Features of Sanskrit that make it an extra-ordinary language

This is the first of a series of articles explaining what separates out Sanskrit from rest of the languages. This will make you realize how under-developed, regressive and full of redundancies are most of the modern languages. In fact, by the end of the series you will have generated a feeling of dissatisfaction towards the languages you speak currently. Let’s start off.

The first inefficiency that creeps into the modern languages, originates from the very idea  these languages (English, Hindi, German, Japanese etc) are based upon.

That principle is Words represent objects/entities.

This seems to be a very innocent and trivial fact and absolutely harmless. But, we will see later that it is this basic principle that is responsible for many inefficiencies in the modern communication protocols (aka languages). Sanskrit, however, is not based upon the above principle. Rather, in Sanskrit, Words represent properties of objects/entities and not objects/entities themselves.

Let’s see now with the help of examples in the Question and Answer format, what does all this mean.

Q) What is a tree called in English and Hindi ?
A) In English, a tree is called Tree.
     In Hindi, a tree is called  पेड़.

Q) What is a tree called in Sanskrit ?
A) There is no word in Sanskrit for a tree!

Q) Are you kidding me ?
A) No! Let me explain in greater detail. As said above, Words in Sanskrit represent properties of objects and not objects themselves. And, since a tree is an object, there is really no word in Sanskrit for a tree. In fact, there is actually no word in Sanskrit for any object (barring some exceptions, which are finite in number).

Q) What then, is वृक्ष ? I heard that वृक्ष in Sanskrit means a tree.
A) Ah! now you asked the proper question. वृक्ष is a Sanskrit word that may be used to represent a tree. As said and repeated earlier, Words in Sanskrit represent properties, so वृक्ष also represents a property.

वृक्ष = something that is cut and felled down

The word वृक्ष can be used to denote any object that has this property. If something is usually cut and fell down, then it can be called वृक्ष. That object need not be a Tree.
Similarly,  there are many other words in Sanskrit that can be used to denote a tree. For example, तरु and पादप also may denote a tree. But even these words don’t necessarily mean a tree.

A tree drinks water by using its roots. Hence, also called pAdapa.

तरु = something that floats
पादप = something that drinks using its feet

Since a tree has the above properties, i.e. a (fallen) tree floats on water and also a tree absorbs water from the ground by its roots(feet), the above words can be used to denote a tree because a tree possesses the properties represented by these words. Not to mention that the above words may be used for other objects also, if they satisfy the above properties.

Q) Oh! I get it. So a trunk of a tree can also be called वृक्ष because, like a tree, even a trunk can be cut and felled.
A) Absolutely! You are a genius.

Q) So can you summarize ?
A) Sure! In most of the modern communication protocols, there is a one-to-one correspondence between the words and the objects they represent. But, in Sanskrit, there is a one-to-one correspondence between the words and properties.

Q) Great insight! But I still don’t understand something. Though what you told is interesting, how is it helpful ? I mean, why mess with properties of objects, when words can simply represent objects themselves. What is the use of all this ?
A) This is the question I was waiting for. Here is the answer. Take, for example English. Today English has approx. 5 lakh words (as in Oxford Dictionary), bulk of which is borrowed from other languages.
Before a car was invented, the word Car did not exist in the dictionary. But once the car was invented, somebody coined the word Car and we happily started using it. A new word which is coined has to be put in a dictionary, for new people to be able to look at its meaning. This has to be done because a word, say Car, represents an object viz. a car. In future, a new mode of transportation will be invented and then we would have to coin some new word for that new invention. By then, cars would become obsolete and possibly the word Car would get extinct (because the cars themselves got extinct). Again, the word for that newly invented mode of transportation, would have to be put in a dictionary. This has to be  done  because the words in English represent objects. In Sanskrit, even if a word is coined, it need not be put in a dictionary. A person with knowledge of Sanskrit grammar can guess the meaning of the word with reasonable accuracy, without looking into a dictionary! This is because that new word which has been coined would represent a property that a car would possess. And using the algorithms of Sanskrit Grammar (called व्याकरण), one can decode and find out exactly what property a word represents. So a Sanskrit dictionary is really redundant (in most of the cases), if one is well-versed in Sanskrit grammar!

Q) Hmmm, intriguing! So you mean to say that, if one knows Sanskrit grammar well, then he won’t need to look in a dictionary for word meanings. Any other advantage ?
A) Yes! There are other advantages as well. At any given time, there will always be a finite/fixed number of words in English. Currently, it is 5 lakh words. But, in Sanskrit, there are as many words as properties in the universe. Assuming that there are infinite properties in the universe that objects exhibit, there are virtually infinite words in Sanskrit! There are words in Sanskrit, even for the objects not discovered yet. Because the properties that those undiscovered objects will exhibit, will not be new.  For example, a fan has some properties viz. it rotates, it throws air, it has blades etc. When the fan was invented, the fan was a new object but these properties in themselves were not new.  Hence, even if a new object is invented/discovered anyone with the knowledge of Sanskrit grammar can coin a word for it, based on any property of that object and anyone with the knowledge of Sanskrit grammar can decode its meaning with reasonable accuracy!

