Not Proto Indo European, but Proto Sanskrit

Sanskrit is not from Proto Indo European

(There was a related/tangential ongoing discussion with some overlap where Aravindan Neelakandan & others participated. The link to that thread is here).

November 2014

RealityQuests started the discussion:
".... A fake (nonsensical) theory in the name of PIE is being created imaginarily (just like the other random stories westerners make) to disallow Sanskrit its rightful, worthy place in history, by constructing (very imaginatively, I must say) a logic stating that all ancient languages are from this (imaginary language called) Proto-Indo European language (PIE). They say even Sanskrit is from this assumed to have existed language. Indeed, which is absolutely nonsense..."

Rajiv Malhotra: This theory is not "being" created. It has "been" there for a long time. It is well entrenched in western thought, as it gives them a history of what they see as their own past in europe. Some years back a major book came that has spread this even deeper. it is titled, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World.
[K] offered to do a review/critique of it, so I bought a copy, and posted it to him. He received it, but did not spend any time reading or critiquing it. He dismissed it (an easy but lazy thing to do), and later wrote a "standard" attack on aryan theory, with no reference to this book per se.

The problem is that most of the "Hindu activists" lack rigor in critiquing opponents. Trivializing the opponent is not a way to beat them - except within one's "like minded" circle..."

RQ continues: I've tried googling and reading many research papers, but nobody or nothing really mentions about this PIE, or about the civilisation or culture or its literature, or for that matter where who spoke this nor when it was spoken. None of it. Its existence is a question! PIE is a big LIE. They say all ancient languages were derived from this. But one must question, why ONLY Sanskrit is the one with attributes of such amazing qualities as it possesses unlike the others which happen to be a derivative of PIE.."

Jaideep responds:
"The theory of existence of PIE is not the problem in itself. IE Languages are indeed very similar, and it is parsimonious to think of them as having evolved from a common ancestor, just like the evolution of species. However, in the case of languages, there is no necessity, nor any way to verify, whether this reconstructed ancestor language was ever actually spoken. To that end, PIE is just a parsimonious reconstruction to aid us in understanding linguistic relationships.

Now the problem with PIE that most nationalistic Indians have is not with PIE itself, but its implied corollary, the Aryan Invasion Theory. Whereas Aryan Invasion Theory can be refuted to the hilt, refuting PIE and claiming Sanskrit to be an independent (or original) language leads to various linguistic inconsistencies."

Rajiv responds with an important followup question: Agreed so far. Question then remains - What is the reason for the PIE cluster, given we agree that no such language existed? Setting aside its usefulness as a virtual device, what caused this similarity?

Jaideep continues:
"An extremely detailed, complete, and nerve-crackingly logical rebuttal of AIT has been done by Shrikant Talageri, in 3 books: 

He has refuted most current proponents of AIT, most notably, Michael Witzel of Harvard and Hans Hock of Illinois. 

Rajiv: Talgeri is a good example of rigor for many, many years...

Rajiv clarifies a point by Jaideep:
"...There is no doubt that panini is a genius. Indeed, Patanjali calls him Bhagvaan. However, it is not the alphabets, but the Maaheshwara sutras that are assumed to be of divine origin."

Rajiv: Disagree. Apart from any sutra, the aksharas are not arbitrary human convention.

Jaideep: "Sanskrit underwent evolution during the vedic age itself, and even after that. This is acknowledged in traditional texts itself, like patanjali mahabhasya. Classical sanskrit was frozen after it stopped being a spoken language. Whether panini's grammar had any role in it or not is debatable. Personally, I think that without panini, sanskrit would have been lost today, and while the spoken sanskrit evolved into various indian languages, the sanskrit that exists today also survived, only beause of panini's grammar.  

Rajiv: Agreed. This is examined in my forthcoming book on Pollock-ism. But he claims the shift from Vedic Sanskrit was caused by Buddhists and other non-Vedic people to give them a "new" Sanskrit that would be "secular" and less burdened by "Brahmin hegemony".

