Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …

Open Linguistics

Editor-in-Chief: Ehrhart, Sabine

Covered by:
Elsevier - SCOPUS
Clarivate Analytics - Emerging Sources Citation Index

CiteScore 2018: 0.70

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.288
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.544

Open Access
See all formats and pricing
More options …

Linguistic Paradox and Diglossia: the emergence of Sanskrit and Sanskritic language in Ancient India

Jan E.M. Houben
Published Online: 2018-05-17 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2018-0001


“We know that Middle Indian (Middle Indo-Aryan) makes its appearance in epigraphy prior to Sanskrit: this is the great linguistic paradox of India.” In these words Louis Renou (1956: 84) referred to a problem in Sanskrit studies for which so far no satisfactory solution had been found. I will here propose that the perceived “paradox” derives from the lack of acknowledgement of certain parameters in the linguistic situation of Ancient India which were insufficiently appreciated in Renou’s time, but which are at present open to systematic exploration with the help of by now well established sociolinguistic concepts, notably the concept of “diglossia”. Three issues will here be addressed in the light of references to ancient and classical Indian texts, Sanskrit and Sanskritic. A simple genetic model is indadequate, especially when the ‘linguistic area’ applies also to what can be reconstructed for earlier periods. The so-called Sanskrit “Hybrids” in the first millennium CE, including the Prakrits and Epics, are rather to be regarded as emerging “Ausbau” languages of Indo-Aryan with hardly any significant mutual “Abstand” before they will be succesfully “roofed,” in the second half of the first millennium CE, by “classical” Sanskrit.

Keywords: Sanskrit; Prakrit; sociolinguistics; “Hybrid” Sanskrit; Old Persian; diglossia; emerging languages


  • Allieres, Jacques. 1998. Review of Morvan 1996. Lapurdum: Basque studies review, 1998 Numéro III.IV recensions, informations: 315-317.Google Scholar

  • Bloch, Jules. 1950. Les Inscriptions d’Aśoka, traduites et commentées. Paris: Société d’édition Les Belles Lettres.Google Scholar

  • Burling, Robbins. 1964. “Cognition and Componential Analysis: God’s Truth or Hocus-Pocus.” American Anthropologist 66: 20-28.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Calvet, Louis-Jean. 1998. La sociolinguistique. 3e édition corrigée. (Série: Que sais-je?) Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.Google Scholar

  • Cohen, Marcel. 1956. Pour une sociologie du langage. Paris: Albin Michel.Google Scholar

  • Damsteegt, Theo. 1978. Epigraphical Hybrid Sanskrit: its Rise, Spread, Characteristics and Relationship to Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit. Leiden: E.J. Brill.Google Scholar

  • De, Sushil Kumar. 1960. History of Sanskrit Poetics. Second rev. edition. Calcutta: Mukhopadhyay.Google Scholar

  • Deshpande, Madhav M. 1985. “Sanskrit grammarians on Diglossia.” In: South Asian Language: Structure, Convergence and Diglossia (ed. by Bh. Krishnamurti): 312-321. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.Google Scholar

  • Deshpande, Madhav M. 1993. Sanskrit and Prakrit. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.Google Scholar

  • Deshpande, Madhav M. 2006. “Aryan origins: Brief History of the Linguistic Arguments.” In: India: Historical Beginnings and the Concept of the Aryan (by R. Thapar, J.M. Kenoyer, M. Deshpande, S. Ratnagar): 98-156. New Delhi: National Book Trust.Google Scholar

  • Devlin, Hannah. 2017. “Much ado about Nothing: Ancient Indian Text Contains Earliest Zero Symbol.” The Guardian.Google Scholar

  • Driem, George van. 2001. Languages of the Himalayas (2 vols.). Leiden: E.J. Brill.Google Scholar

  • Durkheim, Émile. 1895. Les regles de la méthode sociologique. (First appeared in Revue philosophique in the form of four articles in 1893 vols. XXXVII May and June ; and in 1894 XXXVIII July and August) Paris: Félix Alcan.Google Scholar

  • Edgerton, Franklin. 1953. Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, Grammar and Dictionary. Vol. I (Grammar), Vol. II (Dictionary). New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar

  • Eltschinger, Vincent. 2017. “Why did the Buddhists adopt Sanskrit?” Open Linguistics; 3: 308-326.Google Scholar

