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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sanskrit, Tamizh, English and Italian - Relationship between Languages


Kanchi Periyaval, the sage of Kanchi Matam for most of the 20th century, is my hero and inspiration. His talks were backed by scholarliness and were full of rational arguments. One of the many areas he inspired me to delve into is the field of languages.

I have always been interested in languages from the semantics point of view. Now that I have time, I am deep into four languages – Tamizh (my mother-tongue), Sanskrit, English and Italian. It is interesting that two of these languages (Tamizh and Sanskrit) are classical languages. English and Italian are not classic languages, but have deep roots in Latin, another classic language.

Latin and Sanskrit have common roots and grouped under Indo-European languages.  Tamizh belongs to a separate class of Dravidian languages, of which there are more than 80. The relationship between Tamizh and Sanskrit seems to be due to the influence of the latter on the former after the first 400 years or so of the first millennium.

When I read, I am always looking for words which sound similar in two or more of the four languages I am familiar with. The relationship becomes so evident once we get the phonetics right. I started keeping notes on as many words as possible with similarities and the list is growing longer every day. Here are a few of them. These are, by no means, complete. It is also possible that experts in languages will find errors in my list. But, as a novice, I could not help notice the similarities.

First, Tamizh provided several words to the Latin language during the trade relationship between the Roman Empire (approximately 200 BCE to 200 CE) and various kingdoms in India, particularly in the south of India. Subsequently these words entered almost all the European languages. These words are: inji in Tamizh becomes ginger; sarkara becomes zucchero in Italian and Sugar in English; arisi becomes riso in Italian and rice in English and pippala becomes pepper.

You might have known an island called Sucotra (Suqutra) belonging to Yemen, located at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden. There is a suggestion that this name is a modification of Tamizh word (sugathara theevu, meaning a pleasant island ).  (Basham AL  The wonder that was India. Rupa and Co Calcutta 1967). The Tamizh word neelam for the color is part of the English (chemical) name for the aniline dye.

Mango (mangai ) and  betel leaf (vetthilai) are imports from Tamizh. More modern Tamizh imports include: catamaran (Tamizh: kattai maram)  and mulligatawny (Tamizh: milagu thanni) soup.

There are many other connections between Tamizh and English, but mediated through the relationship between Sanskrit and Latin and the infiltration of Sanskrit into everyday spoken Tamizh. A perfect example seems to be the word, Widow. In Sanskrit it will be vidhava and in Tamizh vidavai. The root word is dhava which in Sanskrit means husband and one without a husband is vi-dhava. In Italian, the word is vedova.

Names for the parts of the body in English and Sanskrit are easily identifiable as coming from a common source. Examples are endless. Here are some.  Nose is naasika. Finger in Sanskrit is anguli and in Latin ungula as in ungulate. Kapaala for skull in Sanskrit becomes cephalic in Latin and in English. Hrdaya of Sanskrit becomes heart. Pada in Sanskrit is the foot and in Latin there are several words related to foot with the prefix ped such as pedal and pedestrian. Anghri in Sanskrit also means the foot; but seems to have been modified to ankle in English. Brow of English is bru in Sanskrit and puruvam in Tamizh. The knee is janu in Sanskrit and genu in Latin, ginocchio in Italian. All these words sound similar.

Tooth is dantha in Sanskrit and dentalis in Latin. There is some suggestion that the word amba that denotes Divine Mother is related to the word womb and the word astthi for bone is related to the word osteo in New Latin. Tendon is called sinew in Latin and snayu in Sanskrit.

Pus in Sanskrit is puya and the Latin adjective is pyo. Thirst in Sanskrit is tharshah. Sweat is swedah. Naked is nagna in Sanskrit. Vaanthi  or vamatha is to vomit. Mishram of Sanskrit is nothing but mixture. Soopah in Sanskrit stands for something to sip, which, as you can guess is soup. Chatu in Sanskrit means to argue and is similar to the word chat. Gravaa is the same as gravel.

Makshika of Sanskrit stands for mosquito. Mooshika is for mouse. Alooka means an owl.

And most all numbers use words with similar sounds, particularly in Sanskrit and Italian. The most important is, of course, dasha in Sanskrit and dieci in Italian which is related to deci, as in decimal.

The word genetics has common roots with the Sanskrit word for birth which is jananam. Rajyam is Sanskrit for a territory and it will be regione in Italian, and a queen in Italian is Regina.

The English word ignite is related to the word agni (fire) in Sanskrit. Gnana in Sanskrit means knowledge and even the word knowledge sounds remotely similar to gnana. How about the corresponding root in Latin of Gnosis (to know) from which originate words like diagnosis and prognosis? Ignorance in Sanskrit is agnana.

Cenare in Italian means to eat. In Sanskrit the word is ashanam. In Tamizh when we refer to the cow’s habit of ruminating as ashai podarathu. Videre in Italian is to see (ci vediamo means “will see you later”) The root is related to the modern word video and to the ancient Sanskrit word veda (vid means to know). In Tamizh it is related to the word viddai.
 I was also surprised to find that the word nabha in Sanskrit means cloud and is similar to the Italian word nebbia and the word piove of Italian which means rain is similar to the Sanskrit word payah.

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