Jaideep: "... What we should do is to develop our own capacities (i.e. increase the number of researchers within India), and out-compete others at the game. That way, we would also be able to fight back attempts of digestion. If our own capabilities are not enough, I think all fight against digestion would be classified as "hindu rightwing politics" and ignored. I do have some concrete ideas on this and would be happy to open another thread for discussion if anyone is willing."

Rajiv's response: The battlefield has shifted due to the successes of Pollock to create a new kind of army of Sanskrit scholars. Tragically, most Sanskrit scholars have either watched from the sidelines, or joined Pollock, or are plain confused at why this is a big deal at all. My book intends to shake this up. Stay tuned, pls.

RealityQuests follows up:
"...Similarity in languages is what, has caused the west to assume that there is a common ancestry for the languages. And, since Aryan Invasion Theory has been passed down from Max Muller, this has further ensued them to believe, a language such as Sanskrit has its origins back there in the West. Even if were to assume this is true, there are things that makes the claim of PIE highly questionable in my mind.

From the perspective of an individual who is seeing PIE to have existed : If they consider Linguistics, they are trying to find a language from the existing, similar, spoken languages, in the present , and attempting to trace it back to its parent.

This "creation process" in itself shows, it is a reconstruction which could perhaps be far from reality of the language. For e.g., let us consider a procedure where two languages that are similar are used, to get a reconstructed proto language. By comparing the two languages, and continuously finding the parent language, they would finally reach the summit of the pyramid. It would lead them to form a reconstructed proto (or primary) language at the top of the pyramid. But, this language at the top, does not in anyway equate to an actuality of language of how it was in reality, (even if it were to exist) that is, coming down the pyramid, with the assumed splits, is not necessarily correct.

So, this asterisked, unpronounceable formulae of the constructed PIE, is in fact not a language at all. Atleast, not in any defensible definition of what a language must be. Or if there is a linguist who assumes this language to be the actual one (IF it were to exist), then he surely is not professional.

If this reconstructed language was not spoken by anyone, was there another "actual" language (again, IF it were to exist) that was ("actually" PIE) heard on earth?

Linguistics doesn't seem to be an appropriate method to get a parent or prove its existence per se.

Literature or written documents? -- Nope. Maybe those ancient guys couldn't write, or didn't know how to write. Fine, then?

Personally, I'd argue that - the non-linguistic approaches are the only way to prove the existence or anything else pertaining to this language. Then resorting to anthropological and archaeological means are perhaps what could actually prove its existence. This apparently has been done in the book Rajiv Ji had suggested : "The Horse,The Wheel,and Language - How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World "..."

Rajiv: You must make the effort to get a copy, then read it closely, then write a response. Not an easy thing -- but thats what it takes and we need more people doing that kind of heavy lifting.

RQ continues: " ....why and how are sanskrit scholars and linguistic people of the west able to prove the existence of PIE.

The unique property of Sanskrit is : A number of dhatus, and some exceptional grammar, is all it needs and the ability to describe an object with just its name.

The attribute of an object to be its name. perhaps it is the most special feature, qualifying to have no proper nouns. Yes there, are root words. But that's it. Even God's names are descriptions. There are no proper nouns. This also happens to be the reason why there could be different names for a single object. (e.g. Jalaja, Vaarija, Ambuja, Neeraja, Pankaja all mean Lotus - Jala, vaari, ambu, neer are all water and "ja" at the end refers to them living in. Thus lotus is the one living in water or dwaipayana.. the one born between two islands.) In other words, by knowing the name of an object, you know the property of it.
Sanskrit, is a language that does not need dictionary but needs you to be good in grammar to know the entire language

A grammar that has its entire vocabulary of everything in the world, & so flexible.
On what claims was Sanskrit compared to other languages. Do the other languages have these properties?

If the languages did share this property, then perhaps, they would all be 'cool' and efficient as Sanskrit is. Or was it the grammar they compared, and was it common? That would be interesting to know.