  • Emeneau, Murray. 1956. “India as a linguistic area.” Language 32: 3-16.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Farmer, Steve, Richard Sproat, Michael Witzel. 2004. “The Collapse of the Indus-Script Thesis: The Myth of a Literate Harappan Civilization.” Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, 11-2: 19-57.Google Scholar

  • Ferguson, Charles A. 1959. “Diglossia.” Word 15: 325-340.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Goossens, Jan. 1985. “Herauslösung und Herausbildung des Niederländischen.” Entstehung von Sprachen und Völkern: Glotto- und Ethnogenetische Aspekte europäischer Sprachen (ed. P.S. Ureland): 287-304. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer.Google Scholar

  • Hahn, Michael. 2012. “Der Bhāṣāśleṣa - eine Besonderheit kaschmirischer Dichter und Poetiker?” In: Highland Philology: Results of a Text-Related Kashmir Panel at the 31st DOT, Marburg 2010 (ed. R. Steiner): 77-105.Google Scholar

  • Harris, Zellig S. 1951. Methods in Structural Linguistics. Chicago: Chicago Univ. Press.Google Scholar

  • Hayashi, Takao. 1995. The Bakhshālī Manuscript: an Ancient Indian Mathematical Treatise. Groningen: Egbert Forsten.Google Scholar

  • Herrenschmitt, Clarisse & Jean Kellens. 1993. “*Daiva.” Encyclopaedia Iranica, 6: 599-602.Google Scholar

  • Hinüber, Oskar von. 1986. Das ältere Mittelindisch im Überblick. Wien: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. [See now also: id., 2. erweiterte Auflage. Wien: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2001.]Google Scholar

  • Hock, Hans Heinrich, and Rajeshwari Pandharipande. 1976. “The sociolinguistic position of Sanskrit in Pre-Muslim South-Asia.” Studies in Language Learning, vol. 1, no. II: 105-138.Google Scholar

  • Houben, J.E.M. 1993. “Bhartṛhari en de structuur van het Sanskrit: ‘God’s truth’ of ‘hocus pocus’?” [in Dutch] In: Nieuwe wegen in taal- en literatuurwetenschap: Handelingen van het Eenenveertigste Filologencongres ( Proceedings of the 41st Congress of Philologists, Tilburg, 15 December 1990): 143-158. Tilburg: Tilburg University Press.Google Scholar

  • Houben, Jan E.M. 1995. The Saṁbandha-samuddeśa (chapter on relation) and Bhartṛhari’s philosophy of language. Groningen: Egbert Forsten.Google Scholar

  • Houben, Jan E.M. 1996a. “Socio-linguistic attitudes reflected in the work of Bhartṛhari and later Grammarians.” In: Ideology and Status of Sanskrit (ed. J.E.M. Houben): 157-193. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996.Google Scholar

  • Houben, Jan E.M. 1996b. “Introduction: Towards a Social History of the Sanskrit Language.” In: Ideology and Status of Sanskrit (ed. J.E.M. Houben): 1-13. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996.Google Scholar

  • Houben, Jan E.M. 1997. “Bhartṛhari’s Perspectivism (1): The Vṛtti and Bhartṛhari’s perspectivism in the first Kāṇḍa of the Vākyapadīya.” In: Beyond Orientalism: the impact of the work of W. Halbfass on Indian and cross-cultural studies (ed. by K. Preisendanz and E. Franco): 317-358. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1997.Google Scholar

  • Houben, Jan E.M. 2008. “Bhaṭṭoji Dīkṣita’s ‘small step’ for a Grammarian and ‘Giant Leap’ for Sanskrit Grammar.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 36 (2008) : 563-574.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Houben, Jan E.M. 2009. “Bhartṛhari as a ‘cognitive linguist’.” In: Bhartṛhari: Language, Thought and Reality (Proceedings of the International Seminar, Delhi, December 12-14, 2003) (ed. by M. Chaturvedi) : 523-543. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.Google Scholar

  • Houben, Jan E.M. 2011. “Vedic ritual as medium in ancient and pre-colonial South Asia: its expansion and survival between orality and writing.” In: Travaux de Symposium International “Le Livre. La Roumanie. L’Europe.” Troisieme édition - 20 a 24 septembre 2010, Section IIIA: Veda-Vedāṅga et Avesta entre Oralité et Écriture (ed. by J.E.M. Houben et J. Rotaru): 147-183. Bucarest: Bibliotheque de Bucarest.Google Scholar

  • Houben, Jan E.M. 2014. “A Tradiçao Sânscrita entre Memética Védica e Cultura Literária.” (in Portuguese) Linguagem & Ensino, v.17, n.2, p. 441-469, maio/ago.Google Scholar

