Bharatiya sprachbund

There is a map in Franklin Southworth’s book: Linguistic Archaeology of South Asia, 2005. The two problems with the book are: belief in Aryan invasion and vedic as a post-munda phenomenon. He shows the entire north India as munda speaking area ignoring the possibility that vedic (arya vaacas, i.e., grammatically correct speech) also co-existed with mleccha vaacas.


Since what Southworth calls ‘meluhhan’ was referred to as mleccha in the Indian linguistic area and since he omits ‘vedic’, I have added VEDIC & MLECCHA on the adapted map to hypothesise on the sprachbund of Sarasvati civilization ca. 5thmillennium BCE.  

A Sprachbund (German pronunciation: [ʃpraːxbʊnt], plural Sprachbünde [ʃpraxbʏndə]
), from the German word for “language union”, also known as a linguistic area, convergence area, diffusion area orlanguage crossroads, is a group of languages that have become similar in some way because of geographical proximity and language contact In a classic 1956 paper titled "India as a Linguistic Area", [Emeneau, Murray. 1956. India as a Linguistic Area. Language 32: 3-16.] Murray Emeneau laid the groundwork for the general acceptance of the concept of a Sprachbund. In the paper, Emeneau observed that the subcontinent's Dravidian and Indo-Aryan languages shared a number of features that were not inherited from a common source, but were areal features, the result of diffusion during sustained contact. Emeneau specified the tools to establish that language and culture had fused for centuries on the Indian soil to produce an integrated mosaic of structural convergence of four distinct language families: Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Munda and Tibeto-Burman. This concept provided scholarly substance for explaining the underlying Indian-ness of apparently divergent cultural and linguistic patterns. With his further contributions, this area has now become a major field of research in language contact and convergence. [Emeneau, Murray; Dil, Anwar (1980), Language and Linguistic Area: Essays by Murray B. Emeneau, Palo Alto: Stanford University Press]South Asia is now recognized not only as a 'linguistic area', but also as a 'sociolinguistic area', a 'cultural area', and also as a 'translation area'. [unquote]

Brahmi-Bharati (Amarasimha, Amarakos'a) Mirror:

The corpus of lexemes in the Indian Lexicon provides a basis for reinforcing the linguistic area postulated by FBJ Kuiper, Colin Masica, and MB Emeneau. My hypotheses are: 1. that this linguistic area is not too far in time from the Sarasvati civilization and 2. that the corpus can be treated as a list of phonetic variants of the core sememes (meaning units, which I call semantic clusters). If so, the semantic clusters can be used to decode the Indus script which encoded speech of the civilization area on Sarasvati river basin.

Rejecting colonial constructs about Indian languages – Shishir Thadani


The following works postulate an Indian linguistic area, that is an area of ancient times when various language-speakers interacted and absorbed language features from one another and made them their own:

Emeneau, MB, India as a linguistic area, Language 32, 1956, 3-16

Kuiper, FBJ, Proto-Munda words in Sanskrit, Amsterdam, 1948

The genesis of a linguistic area, IIJ 10, 1967, 81-102

Masica, CP, Defining a Linguistic area. South Asia. Chicago: The University of Chicago

          Press, 1971

Przyludski, J., Further notes on non-aryan loans in Indo-Aryan in Bagchi, P. C. (ed.), 

Pre-Aryan and Pre-Dravidian in Sanskrit. Calcutta : University of  Calcutta 1929: 145-149

Southworth, F., Linguistic archaeology of South Asia, London, Routledge-Curzon, 2005

Ancient texts of India are replete with brilliant insights into formation and evolution of languages. Some examples are: Bharata’s Natya Shastra, Patanjali’s Mahabhashya, Hemachandra’s Deshi naamamaalaa, Nighantus, Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, Tolkappiyam – Tamil grammar. Manu (10.45) notes the linguistic area: aarya vaacas mleccha vaacas te sarve dasyuvah smrtaah [both aarya speakers and mleccha speakers (literary and colloquial dialects) are all remembered as dasyu]. Hindu civilization tradition has handed down perhaps the most ancient literary corpus of humanity with astonishing integrity – the vedic texts.

