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Indian Lexicon


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									Trials, tribulations & triumph of a cultural archeaologist
by V SUNDARAM, 16 and 17 August 2006, NewsToday

   Barbara Tuchman, the great American woman historian rightly observes: Books are the carriers of
civilization. Without books history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a
standstill. Without books, the development of civilisation would have been impossible. They are agents of
change, windows on the world, lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers,
magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.

   These instructive and inspiring words are wholly applicable to 'AN ETYMOLOGICAL DICTIONARY OF
SOUTH ASIAN LANGUAGES' by Dr S Kalyanaraman and published by Asian Development Bank,
Manila, Philippines. In more senses than one this is a landmark book in the world of languages, linguistics
and culture. This book is a Multilanguage historical and cultural dictionary of South Asia; it is a lexicon; it
is an encyclopaedia. To quote his own words: This is a comparative dictionary covering all the languages
of South Asia (which may also be referred to, in a geographical/historical sense as the Indian sub-
continent ). This dictionary seeks to establish a semantic concordance, across the languages of
numeraire facile of the South Asian sub-continent : from Brahui to Santali to Bengali, from Kashmiri to
Mundarica to Sinhalece, from Marathi to Hindi to Nepali, from Sindhi or Panjabi or Urdu to Tamil. A
semantic structure binds the languages of South Asia, which may have diverged morphologically or
phonologically as evidenced in the oral tradition of Vedic texts, or epigraphy, literary works or lexicons of
the historical periods. This dictionary, therefore goes beyond, the commonly held belief of an Indo-
European language and is anchored on proto-South Asian sememes.

Dr S Kalyanaraman             The great pioneering Indologist Sir William Jones, founder of the Asiatic
Society of Bengal in 1783, pronounced with authority the underlying genetic relationship between the
classical languages, Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit in his third Annual Discourse to the Asiatic Society of
Bengal on the History and Culture of the Hindus in February 1786 when he made the following epoch-
making observation: 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 a common source, which perhaps, no longer exists;
there is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothic and the Celtic,
though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanskrit; and the old Persian
might be added to the same family.

  Long before Sir William Jones in 1786, the 16th century Italian scholar Sassetti apparently studied
Sanskrit calling it 'a pleasant musical language' and uniting Deo with Deva. In the 17 century, the Dutch
protestant missionary, Abraham Rogerius, published in 1651 the translation of Bhartrihari in Europe for
the first time. So we find many Catholic missionaries of South India, French and Belgian, studying a little
Sanskrit, and mixing with Tamil, producing the faked Ezour Vedam , the target of Voltaire's criticism; and
Anquitil du Perron, visiting India before Sir William Jones, provoked the latter's sarcastic criticism of
premature handling of Sanskrit texts. As early as 1725 we find the German missionary (translator of

the Bible into Tamil) Benjamin Schultze emphasising the similarity between the numerals of Sanskrit,
German and Latin.

   Another remarkable Englishman, Horne Tooke, in his 'Diversions of Purley ' in 1786 anticipated Bopp
and other pioneers of Comparative Grammar. The German traveller, Pallas, worked out the project of the
mathematician-philopher Leibniz (1646 - 1716) and published 'Comparative Vocabularies of all the
Languages of the World' in 1787. This uncritical work was soon superseded by the German grammarian-
philosopher Adelung's Mithridates or General Science of Languages, published in four volumes between
1806 and 1817.

   Dr S Kalyanaraman legitimately belongs to this great tradition of philologists and lexicographers,
dictionary-compilers, etymologists, scholars and savants. He has compiled this unique, multilingual
dictionary of the Dravidian, Arian and Mundarica language families which he took 18 years to complete. It
has been published in three volumes, running to over 2000 pages with nearly 5 lakh words from over 25
ancient languages. This work covers over 8000 semantic clusters which span and bind the South Asian
Languages. The basic finding is that thousands of terms of the Vedas, the Munda languages (eg.Santali,
Mundarica, Sora), the so-called Dravidian languages and the so-called Indo-Aryan languages have
common roots. This dictionary called Indian Lexicon has also been made available on the internet. He
declares with humility: The author assumes full responsibility for the semantic and etymological
judgements made and the errors that might have crept in with thousands of database iterations in
organizing the semantic clusters found in the word lists (the lexicon includes over half-a-million Indian
words). The author hopes that with the impossibility of 'dating' the origin of a word, all its inherent
limitations, the omissions, intentional or otherwise and errors that will in due course be pointed out by
scholars specialized in their fields, the Indian Lexicon will be a tentative, but bold start of a skeleton
dictionary of the Indian linguistic area ca. 3000 B.C. and will be expanded further to include modern