  • Houben, Jan E.M. 2016. “From Fuzzy-Edged ‘Family-Veda’ to the Canonical Śākhas of the Catur-Veda: Structures and Tangible Traces.” In: Vedic Śākhās: Past, Present, Future. Proceedings of the Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest 2011, sous la dir. de J.E.M. Houben, J. Rotaru and M. Witzel, p. 159-192. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University.Google Scholar

  • Houben, J.E.M., and Saraju Rath. 2012. “Manuscript Culture and its impact in ‘India’: Contours and Parameters.” In: Aspects of Manuscript Culture in South India, ed. by S. Rath: 1-53. Leiden: E.J. Brill.Google Scholar

  • Householder, Fred W. Jr. Review of Z.S. Harris 1951. International Journal of American Linguistics 18 (1952). 260-268.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Ingalls, Daniel H.H. 1989. “Ānandavardhana’s Devīśataka.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 109.4: 565-575.Google Scholar

  • Jamison, Stephanie, and Joel Brereton. 2014. The Rigveda: the earliest religious poetry of India. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

  • Joshi, S.D. 1989. “Patanjali’s views on Apaśabdas.” In: Dialectes dans les littératures indo-aryennes (ed. C. Caillat): 267-274. Paris: Institut de Civilisation Indienne.Google Scholar

  • Joshi, S.D., and J.A.F. Roodbergen. 1986. Patanjali’s Vyākaraṇa-Mahābhāṣya. Paspaśāhnika. Edited with Translation and Explanatory Notes. Pune: University of Poona.Google Scholar

  • Kaldewaij, Jelle. 1986. “Structuralisme en transformationeel generatieve grammatica: continuiteiten en discontinuiteiten in de twintigste eeuwse taalkunde - Structuralism and Transformational Generative Grammar: Continuities and discontinuities in twentieth century linguistics (in Dutch; summary in English).” Dissertation Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht.Google Scholar

  • Kalyanaraman, S. 2016. Harappa Script & Language: Data mining of corpora, tantra yukti and knowledge discovery of a civilization. Herndon, VA: Sarasvati Research Center.Google Scholar

  • Kane, Pandurang Vaman. 1971. History of Sanskrit Poetics. 4th rev. edition. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.Google Scholar

  • Kaye, G.R. 1927. The Bakhshālī Manuscript: A Study in Mediaeval Mathematics. Calcutta: Government of India, Central Publication Branch.Google Scholar

  • Keith, Arthur Berriedale. 1908. Śāṅkhāyana-Āraṇyaka, with an appendix on the Mahāvrata. London: The Royal Asiatic Society.Google Scholar

  • Keith, Arthur Berriedale. 1909. Aitareya Āraṇyaka: Introduction, Translation, Notes, Indexes and an appendix containing the portion hitherto unpublished of the Śāṅkhāyana Āraṇyaka. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar

  • Keith, Arthur Berriedale. 1914. The Veda of the Black Yajus School entitled Taittirīya Sanhitā, Pts. I-II. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

  • Keith, Arthur Berriedale. 1924. Sanskrit Drama in its Origin, Development, Theory and Practice. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

  • Kent, Roland G. 1950. Old Persian. Grammar, Texts, Lexicon. New Haven: American Oriental Society.Google Scholar

  • Kiparsky, Paul. 1979. Pāṇini as a Variationist. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.Google Scholar

  • Koerner, E.F.K. 1997. “Notes on the history of the concept of language as a system ‘ou tout se tient’.” Linguistica atlantica 18/19 (1996/1997): 1-20.Google Scholar

  • Kloss, Heinz. 1967. “’Abstand languages’ and ‘Ausbau languages’.” Anthropological Linguistics 9, no. 7: 29-41.Google Scholar

  • Kuiper, F.B.J. 1968. “The genesis of a linguistic area.” Indo-Iranian Journal 10: 81-102.Google Scholar

  • Labov, William. 1994. Principles of Linguistic Change. Volume I. Internal Factors. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar

  • Lévi, Sylvain. 1915. “Sur la récitation primitive des textes bouddhiques.” Journal Asiatique, 11e série, tome 5: 401-447.Google Scholar

  • Lewis, M. Paul. 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com/.Google Scholar

  • Lienhard, Siegfried. 1984. A History of Classical Poetry: Sanskrit - Pali - Prakrit. (A History of Indian Literature, 3, 1.) Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.Google Scholar