Shishir Thadani should be complimented for a lucid exposition of his thesis for rejecting the colonial constructs about the formation and evolution of bharatiya languages. (Bharati according to Amarakosha refers to the language of the people of Bharat). Some excerpts from his article follow:

…The "Indo-European" Model and Beyond

Most educated Indians know that most Indian languages are divided into two broad linguistic streams - i.e. the "Indo-European" and the "Dravidian".  Tied in with this linguistic classification is the theory that the North Indian languages came with "Aryan" settlers.  During colonial rule, it may have seemed comforting to North Indians  to know that they enjoyed a historical genetic and cultural connection with the "superior" races of  Europe who had by then come to rule much of the world.  Of  course, this provided little comfort to the South Indians who were indirectly told that their own  cultural history was inferior to that of the North because they lacked the all-important European connection. ..

ut is this classification truly "scientific" or a construct that derives more from purely political considerations as some recent critics have argued? …

Phonetically speaking, from North to South, the languages of the Indian subcontinent have more in common with each other than with any European language - (especially English  and French).

Pan-Indic Linguistic Features
Writing in Language in India (9, Jan, 2002), G. Sankaranarayanan observes how repeating words and forms is a significant feature that extends across the Indian subcontinent and includes  not only the Sanskrit and Tamil derivatives but also Munda and languages from the Tibetan-Burmese group.

While some forms of rhyming reduplication are also to be found in English such as bow-wow or willy-nilly, other types of reduplication appear to be entirely absent or very rare in English.  For instance, the expression "Ram Ram" may be used to express anguish in Hindi, but its analog "God God" or "Jesus Jesus"  would be not be idiomatic in English. Likewise Hay-re-Hay or Baap-re-Baap used to express shock or dismay would be hard to replicate in English - the latter translating to father-oh-father. 

In both Tamil and Hindi, a guest may be welcomed with the expression "va:nga va:nga" or "aiye  aiye" - i.e. "come, come" to suggest a special enthusiasm and graciousness. The correct analog for such a greeting in English might be "please do come", but not come come. Repeated words may be routinely used to designate emphasis - "piyo piyo" (drink drink) or "jaldi jaldi" (quick quick) or "dekho dekho" (look look).  Such usage is also to be found in other Asian languages such as Bahasa Indonesia where "tengo tengo" (look look) is a perfect translation of "dekho dekho". 

In other contexts a repeated word (whether noun, pronoun, adjective, adverb, or verb) acquires a special semantic significance.  

Consider the Tamil " ra:tri ra:tri  maLHai peyyutu"  (night night it rains ) meaning that it rains frequently - every night or every other night. 

Or the Hindi "apne apne vichar hain" (their their views/thoughts/opinions are) meaning that people have their own opinions. 

In the interrogative form, in Hindi one might ask "kya kya kiya" - (what what did) meaning what all did you do? Or, "kahan kahan gaye" (where where went) meaning where all did you go?

One could also repeat a verbal participle: "bolte bolte thak gaye" or "kahete kahete thak gaye"  - (talking talking got tired or telling telling got tired)  i.e (I/we) got tired telling (him/her/them) again and again.

Thus word repetition  is an economic but meaningful way of expressing varied forms of frequency, plurality or multiplicity. 

Note too that Indic languages permit the dropping of pronouns (which become implied). In the previous example both the subject (I/we) and object pronouns (him/her/them) may be dropped, but (got tired telling)  would be impermissible in English.

Another form of repetition is the use of an echo word to suggest a broader category than the word echoed. Note that the echo word may not be a word itself and its only requirement would be to partially repeat the first word.  Thus we may have "cha:y sha:y"  to suggest (tea etc),  or (tea and something with  it), or (tea or something like it). 

Or, "kuch kaam vaam kiya"  to ask if (you/he/she) did any work or anything else constructive? Here "kaam" is work but "vaam" is used  to denote something comparable in significance to work such as study or complete a chore or perform some other important task. 

Here again, we observe a linguistic feature that extends across all Indic languages (and even to other Asian languages ) and to a European non "Indo-European" language like Hungarian but is rare or entirely missing in an "Indo-European" language like English. 

