Simplifying Sanskrit

Adi Hastings


Sanskrit has long been a medium of scholarly, religious, and literary discourse throughout the South Asian subcontinent. But recently, several organizations, imagining Sanskrit as the future lingua franca and emblem of an ermergent Hindu nation, are attempting to turn Sanskrit into a truly “popular” language by encouraging the use of what they call “simple Sanskrit” in everyday conversational contexts. This essay examines several of the semiotic processes involved in simplifying Sanskrit. Specifically, it discusses first the ways in which simple Sanskrit is regularized in order to produce a language which bears many structural similarities to modern Indian vernaculars. Second, the essay turns to a discussion of what simple Sanskrit represents: Through simplification, Sanskrit becomes an icon for the purported democratizing goals of the spoken Sanskrit movement. Sanskrit also represents a tangible index for aspiring speakers, projecting backward to an archaic Golden Age, but also looking forward to an imagined future. These processes have important implications for understanding the role of language ideologies and their effects in the manufacture and maintenance of linguistic identities.

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