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Classical Languages of India and Europe

Frederick Lauritzen

11th August 2023


Europe cannot compete with India in many fields. One of these is classical languages.


The Indian government in 2004 established a list of ‘classical Indian languages’. These are languages included among the 22 defined in the Indian constitution (schedule eight).


Currently, six languages enjoy the ‘Classical’ status: Tamil (declared in 2004), Sanskrit (2005), Kannada (2008), Telugu (2008), Malayalam (2013), and Odia (2014).


The criteria established to include a language into such a privileged elite were described by Ambika Soni (Congress Party) in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian Parliament) in 2006:


“High antiquity of its early texts/recorded history over a period of 1500–2000 years; a body of ancient literature/texts, which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers; the literary tradition be original and not borrowed from another speech community; the classical language and literature being distinct from modern, there may also be a discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or its offshoots.”


The Indian parliament examined the twenty-two languages defined by the Indian constitution and has selected six as classical Indian languages. These benefit from a special status and government support.


Europe does not support its classical languages, nor does it give them a special status.


If we apply the criteria above to the European continent, then the results are startling.

The official languages of the European Union are the following: Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish.


Which European languages fulfill the following criteria established by the Indian Parliament?


1) Recorded for over 1500/2000 years

2) Body of ancient texts

3) Literary tradition


The results are: Greek (recorded since the 16th century BC)


This is highly problematic for Europe today. Languages which are considered significant in the EU, are rather new by Indian standards.


French (Oaths of Strasburg in 842AD; Eulalia Sequence 880AD)

Italian (Verona Riddle 8th/9th century; Placiti Cassinesi 960AD)

Portuguese ( Doação à Igreja de Sozello 870AD, Carta de dotação e fundação da Igreja de S. Miguel de Lardosa 882AD)

Spanish (Glossas Emilianenses 10th – 11th century)


The oldest dated Slavic text is a gravestone erected by Tsar Symeon in 993.


Old High German (Abrogans 750AD)

Old Norse (Runic inscriptions 8th century)


Irish (Book of Armagh c. 812)


No spoken language in the European Union (except Greek) has a text older than 750 AD.


If one considers the European continent in its widest sense and includes the shores of the Mediterranean, one would be able to include: Hebrew (10th century BC); Armenian (since 5th century: bible translation); Georgian (since 5th century: Martyrdom of Saint Shushanik the Queen by Jakob Tsurtaveli); Coptic (since the 2/3rd century AD) (if one includes Egypt); Syriac (1st century AD); Arabic is first attested in the early 6th century in Syria. (Zabad 512AD).


However, what is clear is that India promotes the past heritage as a base to construct the future. Europe is progressing forward but leaving its distant past to one side. India protects and promotes its classical languages.


According to Indian criteria, only Greek fulfills the criteria of a classical language which should be promoted and protected.

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