Sentence Word Order
It may also be noted that across
India, both Sanskrit and Tamil derived languages use SOV (subject Object Verb) word order as a default. But several Indo-European languages such as English, French, Portuguese and Bulgarian use SVO word order.

However, in colloquial or theatrical speech, (or even in poetic/literary texts) Hindi (like Arabic) also permits VSO. Moreover, when repeated words are used all Indian languages permit the omission of the subject and the word order becomes flexible - either OV or VO.  

Word order also becomes flexible in the context of  question and answer exchanges.  Thus in Hindi "Gaye the Tum?" (Went did you?), "Tum Gaye The?"  (You went did?)  and "Tum Gaye?" (You went?) are all possible.  Replies to where did you go could be equally varied from the standard SOV  "Main Allahabad gaya tha"  (I Allahabad went) to an OVS   "Allahabad gaya tha main"  (Allahabad went I) or simply OV "Allahabad gaya tha"  (Allahabad went) or even VO "Gaya tha Allahabad" (Went Allahabad)

In this respect, Indian languages are similar to each other but not to less flexible "Indo-European" languages like English. On the other hand, Russian and Czech (like Hungarian) do  not require a fixed or default word order. 

 In conclusion, it might be stated that the present scheme of bifurcating Indian languages into the "Indo-European" and "Dravidian" scheme is unsatisfactory in many ways. Not only does it ignore vital commonalities between the languages of Northern and Southern India, it has also precluded comprehensive comparitive studies between these Indic languages and other Indic languages such as the Munda or those from the Tibetan-Burmese stream. 

Not only is the "Indo-European" classification based on very narrow grounds, it privileges an archaic oral history over later (and more important) developments when indic languages were studied systematically and formalized. Moreover, it entirely ignores the development of writing in the Indian subcontinent and also, the  linguistic exchanges  and enrichment that occurred between the Sanskrit and Tamil derived languages as well as borrowings that must have occurred between these languages and their Adivasi cousins . The classification also tends to minimize commonalities and exchanges between the Indic languages and the languages of India's  land-connected neighbors and oceanic neighbors. 

Also obscured is the scientific analysis and rational organization that went into the formalization of Sanskrit (in both spoken and written forms) and other Indic languages that created a solid  foundation for India's largely self-propelled  progress in philosophy, epistemology, law and governance, mathematics, art, theatre and music,  mathematics, and the biological and physical sciences. 

Consciously or unconsciously, the "Indo-European" scheme not only divided India from within but also set it apart from its intellectually-linked Asian brethren and oceanic neighbors in Africa 

Undoubtedly, theories such as this complemented Britain's colonial  "divide and conquer" strategy. Such disingenuous constructs (whether by accident or design) allowed the English to colonize, subjugate,  and finally loot the Indian subcontinent - not only of of its legendary wealth,  but by distorting its linguistic heritage, it also robbed the Indian people of their very essence and  self-esteem. 

It is high time that linguistic scholars in India revisit afresh this entire field and rescue it from  inappropriate and outdated colonial constructs.

About the Author
Shishir Thadani has an Undergraduate degree from IIT Delhi and a Post-Graduate degree in Computer Science  from Yale where his area of specialization included Theoretical Computer Science, the Syntax and Semantics of Computer Languages and Natural Language Processing.

Giti Thadani, who is intimately familiar with several European languages including German, French and Hungarian (as well as Sanskrit) also contributed  through several converstations with the author…


  • Certain pan-Indian aspirated consonants (dh, gh, bh etc) that are not to be found in "Indo-European"  languages such as English,   occur in some African languages and Arabic.
  • The paper “A megalithic pottery inscription and a Harappa tablet: a case of extraordinary resemblance,” published in the Journal of Tamil Studies, Volume No.71, June 2007  (amongst others) reveals startling similiarities between the Indus script and megalithic and chalcolithic  Tamil  pottery markings.

नारायणं नमस्कृत्य नरं चैव नरोत्तमम् देवीं सरस्वतीं व्यासं ततो जयमुदीरयेत् ॥ 


narayanam namaskritya naram caiva narottamam
devim sarasvatim vyasam tato jayamudirayet (MBh. mangalacarana s'loka).

