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Re: Sanskrit vs Tamil

From: Parthasarati Dileepan (
Date: Sat Jan 03 1998 - 21:07:13 PST

Dear Bhagavathas:

Sri Sridhar Srinivasan and I exchanged a few e-mails with Prof. George Hart
of Berkeley on this subject.  I would like to present a very brief summary
of Prof. Hart's views.

It is quite obvious that in the realm of true bhakthi superiority of one
language over another does not arise.  As a matter of fact it is
nonsensical to even think in those terms.  Quoting Sri Sadagopan, we need
both Sanskrit and Tamil for a "stereoscopic vision" of our great sampradayam.

However, many hold a mistaken view of Tamil's contributions, probably due
to lack of exposure to Tamil.  This is further confounded by Tamil
chauvinism by certain section of Tamil population who are anathema for
asthikas.  However, IMHO, as Sri Vaishnavas we ought not let the DK/DMK
section to hold us back from developing a proper appreciation for the true
and immense contributions of Tamil.

The following are just some points made by Prof. Hart.  In the most part, I
have used Prof. Hart's own words.  But I have taken the liberty of editing
them here and there for continuity.  I had to do this because I have cut
and pasted from two or three of his mails.  Please note that I have NOT
included all of Prof. Hart's arguments.  The ones that are not directly
related to Tamil and Sanskrit are left out.

-- adiyEn

================Prof. Hart's comments================================
1. Neither Sanskrit nor Tamil are particularly old in the world scheme of
things.  Sanskrit is documented earlier than Tamil.

2. Sanskrit has borrowed quite as much from Dravidian as Dravidian has from
Sanskrit.  Tamil has borrowed more words from Sanskrit than Sanskrit has
from Dravidian.  It is a trivial thing for a language to borrow vocabulary.
 But when it uses another language's syntax to form the way it expresses
things, and uses another language's phonology for its sounds, that is
really profound influence.  The fact is, Sanskrit HAS been influenced in
this way by Dravidian.  Of course, some Dravidian languages have also
borrowed Sanskrit sounds (bh, etc.)  But none of the four Dravidian
languages I have read has borrowed anything from Sanskrit syntax that I can
identify.  Much of the syntax of Sanskrit is Dravidian, and it has a large
Dravidian vocabulary.  Its system of phonetics is profoundly influenced by
Dravidian -- Indo-Aryan is the only IE family with retroflexes.

3. Sanskrit also lacks some sounds that are available in Tamil.  Tamil has
short e and o, zh, R, n, and many permutations of stops -- e.g. k in akam
-- which are not found in Skt.  Actually both languages have about the same
number of phonemes.

4. The word Dravidian clearly comes from the word Tamil.  This has been
demonstrated time and time again -- the earliest occurrences of the word in
IA are dramiDa ==> draviDa.

5. I can attest that the grammar of Sanskrit is no more elegant or perfect
than any other IE language.  It very much resembles Russian, Latin, and
Greek (which I have also read) -- to which it is closely akin.  To my mind,
Tamil and the other Dravidian languages have much more elegant and logical
structures.  Consider this: in Dravidian, you can take any sentence and
turn it into an adverb, adjective, or noun by simply changing the ending on
the verb.  Then you can embed that sentence in any other sentence.  The
Dravidian relativizing system is extremely straight-forward and logical;
the IE one -- shared by Sanskrit (and English) -- is quite messy and
verbose.  One could go on and on.  I love Sanskrit, but I would never claim
its zillions of nit-picking rules make it somehow an epitome of order and
perfect structure.  Sorry, but it's just not.

6.  I do agree with Sridhar Srinivasan about the symbiotic nature of
Sanskrit and Tamil (and also other Indian languages).  The fact is,
Sanskrit and Tamil, while originally independent traditions, have from the
earliest times formed one cultural stream, much as the Latin and the
languages of Western Europe have.

7.  Sanskrit, like Tamil, is a very rich language and tradition.  It has an
enormous variety of writings, some of which are of great quality (which is
true of most rich languages).  It has been a carrier of cultural tradition,
and it is endlessly interesting.  But why is it that it is mindlessly
glorified for all the WRONG reasons?

8.  Both languages are carriers of wonderful and rich intellectual and
literary traditions.  The only way to appreciate either language is to read
these literatures and spend a lot of time pondering them.