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Languages: Sanskrit & Tamil -- A perspective

From: V. Sadagopan (
Date: Sun Jan 04 1998 - 08:15:19 PST

Dear Members : It is very appropriate to have the benefit
of some one like Professor Hart , who is " impartial " on
the subject . I agree with his assessment . Thanks to 
Sri Dileepan and Sri Sridhar Srinivasan for helping us 
to gain a perspective with this scholarly feedback . 

I serve in the Language Bank of the Red Cross . I prepared 
recently in article entitled " Languages : some Facts and Figures " 
for them . 

You might be interested in this collection of facts to gain 
additional  perspective on Tamil in the world  assembly of languages
that Professor Hart refereed to in his evaluation .

Neither the  size of the population speaking a particular language 
nor the passions of the politicians using their languages to ride on 
them  for their own agenda ( DMK or Basque or Catalan ) affect
the affection and reverence for a particularly rich language.

I grew up when Sri EVR turned around out of bitterenss against
the congress party to form his own DMK . The feelings of resentment
among the different groups in tamilnAdu were  so high 
that my family  decided that I should take Sanskrit as my second language
instead of Tamil at School and College . I never wanted to do anything
with Tamil . What a tragedy it would have been , if I had ignored
the study of Tamil , which I took up a few years later , after 
completing my Doctoral studies at MIT . Had I persisted in my attitude 
of extremism , I would have lost access
to all of our kula dhanams in Tamil . 

Since Tamil and Sanskrit are very important to our group ,
We have no doubt about their pre-eminence for our 
emotional and spiritual well-being . When we compare them 
against the assembly of world languages , we develop
a healthy respect for other languages , while enhancing our
reverence and dedication to Sanskrit and Tamil 
and to "ponderover " works in these two rich languages 
containig the source granthams of the Ubhaya VedAnthA 
tradition .  

Now coming back to the Facts and Figures on Languages ,
this is what I wrote  based on " Hard Facts " provided
by Linguistic Researchers :

**There are 6,700 languages spoken in 228 countries ; 
there are 39,000 dialects associated with the latter .
Based on grammatical and phonological systems ,
these form into subgroups ( Viz)., Indo-European ,
Semitic et al . 

** Linguists recognize that a number of world languages 
may join the endangered species and are working to
preserve them . They have also created many " artificial
languages " with their own distinctive grammar . 

** Geographic distribution of the number of living languages 
break down as follows : The Americas/1000; Africa/2,011; Europe /225;
Asia /2,165 and the pacific, 1302. The corrsponding percentages
for these regions are 15, 30 , 3 , 32 and 19 respectively . 

The top dozen languages by the size of the speaking populations are :

*** Mandarin Chinese --885 Million (M)
*** English --450M
*** Spanish --266M
*** Hindi --182 M
*** Portugese --175 M ( Brazil+Portugal )
*** Bengali --168M ( Includes Bangla Desh )
*** Russian --160M
*** Japanese--126M
*** French --122 M
***German --118M
*** Wu-Chinese--77M
*** Javanese --75M

*** Under 75 Million and above 50 Million are :
      Tamil , Marathi , Telegu , Urudu , Korean ,
      Yue-Chinese, Vietnamese, Turkish , Min-Nan Chinese et al 

*** Sanskrit Speakers -- Same category as Latin and classic
      Greek speakers : dwindling or staying put  ! 

I can imagine in the days of AzhwArs , the Tamil speaking population 
and for that matter , the Sanskrit speaking population were an order
of magnitude less . That is why , it is amazing to see how our 
predecessors saved the treasures like Vedams thru oral/aural tradition 
and the Tamil classics and AzhwAr aruliccheyalgaL thru
kanta pAtam route and on palm leaves to last out and nourish us  
even today .

Isvara Samvathsaram , Margahazhi month,
Muppatthu MUvar ThiruppAvai Dinam
The day before Kal Garuda Sevai at NaacchiyAr Koil

Om GaruthmathE Nama: Om Veda PurushAya Nama :
Om Pakshi RaajAya nama: 

Oppiliappan Koil VaradAchAri SadagOpan