   Dr S Kalyanaraman was born on 20 October 1939. His mother tongue is Tamil. But all his school and
under graduate education was in Telugu and Sanskrit in Andhra Pradesh. He is conversant with Tamil,
Telugu, Kannada, Hindi and Sanskrit languages. He graduated from Annamalai University in Economics
and Statistics. He has a Doctorate in Public Administration from the University of the Philippines and
his thesis Public Administration in Asia, a comparative study of development administration in six Asian
countries: India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines. He joined the Asian
Development bank in 1978. Earlier he was a Member of the Indian Railway Accounts Service from 1962.

   During the last 11 years, starting from 1995, he has been working on Sarasvati River Research Project
through his Sarasvati Sindhu Research Centre in Chennai. Ever since his return to India in 1995 and his
presentation of a paper in the 10th World Sanskrit Conference on his research findings, he has devoted
himself to promoting projects for the revival of the Sarasvati River.

  Apart from the massive multilingual dictionary of South Asian languages, Dr Kalyanaraman has also
authored several volumes on Sarasvati Culture and Civilisation. His other notable work is Indian
Alchemy: Soma in the Veda. He has also contributed to Professor Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya's multi-

volume work on History of Science and Technology in Ancient India

   To return to Dr Kalyanaraman's Multilingual Etymological Dictionary of South Asian languages once
again. The history of civilization is more than a tally of our dynasties, governments, wars, class struggles
and cultural movements. Dr Kalyanaraman proves through this book that it is also the story of how human
beings in the South Asian Region have learned to develop and operate systems of reference and
information retrieval that are external to the brain. According to current estimates, Homo has been in
existence for about 2 million years, although it may not have become Sapiens till around 100,000 years
ago. If this estimate is reliable, then for 99.75% of the existence of the species Homo and for some 95%
of the time that it has been Sapiens, there were no external systems at all. The brain with its erratic
memory was the only apparatus available for knowing, referring and recording and that was the natural
state of things. The bulk of our ancestors would have found anything else unimaginable, and for some
aboriginal peoples today, in remote areas, this statement still holds true.

  This Etymological Dictionary clearly brings out the fact that language in the region which Dr
Kalyanaraman has covered has been the master tool which man, in his endless adventure after
knowledge and power, has shaped for himself, and which, in its turn, has shaped the human mind as we
see it and know it. It has continuously extended and conserved the store of knowledge upon which
mankind has drawn. It has furnished the starting point of all our science. In this context the great words of
L.S.Amery come to my mind: 'Language has been the instrument of social cohesion and of moral law,
and through it human society has developed and found itself. Language, indeed, has been the soul of

   We learn from Dr.Kayanaraman's Himalayan effort that language is the most massive and inclusive art
we know, a mountainous and anonymous works of unconscious generations. Language exists to
communicate whatever it can communicate. Language is itself the collective art of expression, a summary
of thousands upon thousands of individual intuitions. George Steiner in his great work Language and
Silence observed: 'Languages code immemorial reflexes and twists of feeling, remembrances of action
that transcend individual recall, contours of communal experience as subtly decisive as the contours of
sky and land in which a civilization ripens. Any outsider can master a language as a rider masters his
mount; he rarely becomes as one with its undefined, subterranean motion'. Eros and Language mesh at
every point. Intercourse and discourse, copula and copulation, are sub-classes of the dominant fact of

   As a learned and dedicated etymologist, Dr Kalyanaraman finds the deadest word in the South Asian
Region to have been once a brilliant picture. We are delighted to learn at his feet that every language is
indeed fossil poetry.

