A Synopsis by Amrutha MK (Research Associate, NIAS) – on “Sociolinguistics of Sanskrit”
Lecture given by Prof. Madhav Deshpande on 03 February 2021

Series Title: Sanskrit Language & its Traditions: A Journey Through its History and Contemporaneity
Organised by: NIAS Consciousness Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India
Email: niasconsciousnessprogramme@nias.res.in 

Prof. Madhav Deshpande presented the third lecture on the topic “Sociolinguistics of Sanskrit” for the series on “Sanskrit Language and its Traditions: A Journey Through its History and Contemporaneity” on 3rd February 2021. India is a land of diversities which is clearly visible in the case of the different languages it has. Among these languages, Sanskrit shared a prominent position. But how was this coexistence of Sanskrit and other languages? Was this a harmonious coexistence, a hostile coexistence, or a hierarchical coexistence?

Prof. Deshpande’s lecture demonstrated how religious and political changes in India affected the history of the Sanskrit language. Different social perceptions of language and various approaches to Sanskrit and Prakrit were explained in this lecture. Prof. Deshpande narrated the traverse of Sanskrit language into the subcontinent and the branching out of Indo-Aryan languages along with a description of the geography of India during the time of Pāṇini to Patañjali. He suggested that several changes were happening to the Sanskrit language along with migrations. Prof. Deshpande showed that within contemporary bhāsā there were geographic domains and pointed out that Pāṇini wrote about Sanskrit grammar of inherited Vedic text (chandas) and contemporary spoken Sanskrit (bhāsā). Besides, he mentioned that Pāṇini referred to dialects of Sanskrit as udīcha, madhya and prācya.

Prof. Deshpande explained that everything other than Sanskrit was apabraṃśa for grammarians, whereas for others including poets, Sanskrit, Prakrit, desiapabraṃśa were literary languages. He suggested that Sanskrit literature was very generous and liberal as it accepted and embraced literary works in other languages. According to him, there was no enmity between languages within the field of literature. Prof. Deshpande also pointed out the differences in perceptions about the hierarchy of varṇa among Brahmanas and Ksatriyas. Besides, Jaina and Buddhist views on society and language and its contribution to the growth and development of languages were also discussed. Buddhist texts were transmitted through multiple languages and Prof. Deshpande suggested that the choice of language was stated by the goals. Then he indicated that royal patronage also played a great role in preserving the prestige of the Sanskrit language and then added that the survival of Sanskrit was equally connected to the royal support it has received in past years. Thus he concluded the lecture by highlighting the sociolinguistic aspects of the sustenance, shaping, and development of Sanskrit in India.

Lecture Synopsis Author: Amrutha MK, Team NIAS CSP

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