From Maatar to Mother: Seeing Sanskrit in English

There are numerous references with countless examples of English words with Sanskrit origins.

“How are your Sanskrit studies going?” asked Indira, a dear friend.

Over the years, attending Sanskrit classes, I used to be fascinated as I began sensing similarities between many English words and Sanskrit words.  I would sit in Sanskrit classes trying to come up with similar sounding English words, just for fun!

So, I replied, “Well, the sentence you spoke connects with Sanskrit in two ways.  The word ‘Sanskrit’ itself is an Anglicized form of the Sanskrit word ‘Samskrtam’, which means “that which is done well, complete”.  Then, the verb ‘go’ likely derives from Sanskrit root ‘ga’ “to go”.  For example, that which ‘goes (moves) in the sky’ is called Khaga (Kha stands for space or sky).  Hence, a bird or an airplane is called Khaga.  A reptile or snake is called Uraga because it ‘goes/moves on its chest (“ura”)’. And durga means “one whose presence makes sadness godukham gacchati!” That is how my Sanskrit is going!”

“That is fascinating.”

There are many words in English such as Guru, Mantra, Pundit, Swami and Avatar that are direct copies of the original Sanskrit terms.  For example, since there is no concept equivalent to Karma in the western worldview, the word “Karma” has been copied into the English lexicon as is.  There are other words in English, which are believed to belong to English, but on deeper analysis seems to originate from other languages such as Latin, or, in the case of my interest, Sanskrit.

“I have heard that Sanskrit is the mother of all languages”

“You may be correct.  But I do not know enough to prove that.  What attracts me is the word ‘mother’, and words representing the closest kith and kin. Take a look:

Sanskrit English
Pithar पितृ Father
Maathar  मातृ Mother
Bhraathar  भ्रातृ Brother
Svasar  स्वसृ Sister
Duhitar  दुहितृ Daughter

 

Stop!  These words look almost identical in both languages!”

“Isn’t it?  Mere coincidence?  I wish somebody researches into this. By the way, ‘Stop’ is not an ordinary word either.  It likely derives from the root ‘sthaa’, which is firmly entrenched in Sanskrit and English. ‘sthaa’ refers to “cessation of motion”.  Take a look at these words in Sanskrit:

Sanskrit English
Sthiram  स्ठिरम् Steady, stable, steadfast, static
Sthaanam स्ठानम्, Sthalam स्ठलम् State (Place), Station, Seat
Sthiti  स्ठिति: Status, Stay
Sthaapanam  स्ठापनम् Establish, Stabilize

“Wow! You seem to be building a new vocabulary.”

I am just trying to connect.  Talking about ‘vocabulary’, do you find anything common in these words – vocal, voice, vocative, vociferous, vocabulary, invoke and revoke”?

“Something related to speech!”

Yes, and the Sanskrit root we are looking for is “vaach” in the sense of ‘speaking’.  For example:

Sanskrit Meaning
Vaak  वाक् Speech
Vaachaa  वाचा By speech
Vaakyam  वाक्यम् That which is spoken
Vaachaspati   वाचस्पति: Master of one’s speech = scholar
VaaNi  वाणी What emanates from the vocal apparatus – Speech, song, etc.
Uvaacha  उवाच “(He, She) Said”.  As in “Shree Bhagavaan uvaacha” in the Bhagavad Gita.
Vaktaa  वक्ता Speaker

 

“This is looking marvellous”

I told you.  Wait, you just introduced another Sanskrit word. Let us take a look at ‘look’, it looks curiously close to ‘Lok’.

Sanskrit Meaning
Lok  लोक् to see, look, perceive

 

We can now see why ‘world’ is called “Loka” in Sanskrit – “that which is perceived (by a conscious being)”.  Thus “Bhu Loka” (The earth), “Indra Loka” (the world belonging to Lord Indra), etc.  Also, notice that “Locate” has the meaning “to see or spot”.

“You are driving me crazy.”

On the contrary, “you” has always been driving me crazy!  In Sanskrit “you” is ‘tvam’.  There seems to be no connection between “you” and “tvam”!  Let me explain this dilemma.

If we look at Personal Pronouns in general, this is what we find:

English Sanskrit
They Té  ते
My, Me Mé  मे
She Saa  सा
That Tat  तत्
It Idam  इदम्

“The words seem to be almost identical!”

That is correct.  That is why, I have been wondering about the apparent disconnect between the words “you” and “tvam”.  To unravel this, we need to investigate.  In Sanskrit, a noun has a native form, such as “krishna”.  Then, it undergoes transformations before it can be used as a word in a sentence.  The various relationships of a noun, such as “Krishna (the subject)”, “by Krishna” (Krishna, the agent), “to Krishna” (recipient), “from Krishna” (giver), “Krishna’s” (possession), etc. appear in Sanskrit as single words, as in “krishnah”, “krishnena”, “kriShNaaya”, “krishnaat”, and “krishnasya” respectively.