  • Lin, Li-Kouang. 1949. Introduction au Compendium de la Loi (Dharma-Samuccaya): L’Aide-mémoire de la Vraie Loi (Saddharma-smṛty-upasthāna-sūtra). Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve.Google Scholar

  • Mahadevan, Iravatham. 2002. “Aryan or Dravidian or Neither? A Study of Recent Attempts to Decipher the Indus Script.” Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, 8-1: 1-19.Google Scholar

  • Mayrhofer, Manfred. 1951. Handbuch des Pāli, mit Texten und Glossar: eine Einleitung in das sprachwissenschaftliche Studium des mittelindischen. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.Google Scholar

  • Meillet, Antoine. 1908. Les Dialectes Indo-européens. Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion.Google Scholar

  • Meillet, Antoine. 1921. Linguistique historique et linguistique générale. Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion.Google Scholar

  • Meillet, Antoine. 1936. Linguistique historique et linguistique générale, Tome II. Paris: Librairie C. Klincksieck.Google Scholar

  • Morvan, Michel. 1996. Les Origines Linguistiques du Basque. Bordeau: Presses Universitaires.Google Scholar

  • Muljačič, Žarko. 1986. “L’enseignement de Heinz Kloss (modifications, implications, perspectives).” Langages, No. 83, Glottopolitique (Septembre 86): 53-63.Google Scholar

  • Muljačič, Žarko. 1989. “The emergence of the Florentine > Italian language.” Synchronic and diachronic approaches to linguistic variation and change; Georgetown University round table on languages and linguistics, 1988 (ed. J. Walsh): 221-226. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.Google Scholar

  • Muljačič, Žarko. 1993. “Standardization in Romance.” Bilingualism and Linguistic Conflict in Romance (Trends in Romance Linguistics and Philology, vol. 5) (ed. R. Posner & J. N. Green): 77-116.Google Scholar

  • Ollet, Andrew. 2017. Prakrit, Sanskrit and the Language Order of Premodern India. Oakland: University of California Press.Google Scholar

  • Parpola, Asko. 1994. Deciphering the Indus Script. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Parpola, Asko. 2015. The Roots of Hinduism: The Early Aryans and the Indus Civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

  • Parpola, Asko and Simo. 1975. “On the relationship of the Sumerian Toponym Meluḫḫa and Sanskrit Mleccha.” Studia Orientalia, 46: 205-238.Google Scholar

  • Peeters, Bert. 2001. “Does Cognitive Linguistics Live up to its Name?” Language and Ideology: vol. 1: Theoretical cognitive approaches (eds. R. Dirven, B. Hawkins, E. Sandikcioglu): 83-106. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar

  • Pinchard, Alexis. 2009. Les langues de sagesse dans la Grece et l’Inde anciennes. (École Pratique des Hautes Études, Sciences historiques et philologiques - III. Hautes Etudes du monde gréco-romain, 43.) Geneve-Paris: Droz.Google Scholar

  • Pinault, Georges-Jean. 2002. “Tocharian and Indo-Iranian: Relations between two linguistic areas.” In: Indo-Iranian Languages and Peoples (ed. by N. Sims-Williams): 243-284. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

  • Plofker, Kim, Agathe Keller, Takao Hayashi, Clemency Montelle, and Dominik Wujastyk. 2017. “The Bakhshālī Manuscript: A Response to the Bodleian Library’s Radiocarbon Dating.” History of Science in South Asia, 5.1: 134-150.Google Scholar

  • Pollock, Sheldon. 2006. The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture and Power in Premodern India. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.Google Scholar

  • Possehl, Gregory. 1996. Indus Age: The Writing System. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar

  • Renou, Louis. 1956. Histoire de la Langue Sanskrite. Lyon: Editions IAC.Google Scholar

  • Renou, Louis. 1957a. “Introduction générale” (trad. du “Einleitung” de J. Wackernagel, mise a jour, annotée). J. Wackernagel, Altindische Grammatik. Band I. Lautlehre. New Edition. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht.Google Scholar

  • Renou, Louis. 1957b. Hymnes spéculatifs du Veda. Paris: Gallimard.Google Scholar

  • Robert, Jean-Noël. 2012. Japanese Hieroglossia. (Trad.: Liz Libbrecht) Paris: College de France. (http://books.openedition.org/cdf/3101, acc. 30-11-2016)Google Scholar

