PIE(Prototype Indo-European) Language: Reflection of western desperation


After the buzz Kolaveri di , a Taminglish song from the upcoming Tamil movie “3” created, my interest in the Tamil language went from ‘a little’ to ‘a lot’. Just for the information, the singer of the song is Dhanush, son-in-law of  Tamil superstar Rajnikant.

Study of languages can become a boring and cumbersome exercise. But if you have some patience to appreciate small and interesting events that transformed  languages or formed some new languages, then it can be quite an interesting reading. For example it would fascinates people across the globe that what is ‘Cow’ in English is ‘Kuh’ in German and ‘Gau’ in Hindi/Sanskrit. And that what is ‘Father’ and ‘Brother’ in English actually become ‘Pater’ and ‘Frater’ in Latin, ‘Pater’ and ‘Phrater’ in Greek and ‘Pitra’ and ‘Bhratra’ in Sanskrit. And there are thousands examples such as this.

I guess what most of the readers would be thinking now. But let me surprise you all, I am not going to draw some similarities in languages of India and Europe or propagating the idea of a common language in Europe from which these language evolved. In fact I strongly disagree with any such ideas of prototype language which existed in prehistoric Europe and that languages of India were evolved from that. My opposition for this PIE theory is for two reasons.

1. This is often used as a basis to reinforce AIT(Aryan Invasion Theory) which is very ambitious project for some Europeans.

2. This has no substantial or even circumstantial evidence to its disposal.

There is no doubt about the intellectual and analytic abilities of European/Western linguists. In my opinion, they are best of the lot. They have actually done a great work on how phonetically similar are words in language of India and Europe. But when I started having a preliminary comparison between the languages of South-India(which are grouped in ‘Dravidian-Language’ family)  and North-India( which are considered, by western linguists, as part of Indo-European language group), I was astonished to see similarity in structure of consonants, vowels and sentences between two. I was very surprised how could anyone put these two in different language group. In all practicality similarity in North-Indian and South-Indian languages is far more visible than the similarities between Hindi/Sanskrit and English/Latin. How could any linguists miss that?

Its here to be noted a high number of the linguistic studies are done by Western scholars and whatever they have/could come up with was considered universal classification of language across the world both by eastern and western linguists without examining the findings further.

The whole edi ce of historical linguistics related to the Indo-European family is based on the assumption that Hittite around 2000 BC is the earliest member of the family and Vedic Sanskrit belongs to the period 1200-1000 BC. A major eff ort is needed to put together a new framework to understand the pre-history of the Indo-European language family.

We all understand how the 19th century construction of the Orient by the West satisfied its needs of self-de nition in relation to the Other. To justify its ascendancy, the Other was de fined to be racially mixed and inferior; irrational and primitive; despotic and feudal. This definition was facilitated by a selective use of the texts and rejecting traditional interpretations, an approach that is now called Orientalism. The terms in the construction were not properly de ned. Now we know that to speak of a *pure” race is meaningless since all external characteristics of humans are defi ned in a continuum. In the 19th century atmosphere of European triumphalism, what obtained in Europe was taken to be normative. With hindsight it is hard to believe that these ideas were not contested more vigorously.

Although this was the age which marked the true beginnings of modern science, old myths continued to exercise great power. When it was found that the languages of India and Europe were related in structure and vocabulary, the West responded with a tissue of scholarly myths. These myths were steeped in erudition, informed by profound knowledge of Hebrew and Sanskrit, forti ed by comparative study of linguistic data, mythology, and religion, and shaped
by the e ort to relate linguistic structures, forms of thought, and features of civilization. Yet they were also myths, fantasies of the social imagination, at every level. The comparative philology of the most ancient languages was a quest for origins, an attempt to return to a privileged moment in time when God, man, and natural forces still lived in mutual transparency. The plunge into the distant past in search of `roots’ went hand in hand with a never forgotten faith in a meaningful history, whose course, guided by the Providence of the one God, could be understood only in the light of Christian

Although the term Aryan never had a racial connotation in the Indian texts, the scholars insisted that this was the sense in which the term ought to be understood. It was further assumed that Aryan meant European by race. By doing so Europe claimed for itself all of the “Aryan” texts as a part of its own forgotten past.The West considered itself the inheritor of the imagination and the mythic past of the Aryan and the idea of the monotheism of the Hebrew. This dual inheritance was the mark of the imperial destiny of the West. Despite his monotheism, the poor Jew, since he lacked Aryan blood, should have seen the dark silhouette of the death camps and the rising smoke of the ovens.

On the other hand, the Asiatic mixed-blood Aryan had no future but that of the serf. He could somewhat redeem himself if he rejected all but the earliest core of his inheritance, that existed when the Aryans in India were a pure race. For scholars such as Max Muller this became ultimately a religious issue. Echoing Augustine, Muller saw in his own religious faith a way for progress of the Asiatic. We would smile at it now but he said, Christianity was simply the name `of the true religion,’ a religion that was already known to the ancients and indeed had been around `since the beginning of the human race.(see Olender, 1992) But ideas bad and good{ never die. Muller’s idea has recently been resurrected in the guise that Christianity is the ful llment of Vedic revelation! (e.g. Panikkar,1977).

