Sanskrit – Mother of the European Languages

Sanskrit - Mother of the European Languages

Glorious Indian Heritage (Part -6)

By Dr. Gauri Shankar Gupta

Indo-European languages are those languages or language groups that have been derived from Sanskrit. Commonality of European languages and Sanskrit was first suggested by Sir William Jones (1746-1794) who was a Sanskrit scholar. Systematic comparisons by several scholars between these languages supported this suggestion. Although, some western scholars believe that these languages have common ancestry from Proto-Indo-European (PIE); none of them despite extensive research have been able to find any trace of the so-called Proto-Indo-European. Therefore, it is now well established that Sanskrit is the oldest of all Indo-European languages and is the mother of over 400languages in this category. There are 11 main branches of the Indo-European language family. These include;Balto-Slavic, Celtic, Germanic, Italic, Slavic, Indo-Iranian, Greek, Albanian, Armenian, Tocharian and Anatolian. Depending on the source one may find slight difference in the nomenclature of these groups. The map on the following page taken from Encyclopaedia Britannica provides a concise view of these languages(

Although, some of these languages are now extinct; the Indo-European languages still cover most of the major spoken world languages as given below.

1. Balto-Slavic Group – Latvian and Lithuanian.
2. Celtic Group – Breton, Irish, Scottish and Welsh.
3. Germanic Group – Dutch, English, German, Danish, Icelandic, Swedish, Norwegian, Yiddishand Afrikaans.
4. Italic Group – French, Italian, Spanish, Catalan and Romanian.
5. Slavic Group – Czech, Polish, Slovak, Serbian, Russian, Belarussian, Ukrainian, Bosnian, Croatian, Macedonian and Slovenian.
6. Indo-Iranian GroupAvestan, Dari, Farsi, Tajik, Kurdish, Pashto and Ossetic.
7. Greek Group – Hellenic.
8. Albanian Group – Albanian.
9. Armenian – Armenian.
10. Tocharian Group – Mostly extinct.
11. Anatolian – Hittite
Sanskrit - Mother of the European Languages
If we include the Indian Sub-continent, over 4 billion people speak the languages that trace their origin to Sanskrit. Many studies have shown that the grammar and other linguistic features of all these languages are similar but not identical and their vocabulary comes from Sanskrit roots. Sanskrit being the mother language of all, contains maximum features– 10 tenses, 8 cases, 3 genders and 3 numbers while the other languages contain lesser features as given below.
Tense – While Sanskrit has 10 different forms of the verb called lakaara, most European languages have somewhere between 6 to 8.
Case Old Church Slavonic, Lithuanian, and Old Armenian (7), Latin (6), Greek, Old Irish, Albanian (5), Germanic (5).
GenderThe three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter) have survived in some of the European languages.
NumberThe three numbers (singular, dual, plural) have survived in Greek, and Old Irish. Most other European languages have only dual numbers.
Origin of Words from Sanskrit Roots: There are several hundred words in European languages that originate from Sanskrit roots. Some illustrative examples are given below.
European languages originated from sanskrit
Sanskrit mother of languages
Prefixes and postfixes:

The postfix ‘er’ indicates occupation / type of work.

Sanskrit: he who makes shara (arrow) – sharakar
English: teacher, farmer, worker, computer etc.

The prefix ‘a’ makes opposites meaning.

Sanskrit: mrutaamruta, karma – akarma, swachaaswacha.
English: pathy – apathy, theist – atheist

The prefix ‘un’ makes opposites meaning.

Sanskrit: avashyaanavashya
English: do – undo

The prefix ‘pr’ indicates better / advanced.

Sanskrit: gatipragati
English: gress – progress, active – proactive, cede – proceed etc.
Ga – go – khaga– what goes in sky

From the above illustrations it should be clear that most of the European languages have borrowed their grammar, structure and vocabulary from Sanskrit. It is normal that when something is borrowed from the mother source, certain features are left out. At the same time some new features are added depending on the local conditions. This is also true for all dimensions of life – law, customs, festivals, cuisine, costumes etc. We Indian should be proud of the fact that Sanskrit is not only the oldest surviving language of the world but also has given birth to over 400 languages called Indo-European Family Languages and has influenced many more in South East Asia, North Asia and Central Asia as explained in my previous article.

(Writer is Former Ambassador/High Commissioner of India)

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