:
1. The Dravidian
2. The Indic or Aryan languages.
In this post, I will concentrate briefly on the Indic languages and only one Dravidian language, Tamil.
The root of most of the North Indian languages is the Indo Aryan branch of languages. This branch was passed from the region of Sindh in undivided India. It evolved into two main forms: The Prakrits, or spoken language and the pure tongue, which was used during religious rites and ceremonies.
The pure tongue was and is still called Vedic Sanskrit. Vedic Sanskrit evolved sometime during 1500BC to 200BC. All the Hindu religious scripts are in Vedic Sanskrit, with the oldest form being the Rigveda.
At around 500BC, a more linguilised version of Sanskrit appeared. This version borrowed words from the Prakrits and was given the term Classical Sanskrit. Classical Sanskrit was used in in technical and scholarly works. Classical Sanskrit is still studied in modern day India, with CBSC offering it as a third language.
One of the most popular form of the original Middle Prakrits is Pali, the language used in Buddhist scriptures. The Prakrits evolved into the modern Indo-Aryan language of Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi etc.
The Dravidian language is considered to be of a more ancient origin than the Indo-Aryan language, with Tamil especially being an extremely rich language and the most ancient. Tamil is the one of the four oldest language in the world; the others being Sanskrit, Greek and Latin. Among them Tamil is the only language which has the same grammar structure today as it had in the ancient times and uses the same words today as the ancient times. This makes Tamil the oldest living ancient language.
Tamil also has the oldest grammar book known today. It was written by written by Agasthiya’s disciple, Tholkaapiyar, nearly 5000 years ago. This book is called Tholkaapiyam, after its author. Agasthiya was the originator of Tamil.
Tamil literature is broken down into three era’s or Sangams (academic gathering of poets and writers). The sangam era has been permanently lost to us. The second sangam was that of Tholkaapiyar. Modern Tamil history is widely considered to have originated from the third sangam.
The crown jewel of Tamil literature is the thirukural or more commonly known as the kural. This are a collection of 1300 couplets which are divided into three sections. The kural talks about the code of ethics re are highly secular and independent in nature, with every single kural being valid today as it was 2000 years ago. The kural were composed by Thiruvalluvar and thus derived its name from the author.
Tree of Indian Languages
Interesting points to note:
European scholarship in Sanskrit, begun by Heinrich Roth and Johann Ernst Hanxleden, led to the proposal of the Indo-European language family by Sir William Jones, and thus played an important role in the development of Western linguistics. Indeed, linguistics (along with phonology, etc.) first arose among Indian grammarians who were attempting to catalog and codify Sanskrit’s rules. Modern linguistics owes a great deal to these grammarians, and to this day, key terms for compound analysis are taken from Sanskrit.
(Wikipedia, Sanskrit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanskrit)
Devanagari (meaning “as used in the city of the Gods”)
Indo Aryan – North India
Indo Iranian – Persia and Afgastinstan
Indo European – Romani (gypsies)