 A linguistic “Garden of Eden” called the proto-Indo-European (PIE) language was postulated. Europe was taken to be the homeland of this language for which several wonderful qualities were assumed. This was a theory of race linking the Europeans to the inhabitants of the original homeland and declaring them to the original speakers of the PIE. By appropriating the origins, the Europeans also appropriated the oldest literature of the Indians and of other PIE speakers. Without a past how could the nations of the empire ever aspire to equality with the West?  There are several problems with the idea of PIE. It is based on the hypothesis that languages are de ned as xed entities and they evolve in a biological sense. In reality, a language area is a complex, graded\ system of several languages and dialects of a family. The degree of homogeneity in a language area is a re ection of the linkages, or interaction within the area. For a language distributed widely in the ancient world, one would expect several dialects. There would be no standard proto-language.

The postulation of PIE together with a speci c homeland in Europe or Turkey does violence to facts. There is no evidence that the natives of India for the past 8,000 years or so have looked any di fferent from what they look now. The internal evidence of this literature points to events that are as early as 7000 years ago (Kramrisch, 1981) and its geography is squarely in the Indian region. If there was no single PIE, there was no single homeland either. The postulation of an \original home”, without anchoring it to a de finite time-period is to fall in the same logical trap as in the search for invasions and immigration. Tree or animal name evidence cannot fix a homeland. In a web of languages, di fferent geographical areas will indicate tree or animal names that are speci fic to these areas. When the European side of the IE languages are examined, the tree or animal names will favour those found in its climate and when the Indian side of the languages are examined, the reference now will be to its flora and fauna.

It was Bishop Caldwell (1875) who suggested that the South Indian languages of Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, and Telegu formed the separate Dravidian family of languages. He further suggested that the speakers of the proto-Dravidian language entered India from the northwest. Other scholars argued against this Dravidian invasion theory. Scholars have argued that this attempt to see both the North and the South Indian languages coming to the subcontinent from outside (West Asia) as another example of the preoccupation with the notion of the “Garden of Eden”. In reality, the problem of what constitutes an Aryan or a Dravidian, in the biological or cultural sense in which it is generally posed, is insoluble. The problem of Aryan and Dravidian is a conflation of many categories. Indian texts do not use the term Arya or Aryan in a linguistic sense, only in terms of culture. There is reference in the Manu-Smriti where even the Chinese are termed Aryan, proving that it is not the language that de nies this term. The South Indian kings called themselves Aryan as did the South Indian travelers who took the Indian civilization to Southeast Asia.

The breakdown of the old paradigm calls for considerable e ffort to create a new one to take its place. In particular, the emerging chronological framework can be used to examine the relationships between Sanskrit and other ancient Indo-European languages. Etymological dictionaries should be revised to take note of the antiquity of Vedic Sanskrit. If PIE did not exist, can we extrapolate from the earliest layer of Vedic Sanskrit for correlations with life in prehistoric Harappan India?

Note- Some of the texts, findings, and conclusion in the above post are inspired from the studies and thesis written by some learned individuals and I would specially name one Mr Subhash Kak who I referred most for my writing on the subject matter.


5 responses »

  1. Hello Mohit. I studied a little bit of linguistics in my young age, and although I speak French, English, Spanish, understand some latin and italian and a tiny little bit of German, I managed to learn a little bit of Hindi (all forgotten now) but I find Tamil very difficult. The sounds are difficult and the grammar is overwhelming to me.

    • Hi Helene,

      Nice to hear from you after a long time. You have a very rich basket of languages you speak.. almost all European languages. That’s great. Tamil is certainly one of the most difficult languages of India.

      Keep visiting.
      Take Care

      • COntrary to the popular belief, Tamil is one of the easiest language(thouh itis not easy like Kannda and Telugu) especially the chennai brand of tamil is quite easy to pick up by outsiders . I agree when you go down deep south, it can be a herculean task to pick their language. Malayalam is probably the toughest language to pick up down south india

        • Simo..if you clearly learn malayalam i can guarentee you that malayalam have 75% sanskrit and 30% of non sanskrit words of tamil.
          In fact an average malayalee cannot speak 1-2 sentences without using sanskrit word which is used in hindi only if they use pure hindi.
          In short an average malayalee uses more sanskrit words (as there are no alternative words unlike in hindi where urdu alterantives are avialble).

          for eg: “enikku tatparyam ulla abiprayam njan prakadippikkum” tatparyam,abiprayam,parakadippikal…all are sanskrit words…..

          how you ask how are you in malayalam “Sugham aano?”(sugh he kya)…
          in short almost all basic words of day to day life except for the subject words like ,”i,she,”you,they” all are from sanskrit.

          bhakshanam – food, bharya-wife,bharthavu- husband, istam,tatparyam,sneham(love),premama,pranayam,aaradhana,prarthana, rajyam,desam,

          parvatham,nadi,akasham,bhoomi,aalochana,chinda,prateeksha…in fact 95% of verbs of malayalam are from sanskrit…so do not believe the stupid aryan theory which says dravidian language have no connection with sanskrit…..

          if you carefully watch a news or politicial speech in malaylalam u can understand.
          the only difficulty in malaylam is the local slague that changes in every district..the tone,few words all changesin every district which makes others learn a particular malaylam diffciult

  2. Hi,I’m a Native Tamil Speaker,Glad to know you tried the language.If you want to master Tamil language without any previous experience,you have to spend at least 1 year in Tamilnadu with local people(for Speak).A private tuition can come in handy for grammar thingy(Write and Read). A boy from Nepal did this and now he’s one of us in language(Absolutely).First two months it’ll be a struggle,but in the end of the year you’ll taste the sweetness of Tamil language.

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