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A Socio-Linguistic Study

A.N.D. Haksar

Edited by J.E.M. Houben
Motilal Banarasidass, Delhi, 2012, pp. 499, Rs 795.00


The book reviewed here has the sub-title ‘Contributions to the History of the Sanskrit Language’. A word about its own history may also be appropriate. It was first published in The Netherlands in 1996, the outcome of a scholarly seminar in that country two years earlier. Its publication in the mother country of Sanskrit only after a further interval of sixteen years is a pointer to the extent of modern Indian interest in the ancient language. So too is the provenance of the experts whose seminar contributions form the bulk of this volume.   Most of the eighteen contributors are western scholars of Sanskrit. Only four are of Indian origin, and of them three are from western universities. The sole Indian contributor from India, Saroja Bhate, gives an interesting account of Sanskrit studies in this country during the last two centuries. She states that in present times ‘the central government has taken keen interest in the preservation and promotion of Sanskrit’, but also adds that its efforts have been concentrated on traditional learning. Despite them, she says, ‘the standard of traditional Sanskrit education has lowered’, pointing to a ‘gloomy picture about the future of Sanskrit’ in modern India. The political, economic and social factors she details for the above mentioned situation perhaps deserve a separate seminar on that subject. Another could usefully focus on how modern Sanskrit studies are increasingly getting based outside India so that the colonial paradigm of our cultural self-understanding tends to continue. But these require a different place for consideration.   The present book’s scope is of course much wider. It covers the social and socio-linguistic history of Sanskrit from its pre-Vedic origin and subsequent emergence as the language of religion, to its Buddhist and Jain interactions, its growth and spread in and outside India as the language of culture and power, and its progressive verna-cularization while retaining an original status. The overall sweep is also reflected in the book’s main title. Ideology is described as the ‘intellectual and conceptual constituent of culture’ also ‘connected to social power and its legitimation’; and status as the language’s role in society. All this provides absorbing information for readers interested in the historical development of a culture of which Sanskrit remains an important part to this day.   The social perspective adds to the book’s value and interest. ‘Unlike the large majority of language names’, the editor says in ...

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