Q) This is really COOL! But it’s too much to take in one go. Can you recapitulate ?
A) Yes. Due to the principles it is based upon, there are virtually infinite words in Sanskrit (and we do not need a dictionary in spite of this, for most of the words). The Sanskrit grammarians realized that grammar and semantics are not separate water-tight entities, but rather, are one coherent unit. In probably all the other languages, Grammar and Semantics are independent entities, but not so in Sanskrit.

Whenever you think of an object, you actually think of the properties of that object, since it is the properties that distinguish that object from rest of the universe. So if you can think of an object, you can think of its properties, so you can coin a word for it based on these properties, whether or not the object be known a priori.

This is just the surface. In later articles, we will dive deeper into what really makes Sanskrit the shortest, the most beautiful, highly sophisticated, highly systematic, highly   computer-friendly and highly admirable language. We will also analyse the mechanism by which one can form new words by using the properties of objects.

We will end this article with a subhASita that I had studied in school.
भाषासु मुख्या मधुरा दिव्या गीर्वाणभारती तस्माद्धि काव्यं मधुरं तस्मादपि सुभाषितम् ॥ which means…
The speech of India(Sanskrit), is the foremost, the sweetest and the divine among all languages. The poetry becomes sweet because of it and even the sayings become eloquent.

PS: The features mentioned in this article are not unique to Sanskrit. Property-based derivations are found in many languages. But in those, they are embryonic and need a lot more development. In Sanskrit, this feature is so much developed that it forms the bulk of it which is not the case with other languages.

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148 Responses to Features of Sanskrit that make it an extra-ordinary language

  1. Shridhar a Canadian says:

    Very good hint you gave. Now my thinking is changed looking at words. Apart from व्रक्ष and तरु there are lot of words which supports more promptly to your idea of property oriented words.
    Example – शिक्षा is the action taken to correct once behavior. Like TEACH or PUNISH to correct behavior of that person.
    अर्थ – Ultimate short outcome of something bigger. Like MONEY earned after much effort and MEANING of something.
    ग्रह – Something which contains in or covers some other thing.
    Like ग्रह HOME contains or cover humans.
    ग्रहिणी woman who is covered by ग्रह.
    ग्रहण Eclipse covered by shadow of some other object.
    पाणि ग्रहण Wedding, holding spouse’s hand हस्त
    प्रत्वि ग्रह EARTH which holds all living beings.

    Next, you have written upcoming new words are already exists.True
    उपग्रह SATELLITE, Home staying close by main home. So even moon is also a उपग्रह.
    Word उपग्रह was already there representing moon. Satellite has also same properties like moon.
    Before invention of satellite there was word ready for that.
    Thanks you opened my eyes. Great article.

  2. Hayagreeva Acharla says:

    • It is not correct to say that one Sanskrit word can be used in different places with different meaning in different contexts as संस्कृतं is considered, even by Western Indologists [uncompromising people] , as a scientific language which means in-variance in truth factors, a basic requirement of a scientific entity and, it consists basically of ‘बीजाक्षर ‘ – conceptual seeds, embodying an entire ‘Concept’ in a Phenom,
    The dictionary of बीजाक्षर is as follows ->
    अ = antonym of, आ = invite, इ = include, उ = uplift, ए = era, ओ = old, अं = to the edge, ultimate,क = what, question, inquiry, ख = space, sky, ग = to move, घ = to bend, च = and, in connection with, छ = clean, ज = to take birth, झ = splash, त = place, e, placement, थ = heavy placement, heavily placed, द = to give, ध = holding, न = negative, non, ट = virtue, ठ = large, ड = scare, causing fear, ढ = poisonous, ण = atom, very small quantity. प = guard, to take guard, फ = to manifest, ब = aspire, भ = suddenly appear, from unknown to known, म = welfare, य = go away, exit, र = acquire, ल = act of taking, व = carry, hang on to, श = pure, clear of impurity, ष = superior, supreme, the best, स = inseparably together, ह = forcefully carry away, क्ष = exist invisibly, ज्ञ = know, क्र = = exchange, प्र = regimented, regulated, त्र = defender, protector , घ्र = sniff, भ्र = revolve, नृ = hero, principal, कृ = grace, तृ = twinkle,
    (श + इ + व): शिव = possess and carry purity; (नृ + प):नृप = Principal protector;
    (क्र + य): क्रय = gone in exchange; (न + भ): नभ = negative of sudden existence – previously existing: (ख + ग): खग = moving, mover in sky, space; (क्ष + ण): क्षण = invisibly atomic, small unit; (व + ह): वह = carry forcibly; (ह + व): हव = forceful carrier; (ध + न): धन = non holding, expendable; (छ + व + इ): छवि = clean placed inside; (ल + व ): लव = act of taking the carrier; (र + ण ): रण = acquiring a small possession; (ल + क्ष +म = इ): लक्ष्मि = taking possession of welfare not yet known; (घ + न): घन = unbending; etc.
    So, some one please help extend this

  3. Hayagreeva Acharla says:

    व् = veil, cover ; उ = uplift, develop, क्ष् = exist invisibly. So, the ‘concepts’ involved in वृक्ष are -> [a cover, veil of]+[uplift, develop,evolve]+[that exist invisibly]: Existing invisibly a surrounding/veil of evolution.

