AskDefine | Define Sanskrit

Dictionary Definition

Sanskrit n : (Hinduism) an ancient language of India (the language of the Vedas and of Hinduism); an official language of India although it is now used only for religious purposes [syn: Sanskritic language]

User Contributed Dictionary



From etyl sa sc=Deva.



Proper noun

  1. A classical language of India ("Indian Latin"), a liturgical language of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and one of the 23 official languages of India. Member of Indo-Iranian and thus Indo-European language family.



External links

Extensive Definition

Sanskrit ( , for short ) is a classical language of India, a liturgical language of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and one of the 23 official languages of India.
Its position in the cultures of South and Southeast Asia is akin to that of Latin and Greek in Europe and it has evolved into, as well as influenced, modern-day Indian languages. Vedic Sanskrit is the earliest attested Indo-Iranian language, and one of the earliest attested members of the Indo-European language family.
The corpus of Sanskrit literature encompasses a rich tradition of poetry and drama as well as scientific, technical, philosophical and Hindu religious texts. Today, Sanskrit continues to be widely used as a ceremonial language in Hindu religious rituals in the forms of hymns and mantras. Spoken Sanskrit is still in use in a few traditional institutions in India, and there are some attempts at revival.
The scope of this article is the Classical Sanskrit language as laid out in the grammar of , around the 4th century BCE.


The verbal adjective may be translated as "put together, well or completely formed, refined, highly elaborated". It is derived from the root "to put together, compose, arrange, prepare", where "together" and "do, make". The language referred to as "the cultured language" has by definition always been a "high" language, used for religious and learned discourse and contrasted with the languages spoken by the people, "natural, artless, normal, ordinary". It is also called meaning "divine language".


Sanskrit is a member of the Indo-Iranian sub-family of the Indo-European family of languages. It has the characteristic Satem sound changes associated with other members of Indo-Iranian.
The oldest surviving Sanskrit grammar is 's ("Eight-Chapter Grammar") dating to circa the 4th century BCE. It is essentially a prescriptive grammar, i.e., an authority that defines (rather than describes) correct Sanskrit, although it contains descriptive parts, mostly to account for some Vedic forms that had already passed out of use in 's time.
The term "Sanskrit" was not thought of as a specific language set apart from other languages, but rather as a particularly refined or perfected manner of speaking. Knowledge of Sanskrit was a marker of social class and educational attainment in ancient India and the language was taught mainly to members of the higher castes, through close analysis of Sanskrit grammarians such as . Sanskrit, as the learned language of Ancient India, thus existed alongside the Prakrits (vernaculars), which evolved into the Middle Indic dialects, and eventually into the contemporary modern Indo-Aryan languages.

Vedic Sanskrit

Sanskrit, as defined by , had evolved out of the earlier "Vedic" form. Scholars often distinguish Vedic Sanskrit and Classical or "Paninian" Sanskrit as separate 'dialects'. Though they are quite similar, they differ in a number of essential points of phonology, vocabulary, and grammar and syntax that make the understanding of Vedic difficult. Classical Sanskrit is considered to have descended from Vedic Sanskrit. Vedic Sanskrit is the language of the Vedas, a large collection of hymns, incantations (Samhitas), theological discussions, and religio-philosophical discussions (Brahmanas, Upanishads) which are the earliest religious texts of the Hindu religion. Modern linguists consider the metrical hymns of the Rigveda Samhita to be the earliest, composed by many authors over centuries of oral tradition. The end of the Vedic period is marked by the composition of the Upanishads, which form the concluding part of the Vedic corpus in the traditional compilations. The current hypothesis holds that the Vedic form of Sanskrit survived until the middle of the first millennium BCE. It is around this time that Sanskrit began the transition from a first language to a second language of religion and learning, marking the beginning of the Classical period.

Classical Sanskrit

For nearly two thousand years, a cultural order existed that exerted influence across South Asia, Inner Asia, Southeast Asia, and to a certain extent, East Asia. A significant form of post-Vedic Sanskrit is found in the Sanskrit of the Hindu Epics—the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The deviations from in the epics are generally considered to be on account of interference from Prakrits, or "innovations" and not because they are pre-Paninean. Traditional Sanskrit scholars call such deviations aarsha (आर्ष), or "of the rishis", the traditional title for the ancient authors. In some contexts there are also more "prakritisms" (borrowings from common speech) than in Classical Sanskrit proper. Finally, there is also a language called "Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit" by scholars, which starts out from Buddhist prakrit texts and gradually evolved to various forms of Sanskrit, some more prakritized than the others, According to , there were four principal dialects of classical Sanskrit, viz., (Northwestern, also called Northern or Western), (lit., middle country), (Eastern) and (Southern, arose in the Classical period). The predecessors of the first three are even attested in Vedic , of which the first one was regarded as the purest ('').


