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.
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.