1.Sarasvati -- Ravi Verma (Mysore Palace)                                   

2.Sarasvati pratima in Bhoja Raja's Dhar temple, now in British Museum. The devotees of Dhar are in a vigil to bring back the pratima and install the murti in Bhojas'aala at Dhar, Madhya Pradesh.

Museum of Fine Arts in Houston Opens Nidhika and Pershant Mehta Arts of India Gallery

Indian Shiva Nataraja, 13th century, Bronze. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; gift of Carol and Robert Straus, 73.77.  


6th Century  Sandstone  2004.1661

HOUSTON, TX. 16 May 2009- The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston opens a new permanent gallery in the Caroline Wiess Law Building dedicated to the museum´s growing Indian art collection. The Nidhika and Pershant Mehta Arts of India Gallery introduces audiences to the richness of traditional Indian art and bridges the past with the present by also including modern and contemporary examples.

The only space in Houston devoted to Indian arts and culture, this gallery features outstanding examples of painting, sculpture, and photography spanning more than 2,500 years of cultural history. Approximately 100 artworks are presented, transcending time and geographical boundaries. Framing the objects though the historical context of the great Empires of India, the gallery offers educational didactics and labels emphasizing the global trade contacts of ancient and medieval India that continue today.

Among the ancient works on display are the extraordinary grey schist, 2nd—3rd century Bodhisattva from ancient Gandhara (now Pakistan); the beautiful 6th-century, Gupta period sandstone sculpture depicting the Hindu goddess Sarasvati; and two spectacular bronze sculptures from the Chola dynasty: an 11th-century Parvati and 13th-century Shiva Nataraja. The rich and diverse genres of Indian painting are also represented. Works from a number of different regions depict varied scenes, from the daily life of the Mughal court to tales from the ancient, epic books of the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

A great range of modern and contemporary works explores the current art scene in India, which is informed by the political, economic, social, and physical landscape. Visitors will see a sculpture by Subodh Gupta on loan from a private collection as well as MFAH works from established and emergent contemporary artists, such as photographs by Dayanita Singh and an installation work by Shilpa Gupta.

The museum plans to increase its collection of Indian art significantly, and the Nidhika and Pershant Mehta Arts of India Gallery is pivotal to this development. By expanding the number of works exhibited together, the museum is better able to identify the need for particular acquisitions and strengthen the collection as a whole. Through this ambitious initiative, the MFAH is poised to become a preeminent center in the United States for the study and appreciation of Indian art.


Sarasvati in Bauddham Mahayana tradition

Benzaiten; sarasvati in Japan

Dharmarthakamamoksanam upades'a samanvitam, purvavrtta kathayuktam itihasam pracakshate  
[Source: Mahabharata, Chitrasala Press Edn.; the s'loka is cited in V.S. Apte's The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Revised and enlarged edn., Prasad Prakasan, Puna, 1957, and also occurs in Visnu-dharma, 3/15/1.]

Trans. Itihasa is narration of happenings of the past combined with guidance (for future action) to protect dharma, artha, kaama, moksha (purushartha or goals of life).

The narration is multi-dimensional as in the two models of Itihasa in Hindu civilization tradition: Ramayana and Mahabharata -- in chronological sequence; the dating is based on astronomical data providing for astonishing accuracy in the accounting for facts of the past.

Sarasvati, Fatehpur Sikri, 1010 CE
Sarasvati 12th c. CE, Hoysala Halebidu, Karnataka
Sarasvati, Chahman, 12th c. CE, Pallu, Rajasthan
Sarasvati, Somanathapura, 13th cent. CE (2 murti-s) [quote] Keshava Temple, Somnathpur
Sarasvati plays the vina; additional arms bear an elephant goad (ankusha, middle right arm), rosary (upper right arm), and book (upper left arm). (Her) fingers and thumbs are heavily beringed. Her vina and book, the latter usually interpreted as a copy of the Vedas, establishes Sarasvati as goddess of poetry and the arts [unquote]

Vaak, vaacas + devi = vaagdevi