Three Globally Dominant Languages in World History

The title “World’s dominant language” is truly an impressive title. Great empires have come and gone but military power has proved to be fleeting and temporary. Soft power, exemplified and propagated by the thoughts embodied in a globally dominant language, has demonstrated longevity and permanence that all the empires in history put together cannot rival.

There are great languages in the world that reside within the culture and population of their country of origin. The greatest example is of course Chinese. Spoken by over a billion people, this great language (inclusive of its many forms) is one of the world’s greatest assets. Spanish, French, German, Arabic are great languages as well. But to be a described as globally dominant, a language must have demonstrated a permanent influence on the intellectual development of  a large segment of humanity well beyond the boundaries of the country of its origin.

History accords this honor to three languages.

There can be no doubt that English is the globally dominant language of our times.

Before English, that honor went to Persian. The influence of Persian spread far beyond the borders of Persia, or Iran as it is called today. For centuries, one was not considered cultured unless one at least claimed to understand Persian. Persian, or “Farsi” as it is called by it’s native speakers, was been a medium of literary and scientific contributions to the Islamic World and the Western World. Its influence spread far in to China.

The classical world was dominated by Sanskrut. For nearly two thousand years, a Sanskrut cultural order existed that exerted its influence across westward from India towards Greece, eastward across South-East Asia to Vietnam and to the north across China to the Far East.

Did you know that the Sanskrut names for Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia were “Tanjungpura”, “Melaka”, “Champa” and “Kambuja” (resp.)?

The pre-Classical form of Sanskrut, known as “Vedic Sanskrut” is the oldest living member of the Indo-European language family. It’s defining text is the “Rigved“. the oldest philosophical and spiritual document extant.

Classical Sanskrut is said to have begun with the definitive grammar by Panini dating to circa 4th Century BCE. This is the oldest surviving grammar in the world.

To quote from the Clay Sanskrit Library, “From early in the common era, a vast creative literature of
novels, short stories, plays and poetry began to develop.
Some took their subject matter from the national epics or the
Buddhist scriptures, but many other sources also provided
inspiration
.”

This second flowering of classical Sanskrut literature lasted
for more than a millennium.
It is not clear to us when and how Classical Sanskrut influenced the creation of European languages. We simply recite certain authorities to suggest that the influence of Sanskrut was deep and broad.

  • The Sanskrut language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than Greek, more copious than Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and 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 some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.” – Sir William Jones (1746-1794) – This passage is often cited as the beginning of comparative linguistics and Indo-European studies. The common source came to be known as Proto-Indo-European.
  • Sanskrut is the origin of modern languages of Europe”Prof. Franz Bopp (1791-1867), a German Linguist who headed the Chair of Sanskrut and Comparative Grammar at Berlin from 1821. Prof. Bopp published critical editions of segments of the Maha-Bharat with Latin Translation and Notes. His chief work was  “Vergleichende Grammatik des (Comparative Grammar of) Sanskrut, Zend, Greek, Latin, Lithuanian, Gothic and German”.
  • Sanskrut is the unsurpassed zenith in the whole development of languages yet known to us” – Wilhelm Von Humboldt (1767 – 1835) – a diplomat, philosopher, founder of Humboldt Universitat in Berlin,  a friend of Goethe and Schiller. He is widely recognized as the architect of the Prussian education system which was used as model for education systems in countries such as the USA and Japan.
  • “India was the motherland of our race and Sanskrut the mother of Europe’s languages”Will Durant (1885 – 1981) – an American philosopher and historian. He, with his wife Ariel Durant, wrote the The Story of Civilization, an 11-volume work written between 1935 and 1975. The Durants were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for literature (1967) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977).


With these authorities, we feel justified in calling Sanskrut, the first globally dominant language.

Editor’s Note: Our sources for this article include,

  • The Language of the GODS in the WORLD of MEN – Sanskrit, Culture , and Power in Pre-Modern India – Sheldon Pollack.
  • “Literary Cultures in History” – Reconstructions from South Asia – Sheldon Pollack
  • The website of Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan (National Sanskrut Institute) – http//www.sanskrit.nic.in – This the probably the best and the easiest place to begin to learn about the heritage of Sanskrut.
  • Wikipedia


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