'One goes to the potter for pots, but not to the grammarian for words. Language is already there among
the people'

-Patanjali in Mahabhashya


by Asian Development Bank, Manila, Philippines, Dr S Kalyanaraman states: 'In philology, as in
archaeology, the search for 'truth' is an extension of a researcher's imagination. Imagination is not an act
of faith, but a statement of hypothesis based on relational entities in linguistic structures identified through
painstaking lexical work. Two such entities in linguistic structures are: morpheme and sememe which bind
an etymological group. Sememe may be defined as a phoneme imbued with 'meaning'. Morpheme is
defined as a 'meaningful' linguistic unit. Sememe constitutes the semantic substratum of a morpheme or
simply, 'meaning'. What is 'meaning'? It is a concept closely linked to a social compact for inter-personal
communication. The 'private language' of a speaker's brain (with 'personal' experiences embedded in
neutral networks) is revealed through sounds uttered by the speaker. Language is formed if these uttered
sounds echo the 'private language' of a listener. Such an echo constitutes meaning or the semantic sub-
structure of a language. Sememes are the basic semantic structural units of a language which combine to
yield morphemes or words. A sememe can, for example, be distinguished from a phoneme or a gesture
which does not communicate a message in a social compact. Only those uttered sounds which are heard
and accepted in a social compact can constitute the repertoire of a language. Sememes (or, dhatupada' )
are given a variety of phonemic and morphological forms in the lingua franca to constitute semantic
expressions, or the vocabulary of an evolving and growing civilization'.

   Ramana Maharishi asked the question: 'Who am I?' Likewise Dr S Kalyanaraman asks the
introspective question: 'What is the justification for this comparative etymological dictionary of South
Asian languages currently spoken by over a billion people of the world?' He says that an answer can be
given at a number of levels:

   1) The paramount need to bring people closer to ancient heritage of South Asian language family of
which the extant South Asian languages (Indo-Aryan, Dravidian and Munda language streams ) are but
dialectical forms.
   2) There is an imperative international public need to generate further studies in the disciplines of a)
South Asian archaeology, b) general semantics and comparative linguistics , c) design of fifth-generation
computer systems
   3) There is a need to provide a basis for further studies in grammatical philosophy and neurosciences
on the formation of semantic patterns or structures in the human brain?? neurosciences related to the
study of linguistic competence which seems to set apart the humans from other living beings.

   Finally Dr Kalyanaraman declares with magisterial clarity: 'The urgent warrant for my etymological
dictionary is the difficulty faced by scholars in collating different lexicons and in obtaining works such as
CDIAL (A Comparative Dictionary of Indo-Aryan Languages) even in eminent libraries. In tracing the
etyma (literally meaning truth in Greek) of the South Asian languages, it is adequate to indicate the word
forms which can be traced into the mists of history'.

   Dr Kalyanaraman's Dictionary deals with more than 8000 semantic clusters relating to the South Asian
Languages. Overarching this vast region??in geographical, linguistic and cultural terms??there is an areal
'South Asian Language Type'. Dr.Kalyanaraman seeks to prove this fact by establishing a semantic
concordance among the so called Indo-Aryan, Dravidian and Munda languages. This area covers a
geographical region bounded by the Indian Ocean on the south and the mountain ranges which insulate it
from other regions of the Asian Continent on the north, east and west.

  The semantic clustering attempted by Dr.Kalyanaraman in this Dictionary rests on the following

  1 It is possible to reconstruct a proto-South Asian idiom or lingua franca of circa the centuries traversed
by the Indus Valley Civilization (C.2500 to 1700 BC)
  2 South Asia is a linguistic area nursed in the cradle of the Indus Valley Civilization.

   Operating within this framework, Dr Kalyanaraman summarily rejects the two long standing and earlier
   a) Sir William Jones's assertion in 1786 of an Indo-European
Linguistic Family
   b) F W Ellis's assertion in 1816 of a southern family of languages.