Or, was it on the basis that Sanskrit and other languages shared common words?

If there are, in fact, words in common with Sanskrit in other languages and that caused them to conclude - well Sanskrit has a reason why every thing is called what it is called. If objects were plainly called without a reason , then it was adapted from Sanskrit. Sanskrit would then be the mother, and not a sibling to the language.
And, yes. If Aryan Invasion Theory is the only claim, disproving it avoids the necessity to at all deal with linguistic comparison, and we could clearly say, it was just in due time, that words were adapted due to migration from India to the West for trade or whatever reasons. ..."
Rajiv's response:
PIE is an example of what happens resulting from digestion.
Europeans after their sudden "discovery" of Sanskrit in late 1700s, went through a phase called Romanticism, when they loved everything Indian and saw ancient Indians as their forefathers.
Because this was superficial it did not last. Further digestion switched the relationship, when the first stage of "discovery" later got captured under the control of Euro-chauvinists - rival groups in Germany, Britain, France each wanting to use Sanskrit for their own theories of antiquity. We Indians lost control because the West had more power in shaping the global discourse.
Lesson for today: Dont get sucked into westerners praise for our heritage, especially if that is half baked, superficial, etc. This is not sustainable. It leads to digestion as time goes by.
This is why sameness is so dangerous. PIE was preceded by a few decades of sameness of all Indo-European languages and races. But look what happened later.
Know the big picture and not just a tiny region of the kurukshetra. This means more study and research, and not just a few quick/slick one-liners and blogs to get instant fame."

[some intermediate discussions are not provided here and can be read in full in the forum].
Gopi adds: "..I wanted to explain the nature of the PIE/Linguistics battlefield.

The field of linguistics has moved beyond the motivations of its founders. Like it or not, the PIE edifice is the incumbent theory. Unless someone can come up with an alternate theory of how Sanskrit words could have morphed into its cognates in other languages using consistent sound-change laws & do this exercise across a wide swath of language families, we cannot claim Sanskrit as the mother. I love Sanskrit as much as anyone else, having learnt it for several years. But facts are facts & we don't have an alternate theory

What Talageri did was not discard PIE but place its origin in the Indian homeland. He used a somewhat lesser known "language dispersion model" (formulated by Gamkrelidze & Ivanov) and argued that this model fits OIT very well

If well meaning nationalists & OIT supporters make "Sanskrit is mother" statements without a serious theory to back it up, they will not be taken seriously by the academia. Even their serious points in favor of OIT might then get ignored

I am also curious to know your position on Sanskrit & PIE"

Jaideep shares a response from Shrikant Talageri:
"The person who said "What Talageri did was not discard PIE but place its origin in the Indian homeland. He used a somewhat lesser known "language dispersion model" (formulated by Gamkrelidze Ivanov) and argued that this model fits OIT very well" is basically right in saying that I do not discard PIE. You can not discard it. PIE is the only logical explanation for the existence of the IE languages, and those who chauvinistically advocate Sanskrit or Vedic Sanskrit are only being unreasonable and self-defeating. What they do not realize is that Vedic Sanskrit is different from Classical Sanskrit, and the fact that Vedic Sanskrit is the earliest extant form on record does not mean it was the form which existed since Day One. PIE is a linguistically logical reconstructed prototype of the earliest possible ancestral form of all the known IE languages. Just as Vedic Sanskrit is as Indian as Classical Sanskrit, this older form, PIE, also is not necessarily by definition non-Indian. That is, its area need not necessarily be different from the area of Classical and Vedic Sanskrit. In fact, I have shown that it is the same.
The language dispersion model has not been "formulated" by Gamkrelidze and Ivanov. It is the language dispersion model which has to fit in with any Homeland Theory. It is just that Gamkrelidze and Ivanov have enunciated this model very clearly and systematically in trying to fit it into their "Anatolian Homeland" hypothesis, and I have quoted them because they have put it so succintly and clearly. But in their case it is like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole (or is it the other way round?). It does not explain most of the linguistic problems. The Indian Homeland theory answers every single one of the linguistic requirements (besides fitting in with the literary narrative in the Vedic and Puranic texts). Thus it fits in with, among every other linguistic factor, Hans Hock's arguments about simplicity, minimum migration and the evidence of the isoglosses, as also with Nichols' evidence for the movement of the European branches through Central Asia (which is so undeniable that, although every other western Indo-Europeanist steadfastly ignores it, Gamkrelidze and Ivanov bring the European branches all the way eastwards from Anatolia to Central Asia before sending them on the way to Europe)."