  4. Regarding ” using the algorithms of Sanskrit Grammar (called व्याकरण), one can decode and find out exactly what property a word represents. So a Sanskrit dictionary is really redundant (in most of the cases), if one is well-versed in Sanskrit grammar! ” affirmation
    Maybe it’s a stupid question but maybe I can understand . Starting from that 2012 धातवः the all words are “raising” into usage, composing the words ?
    I’ve got one iBook copy of brihad-dhAturUpAvali by T.R. KrisnAcharya (bhAskara press)

    • gshah says:

      Sanskrit vocabulary consists of
      1) All the words derived from the 2012 dhatus (which is infinite)
      2) Other words not derived from dhatus (like numbers, pronouns etc). But these words are finite.

  5. शाप as (प.) can be used on the same way as तरु or it is different ?

    • gshah says:

      I did not understand you question. What is (प.) ? शाप and तरु have different meanings. One is derived from the dhatu शप् the other is derived from the dhatu तृ.

      • I used प. ti indicate the masculine gender as i saw in “praudha rachananuvada kaumudi” .

        शापः and तरूः both in masculine gender i found the same usage for ” any that floats” and I was asking when to use one or another ?! That, in case that it’s correct that शापः it’s with reference at “anything that floats”.

        Regarding शप् / शपते / शपति / शप्यते / शप्यति / शापयति / शापयति the meaning it’s “to curse ” …and many others usages but not connections with “float”, as you mention above already.
        For dhatu ” तृ ” I found only the usage in neuter gender as “star”
        But for dhatu ” तॄ ” I found तरति / तरुते / तितर्ति ( to float) / तारयति / अवतरति / तरङ्गति / तर्तरीति / तितीर्षति
        Now I’m in more dilemma . I apologize I’m only beginner in sanskrit Sir.

        • gshah says:

          शापः (floating object) and तरूः can be used in similar manner. There is no rule as to when to use what. Both can be used interchangeably since both mean the same.

          • As to when to use depends on where you would use it. Since Sanskrit words can be used as variables like in programming languages, you would want only a specific word to be used, like a for in C based languages will mean do something until the condition stays valid, while the meaning for ‘for’ can also mean ‘because’. But it is given a restricted semantic as to where to use it and what it should mean. So use either of the word but depends on how much you restrict the semantic.

  6. Saralhindi says:

    Simplified Sanskrit Alphabet
    अ आ इ ई उ ऊ ऋ ॠ ऌ ए ऐ ओ औ अं अः
    a ā i ī u ū ṛ ṝ ḷ e ai o au aṁ aḥ
    First Group
    Subgroups Hard Soft
    Unaspirate Aspirate Unaspirate Aspirate Nasals
    Gutturals क ख ग घ ङ
    ka kha ga gha ṅa
    Palatals च छ ज झ ञ
    ca cha ja jha ña
    Cerebrals (Cacuminals) ट ठ ड ढ ण
    ṭa ṭha ḍa ḍha ṇa
    Dentals त थ द ध न
    ta tha da dha na
    Labials प फ ब भ म
    pa pha ba bha ma
    Second Group
    Semivowels य र ल व
    ya ra la va
    Third Group
    Sibilants श ष स
    śa ṣa sa
    Fourth Group
    Sonant Aspirate ह

    Gujanagari Script:
    અ આ ઇ ઈ ઉ ઊ ઋ ૠ ઌ એ ઐ ઓ ઔ અં અઃ
    a ā i ī u ū ṛ ṝ ḷ e ai o au aṁ aḥ
    First Group
    Subgroups Hard Soft
    Unaspirate Aspirate Unaspirate Aspirate Nasals
    Gutturals ક ખ ગ ઘ ઙ
    ka kha ga gha ṅa
    Palatals ચ છ જ ઝ ઞ
    ca cha ja jha ña
    Cerebrals (Cacuminals) ટ ઠ ડ ઢ ણ
    ṭa ṭha ḍa ḍha ṇa
    Dentals ત થ દ ધ ન
    ta tha da dha na
    Labials પ ફ બ ભ મ
    pa pha ba bha ma
    Second Group
    Semivowels ય ર લ વ
    ya ra la va
    Third Group
    Sibilants શ ષ સ
    śa ṣa sa
    Fourth Group
    Sonant Aspirate હ


    Think, why Chinese simplified their language?
    Think, why Chinese simplified their language?

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