Saint Ved Vyas relating the Bhagwatam to Shukdeo (3100 B.C.)

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22) The Proto-Germanic language; Grimm and Bopp.

‘Proto’ word is used for a presumably existing unknown language when its form is reconstructed on the basis of available material of a later date. For example: Old English cyning (king), Old Saxon and Old High German kuning and Finnish kuningas, which is the oldest available record of Germanic languages. Thus the word ‘kuningaz’ could be assumed by the linguists to be the logical term that would have been for ‘king’ in Proto-Germanic language. Similarly, Old High German mero (more), Old Saxon mero, Old English and Old Frisian mara, Old Norse meire, Gothic maiza; and thus Proto-Germanic maiz. Old High German tag (day), heilaz (whole), Old Saxon dag, hel, Old Norse dagr, heilt, Old Frisian dei, hal, Old English dœg, hal, Gothic dags, heilata; and thus Proto-Germanic dagaz, hailan.

There is a logic how the languages and dialects change their word-sound and spellings according to human psychology, behavior, environment, migration, adaptation and social needs related to culture, trade and religion, and the ups and downs of their living patterns. But there are so many deviations and variations at every stage of social development that it becomes extremely difficult to form a complete grammatical law of all the changes that occur in the life of a language, especially when even the sound and the combinations of vowels and consonants are not fixed. They keep on changing from one period to another. Linguists tried hard to formulate general procedures to explain how the formation and the phonetic character of a word changes in different languages, and in this connection Grimm’s and Verner’s laws came into light.

Jacob Grimm (1785-1863). A linguist and Germanic philologist, who was famous for writing “Fairy Tales,” was born in Germany. His father and grandfather both were ministers of a church. Hardship came upon him when his father died in 1796 and he had to look after his four brothers and one sister, and was again emotionally disturbed when his mother also died in 1808. He loved folk poetry and tried to collect all the fairy tales he could find. Time went on and his brother Wilhelm became secretary in a library in Kassel in 1814, and then, he also joined him. He turned towards the study of philology and published four volumes of his works “Deutsche Grammatik” between 1818 to 1837, which were known as Grimm’s law (that deals with the phonetic change or ‘sound shift’ of the words).

He presented the laws of sound change of vowels and consonants that happen in various languages and created a system that refers to etymology. He mentioned about the two ‘consonant shifts,’ one of the 6th century and the other before the Christian era, and described his principles that sound change is a regular phenomena. For example, he says that ancient unvoiced p, t, k became f, th/d, h, in Old Germanic and f, th, h, in English; and ancient voiced bh, dh, gh, became p, t, k, in Old German and voiced b, d, g in English. Similarly he also gave examples of Latin, Greek and Gothic etc., and also squeezed in some Sanskrit words telling the change of consonants, like: ‘padas’ (Sanskrit), ‘podas’ (Greek), ‘pedis’ (Latin) and ‘fotus’ (Gothic); it all means ‘foot.’

Following the guidelines of his contemporary Franz Bopp, who had introduced his first important work in 1816 “Uber das Conjugations-system der Sanskritsprache... (on the system of conjugation of the Sanskrit language in comparison with Greek, Latin, Persian and Germanic),” he compared the verb morphology structure of these languages. Grimm advanced his work mainly towards reconstructing Proto-Germanic language and then to its speculated source, the Proto-Indo-European language.

Thus, the linguists like Bopp, Grimm and the others of that period formulated the assumption of the first language of the world which was named ‘Proto-Indo-European’ and it was supposed to have: 12 stop consonants, p, t, k, kw, b, d, g, gw, bh, dh, gh, ghw; one sibilant, s; ablaut vowels a and long a, i and u; and six resonants that worked as consonant and vowel as well, i, u, m, n, l, r. ‘Stop’ means a momentary stoppage in the breath stream at some point in the vocal tract while pronouncing that consonant. It was further assumed that that language would have had three persons (lst, 2nd and 3rd), three numbers (singular, dual and plural) and at least four tense aspects (present, imperfect, perfect and aorist).

Gothic had three numbers (singular, dual and plural). It was later on reduced to two, singular and plural; and the original bh, dh and gh later on became b, d and g. In a backward going process, words were also formed, like, modor (mother) and froren (frozen) of Old English was constructed as moder and frozenaz of Proto-Germanic and mater and prusenos of Proto-Indo-European.

Franz Bopp (1791-1867). He was a German linguist known for his works on tracing the phonetic laws of languages and researching the origin of the grammatical forms of the words of various languages. He was a professor of Oriental literature at the University of Berlin and introduced his first work “On the System of Conjugation of the Sanskrit…” in 1816. Working with Colebrooke, a close associate of Sir William Jones and an active member of the Asiatic Society, he translated Sanskrit manuscripts during his stay in London between 1816 and 1820. The London Magazine gave an excellent review of his works. He rejected the theories of the earlier linguists who held the view that Sanskrit is the original language of the world and followed the speculations of Mr. Jones. He published a Sanskrit and Latin glossary in 1830 and, between 1833 and 1852, he published his “Comparative Grammar of Sanskrit, Zend, Greek, Latin, Lithuanian, Old Slavic, Gothic and German.” All of his works were on the line of theorizing the statement that Jones made in his Calcutta speech of 1786 to indicate that Sanskrit is not the first language of the world. He was the main person who emphatically used and popularized the term ‘Proto-Indo-European’ or ‘Indo-European’ since 1833, and especially mentioned in his work the “Comparative Grammar…”


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