thinking allowed

Sunday, June 21, 2009

If William Jones hadn't then I might have

It has been researched beyond any shred of doubt that almost all the world's languages have evolved from one Mother language. This Mother of all languages is technically called PIE/PIG, or Proto-Indo-European/Proto-Indo-Germanic root. The languages that are not connected to any other language (and eventually PIE) are said to fall in the 'isolated language group'. Korean is the most illustrious member of the this group, and Basque comes a close second.

Long before the idea of PIE came through, it had been established that all Romance/European languages had evolved from Latin. The link between Indo and European languages however was established by a genius philologist named William Jones. Apart from being a hyperpolyglot with working knowledge of close to thirty languages, he also founded the Asiatic Society in Calcutta. The thought of a possible connection between Sanskrit and Latin occured to him while translating Kalidas's अभिज्ञान शाकुन्तलम् to English. He came across the word ashva (meaning horse) in the Sanskrit text, and realized that the Latin for horse (eqqus) linked linguistically to the Sanskritic word.

During my recent foray into learning German language, I came across the word Sammeln while listening to a popular song by Ich und Ich. Looking up the word I was surprised to find that it means 'a gathering' in German (as a noun) . The Hindi - and possibly Sanskrit - word for 'gathering' is also spelled like its German counterpart - 'सम्मेलन' (the English-transliterated form being Sammelan). The pronunciation however is a bit different. Anyone with knowledge of Hindi will concur that this finding reinforces PIE hypotheses!

Another interesting note: William Jones' father was a brilliant mathematician who is accredited with using the Greek letter 'π' for the first time to symbolize the mathematical constant 'pi'. Little did he know that his son will attain fame for his work on its homonym.

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