Let us tabulate all these forms:

 

Example Singular Dual Plural
Nominative You went to school Tvam

त्वम्

Yuvaam

युवाम्

Yooyam

यूयम्

Instrumental I went with you Tvayaa

त्वया

Yuvaabhyaam

युवाभ्याम्

YushmaabhiH

युष्माभिः

Ablative I got a gift from you Tvat

त्वत्

Yuvaabhyaam

युवाभ्याम्

Yushmabhyam

युष्मभ्यम्

Dative My salutations to you Tubhyam

तुभ्यम्

Yuvaabhyaam

युवाभ्याम्

Yushmabhyam

युष्मभ्यम्

Possessive This is your book Tava

तव

YuvayoH

युवयोः

Yushmaakam

युष्माकम्

 

Pay attention to the numerous “Yu”s.  It must have been easier to adapt this simpler abbreviation “Yu” for second person singular “you” into English!

“Oh my God!  It is cruel of the British to have made us believe that English is superior to the divine Sanskrit…”

Hmm.  The British.  That deserves a whole new chapter.  You mentioned ‘cruel’.  Could “cruel” derive from the Sanskrit word kroora? And Cruelty from kroorataa?  Wouldn’t it be nice to know how kroora morphed into cruel? Or, how the word “divine” which you invoked, may have derived from “daivam”?  Perhaps a research topic for somebody?

“Are you suggesting that English is a cut-and-paste of Sanskrit?”

Not at all.  You are the one insisting on bringing Sanskrit into our discussion, not me.  Paste is piShTa, and cut is kRitta in Sanskrit.

 

Sanskrit Meaning English
PiShTa  पिष्ट Kneaded, squeezed, ground Paste
Pesha  पेष Paste Paste
Kartanam  कर्तनम्, Krtta कृत्त Cut off, cut Cut
Kartari  कर्तरी Cutter, Scissors Cutter

 

“You are making me feel that English is same as Sanskrit.”

English is definitely not the same as Sanskrit, but “same” seems to be the same as “sama” just as “name” could be derived from “naama”!

“You’ve licked Sanskrit clean.”

Sanskrit is an ocean where one can dip oneself for a lifetime.  “Lick” appears to be derived from “lih”.  For example, the “Chyaavanpraash” that many Indians are familiar with or the chocolate candy that you lovingly stroke in your mouth is called “lehyam”; literally, “that which is to be licked”.

“Are you suggesting a new method to navigate Sanskrit?”

I think there is an opportunity. The purpose of this article is to stoke a deep interest in Sanskrit.  Too often, we are told that Sanskrit is dead, or Sanskrit is an “Indo-European Language”.  Who decides?  Can Sanskrit not stand on itself?  Isn’t it an Indian Language first and foremost?  After William Jones exclaimed the sophistication of Sanskrit (“more perfect than the Greek and more copious than the Latin”) and its relationship to German, Greek, Latin and other languages, it was quickly proposed that they were part of an “Indo-European Language family”, whose root would be a “Proto-Indo-European” (PIE) language.  To date, a PIE has not yet been found.  This leads me to believe Sanskrit to be a unique and an independent language originating solely in India.

Back to your question of navigating Sanskrit, “navigate” is a combination of two Sanskrit words:

 

Sanskrit Meaning English
Naavah  नाव: Ship, boat Navy, Naval, etc.
Gatih गतिः Movement
Navagatih  नवगतिः Movement of ships Navigation

 

A Google search reveals numerous references with countless examples of English words with Sanskrit origins: ignite <- agni; Know <- jnaa; bandana, band <- bandana, bandha; orange <- naaranga; punch (drink) <- pancha (five – ingredients).  I want to caution you that I have not researched the origins discussed in this article.  I am merely surmising based on apparent similarities.  I would not be surprised if many of my observations are proved to be correct.  I welcome insights from readers.  The purpose of this imaginary dialogue is to spur interest in Sanskrit, or “Devabhaasha”, the “Language of the Gods”.

“Vande maataram!” said Indira.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness,suitability,or validity of any information in this article.
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Dr. Jayakumar S. Ammangudi is founder of Arsha Vidya Satsanga, Houston, and co-founder of the Indian History Awareness and Research (IHAR) initiative, a forum to research, understand, and disseminate awareness of Indian History as experienced by Indians. He also has over 25 years of experience in the Chemical Industry.