seealso Termination of spoken Sanskrit Exactly how and when Sanskrit became a "dead" language isn't clearly understood, but the process was similar to that of Latin, as describes it:
"Both died slowly, and earliest as a vehicle of literary expression, while much longer retaining significance for learned discourse with its universalist claims. Both were subject to periodic renewals or forced rebirths, sometimes in connection with a politics of translocal aspiration… At the same time… both came to be ever more exclusively associated with narrow forms of religion and priestcraft, despite centuries of a secular aesthetic."
The decline of Sanskrit use in literary and political circles was likely the result of a weakening of the political institutions that supported it as well as by heightened competition with vernacular languages seeking literary-cultural dignity. There was regional variation in the forcefulness of these vernacular movements and Sanskrit declined in different ways across the subcontinent. For example, Kashmiri replaced Sanskrit as the language of literature after the thirteenth century and Sanskrit works from the Vijayanagara Empire failed to circulate outside of their place and time of composition while works in Telugu and Kannada flourished. This "death" of Sanskrit did not mean it fell out of use in literary cultures of India and, despite literary use of vernacular languages, those who could read in vernacular languages could do the same in Sanskrit (in addition, even Muslim rulers made attempts to revive literary Sanskrit). What it did mean, though, was that Sanskrit was not used to express changing forms of subjectivity and sociality embodied and conceptualized in the modern age. Instead, it was reduced to "reinscription and restatements" of ideas already explored and any creativity in Sanskrit was restricted to religious hymns and verses.

European Scholarship

European scholarship in Sanskrit, begun by Heinrich Roth (1620–1668) and Johann Ernst Hanxleden (1681–1731), is regarded as responsible for the discovery of the Indo-European language family by Sir William Jones, and played an important role in the development of Western linguistics.
Sir William Jones, speaking to the Asiatic Society in Calcutta (now Kolkata) on February 2, 1786, said:
''The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.''


Classical Sanskrit distinguishes about 36 phonemes. There is, however, some allophony and the writing systems used for Sanskrit generally indicate this, thus distinguishing 48 sounds.
The sounds are traditionally listed in the order vowels (Ach), diphthongs (Hal), anusvara and visarga, plosives (Sparśa) and nasals (starting in the back of the mouth and moving forward), and finally the liquids and fricatives, written in IAST as follows (see the tables below for details):
An alternate traditional ordering is that of the Shiva Sutra of .


The vowels of Classical Sanskrit with their word-initial Devanagari symbol, diacritical mark with the consonant (/p/), pronunciation (of the vowel alone and of /p/+vowel) in IPA, equivalent in IAST and ITRANS and (approximate) equivalents in English are listed below:
The long vowels are pronounced twice as long as their short counterparts. Also, there exists a third, extra-long length for most vowels, called pluti, which is used in various cases, but particularly in the vocative. The pluti is not accepted by all grammarians.
The vowels /e/ and /o/ continue as allophonic variants of Proto-Indo-Iranian /ai/, /au/ and are categorized as diphthongs by Sanskrit grammarians even though they are realized phonetically as simple long vowels. (See above).
Additional points:
  • There are some additional signs traditionally listed in tables of the Devanagari script:
    • The diacritic called anusvāra, (IAST: ). It is used both to indicate the nasalization of the vowel in the syllable ([◌̃] and to represent the sound of a syllabic /n/ or /m/; e.g. /pəŋ/.
    • The diacritic called visarga, represents /əh/ (IAST: ); e.g. /pəh/.
    • The diacritic called chandrabindu, not traditionally included in Devanagari charts for Sanskrit, is used interchangeably with the anusvāra to indicate nasalization of the vowel, primarily in Vedic notation; e.g. /pə̃/.
  • If a lone consonant needs to be written without any following vowel, it is given a halanta/virāma diacritic below ().
  • The vowel /aː/ in Sanskrit is realized as being more central and less back than the closest English approximation, which is /ɑː/. But the grammarians have classified it as a back vowel..
  • The ancient Sanskrit grammarians classified the vowel system as velars, retroflexes, palatals and plosives rather than as back, central and front vowels. Hence and are classified respectively as palato-velar (a+i) and labio-velar (a+u) vowels respectively. But the grammarians have classified them as diphthongs and in prosody, each is given two mātrās. This does not necessarily mean that they are proper diphthongs, but neither excludes the possibility that they could have been proper diphthongs at a very ancient stage (see above). These vowels are pronounced as long /eː/ and /oː/ respectively by learned Sanskrit Brahmans and priests of today. Other than the "four" diphthongs, Sanskrit usually disallows any other diphthong—vowels in succession, where they occur, are converted to semivowels according to sandhi rules.
  • In the Devanagari script used for Sanskrit, whenever a consonant in a word-ending position is without any virāma (freely standing in the orthography: as opposed to ), the neutral vowel schwa (/ə/) is automatically associated with it—this is of course true for the consonant to be in any position in the word. Word-ending schwa is always short. But the IAST a appended to the end of masculine noun words rather confuses the foreigners to pronounce it as /ɑː/—this makes the masculine Sanskrit words sound like feminine! e.g., shiva must be pronounced as /ɕivə/ and not as /ɕivɑː/. argues that in Vedic Sanskrit, अ indicated short /ɑ/, and became centralized and raised in the era of the Prakrits.


IAST and Devanagari notations are given, with approximate IPA values in square brackets.
The table below shows the traditional listing of the Sanskrit consonants with the (nearest) equivalents in English (as pronounced in General American and Received Pronunciation) and Spanish. Each consonant shown below is deemed to be followed by the neutral vowel schwa (/ə/), and is named in the table as such.
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1