  • Salomon, Richard. 1989. “Linguistic variability in post-Vedic Sanskrit.” 275-. In: Dialectes dans les littératures indo-aryennes (ed. C. Caillat): 275-294. Paris: Institut de Civilisation Indienne.Google Scholar

  • Salomon, Richard. 1998. Indian Epigraphy: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the other Indo-Aryan Languages. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

  • Salomon, Richard. 2001. “ ‘Gāndhārī Hybrid Sanskrit’: New Sources for the Study of the Sanskritization of Buddhist Literature.” Indo-Iranian Journal 44 (3): 241-252.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1916. Cours de Linguistique Generale. Geneva.Google Scholar

  • Scharfe, Hartmut. 1977. Grammatical Literature. (A History of Indian Literature, 5, 2.) Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.Google Scholar

  • Scharfe, Hartmut. 2002. Education in Ancient India. Leiden: E.J. Brill.Google Scholar

  • Schmitt, Rüdiger. 1967. Dichtung und Dichtersprache in indogermanischer Zeit. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.Google Scholar

  • Schmitt, Rüdiger. 2009. Die altpersischen Inschriften der Achaimeniden: editio minor mit deutscher Übersetzung. Wiesbaden: Reichert. Google Scholar

  • Śivadatta and Vāsudeva Lakṣmaṇ Śāstrī Paṇaśīkar. 1916. Kāvyamālā (Collection of old and rare Kāvyas ...etc.), Pt. 9. Bombay: Nirnaya Sagar.Google Scholar

  • Smith, Helmer. 1954. Analecta Rhythmica. Studia Orientalia (edidit Societas Orientalis Fennica) XIX: 7, 3-17.Google Scholar

  • Spence, N.C.W. 1957. “A hardy perennial: the problem of la langue and la parole.” Archivum Linguisticum 9: 1-27.Google Scholar

  • Swennen, Philippe. 2015. “Hommes et dieux dans le formulaire métrique indo-iranien ancien.” In: Démons iraniens - Actes du colloque international organisé a l’Université de Liege les 5 et 6 février 2009 a l’occasion des 65 ans de Jean Kellens (ed. Ph. Swennen): 61-72. Liege: Presses Universitaires.Google Scholar

  • Thieme, Paul. 1935. Pāṇini and the Veda : Studies in the early history of linguistic science in India. Allahabad : Globe Press.Google Scholar

  • Thieme, Paul. 1985. “Nennformen aus Anrede und Anruf im Sanskrit.” Münchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft 44: 239-258. (1995. Kleine Schriften II: 1054-1073.)Google Scholar

  • Vennemann Gen. Nierfeld, Theo. 2003. Europa Vasconica - Europa Semitica. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter.Google Scholar

  • Wackernagel, Jakob. 1896. Altindische Grammatik. Band I. Lautlehre. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht. (Repr. with “Introduction générale”, the translated and profusely annotated “Einleitung” of Wackernagel, by Louis Renou, 1957.)Google Scholar

  • Watkins, Calvert. 1994. “Language of Gods and Language of Men : Remarks on Some Indo-European Metalinguistic Traditions.” in Selected Writings II: 456-472. Innsbruk: Institut für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck.Google Scholar

  • Whitney, William Dwight. 1888. Sanskrit Grammar. Including both the classical language and the older Dialects of Veda and Brāhmaṇa. 2nd ed. (First edition: 1879.) Leipzig. [Repr.: Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1977.]Google Scholar

  • Witzel, Michael. 1987. “The Localisation of Vedic Texts and Schools.” (Materials on Vedic śākhās, 7).” In: India and the Ancient world. History, Trade and Culture before A.D. 650. P.H.L. Eggermont Jubilee Volume. (ed. by G. Pollet): 173-213. Leuven 1987.Google Scholar

  • Witzel, Michael. 1989. “Tracing the Vedic Dialects.” In: Dialectes dans les littératures indo-aryennes (ed. C. Caillat): 97-265. Paris: Institut de Civilisation Indienne.Google Scholar

  • Witzel, Michael. 1997. “The Development of the Vedic Canon and its Schools: The Social and Political Milieu.” Inside the Texts - Beyond the Texts: new approaches to the study of the Vedas (ed. M. Witzel): 257-345.Google Scholar

About the article

Received: 2017-12-01

Accepted: 2018-02-20

Published Online: 2018-05-17

Citation Information: Open Linguistics, Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 1–18, ISSN (Online) 2300-9969, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2018-0001.

Export Citation

© 2018 Jan E.M. Houben, published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Public License. BY 3.0

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in