Part-1 of Shrikant Talageri's talk:

(Part-2 and Part-3 and the OIT talk can also be found at website).

Subra responds to Shrikant's message: "..I have some questions on the justification for the creation and acceptance of a distinct PIE vs Sanskrit that Shrikant ji or other scholars can clarify:
a) Does this distinction imply a 'before-after' binary dichotomy? that certain epochal historical events triggered this relatively 'sharp change' in the language?
and similarly, what we today call Sanskrit is in reality a 'neo-Sanskrit' that is fundamentally different from what was communicated in Vedic times?

b) In contrast to this, why would this alternative claim be problematic or rejected:
'There is & was only Sanskrit that originated in India & continually evolved over time, and produced diverse derivatives that spread over the world"
- much like Hinduism and its derivatives, but without compromising on its core or 'integral' unity (as explained in 'Indra's Net')."

Rajiv responds: I like 'b'. We dont need a different name like PIE for an earlier stage of sanskrit, just like we dont need to say that modern Hinduism is a new religion disconnected from vedas. Evolution and change in Indic traditions is a different process than in western ones, because there they must destroy the past to legitimize whats new. Our change is cumulative. Hence we still have people worshiping snakes in a temple because nobody goes to police them into "the one true religion". Whats PIE nay be thought of as pre-Vedic Sanskrit...?"

Gopi responds to Subra's questions:
a) Its not a before-after dichotomy or a "sharp change". Language change is a slow process. Vedic & Classical Sanskrit are different, but not so different that you can't tell that one is a parent of the other. Per current language theory, Vedic Sanskrit descended from PIE via the Indo-Iranian branch. "Rate of change of language" is not predicted in Linguistic theories. Linguists tried that and gave up. So, the "actual dates" have to be fixed by other methods like attested documents, archaeological data etc. What can be predicted by Linguists is whether 2 words are cognates, whether one is a parent of the other, whether they have a common parent etc. They can model "relative ages" of languages, but not "absolute ages". That's why you have a PIE tree but no dates on that tree

b) Agree fully with your proposal and that of Rajiv. That's what I wrote in one of my earlier emails as well. If PIE originated in India, we might want to call it "Proto Sanskrit" or something like that. 

Rajiv : I love this idea! Lets popularize it giving you credit!

Gopi continues: Linguists will hate it though - because Sanskrit (or more specifically Indo-Iranian) is not the only branch that came out of PIE. Anatolian, Balto-Slavic, Germanic etc are all branches that are parallel to the Indo-Iranian branch. 

Rajiv: No problem. That makes those languages descendents of Proto-Sanskrit and sisters of Vedic Sanskrit.

Gopi: Anatolian is an older branch than Indo-Iranian. But given that Vedic Sanskrit has the largest number of cognates that match with the reconstructed PIE, it can be argued that "Proto-Sanskrit" has a bigger claim to the PIE title than any other language!! We will be branded as Hindu Chauvinists for sure :- 

Rajiv: Such branding has outlived its life and no longer should bother us.

Come adds: "PIE was a "politically correct" expression coined in the West to avoid identifying the "ancestor [language]" with India and the "[backward] East". It was a way of making Europe central in the diffusion of the IE languages and cultures. Germany no longer claims that it was the cradle of Aryans but Russian academics are still quite partial to Southern Russia-Ukraine as the original home of Indo-Europeans while Anglo-Saxon scholars favour what is today the Turkish territory."

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