   This cleavage was mischievously created by the Colonial British Rulers as a part of their strategy of
Divide and Rule. Dr Kalyanaraman also dismisses the exclusion of the so-called Austro-Asiatic or Munda
(or Kherwari) languages. His thesis is that there was a proto-South Asian Linguistic area (C 2500 BC)
which included these three language groups. His underlying assumption is that the so-called Dravidian,
Munda and Aryan Languages can be traced to an ancient South Asian Family by establishing the unifying
elements in semantic terms. This is in keeping with the views of G.U.Pope in another context: ..that
between the languages of Southern India and those of the Aryan family there are many deeply seated
and radical affinities; that the differences between the Dravidian tongues and the Aryan are not as great
as that between the Celtic for instance and the Sanskrit. It is in this spirit that Dr Kalyanaraman has
dedicated this great dictionary to Panini and Tolkappiyan.

   Reading this fascinating book, we understand that each language is only in part an individual
instrument. It is in the main, a community instrument used for community purposes. As such each
language tends to launch out on a career of its own, to which individuals contribute very much as the
coral insect contributes to the growth of a coral reef or island. The essence of language lies in the
intentional conveyance of ideas from one living being to another through the instrumentality of arbitrary
tokens or symbols agreed upon and understood by both as being associated with the particular ideas
in question. In short language in this world is for keeping things safe in their places. Martin Heidegger
rightly says that language is the house of being.

   Words are but the signs and counters of knowledge, and their currency should be strictly regulated by
the capital which they represent. The finest words in the world are only vain sounds, if you cannot
comprehend. Words, when written, crystallize history; their very structure gives permanence to the
unchangeable past. Francis Bacon said; 'men suppose their reason has command over their words;
still it happens that words in return exercise authority on reason'. Words may be either servants or
masters. If they are servants, they may safely guide us in the way of truth. If they become our masters,
they intoxicate the brain and lead into swamps of confused thoughts where there is no solid footing.

   Language is the amber in which thousands of precious thoughts have been safely embedded and
preserved. It has arrested thousands of lightening-flashes of genius, which, unless thus fixed and
arrested, might have been as bright, but would have also been as quickly passing and perishing as the
lightning. Samuel Taylor Coleridge rightly observes: 'Language is the armoury of the human mind; and at

once contains the trophies of its past, and the weapons of its future conquests'.

  We can infer the spirit of a nation in great measure from the language, which is a sort of monument to
which each forcible individual in a course of many hundred years of social history has contributed a stone.
And, universally, a good example of this social force is the veracity of language, which cannot be
debauched. In this context Ralph Waldo Emerson rightly sums up: 'In any controversy concerning morals,
an appeal may be made with safety to the sentiments which the language of the people expresses.
Proverbs, words and grammar-inflections convey the public sense with more purity and precision than the
wisest individual'.

   Language contains so faithful a record of the good and of the evil which in time past have been working
in the minds and hearts of men, we shall not err, if we regard it as a moral barometer indicating and
permanently marking the rise or fall of a nation's life. No wonder Noah Webster in his Preface to the great
AMERICAN DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLIGH LANGUAGE wrote in 1828: 'Language is the expression of
ideas; and if the people of our country cannot preserve an identity of ideas, they cannot retain an identity
of language'.

   Viewed in this light language is the most valuable single possession of the human race. Man does not
live on bread alone: his other indispensable necessity is communication. We shall never approach a
complete understanding of the nature of language, so long as we confine our attention to its intellectual
function as a means of communicating thought. Language is a form of human reason, which has its
reasons which are unknown to man. The mastery over reality, both technical and social, grows side by
side with the knowledge of how to use a language?more particularly words. A word is not a crystal,
transparent and unchanging. In all senses it is the skin of living thought.

   I enjoyed reading this Dictionary by Dr Kalyanaraman. I would pay my tribute to his work in the words
of W H Auden: 'Though a work of literature can be read in a number of ways, this number is finite and can
be arranged in a hierarchical order; some readings are obviously 'truer' than others, some doubtful, some
obviously false and some absurd. That is why, for a desert island, one would choose a good dictionary,
rather than the greatest literary masterpiece imaginable, for, in relation to its reader, a dictionary is
absolutely passive and may legitimately be read in an infinite number of ways.'



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