Man, this brings a smile to my face. Some allege that Sanskrit is a “dead” language; which is a bit of a nonsense – it’s still spoken literally daily across the Dharmasphere, and drawn from for quite an array of functions beyond liturgy. Indeed, according to the most recent Indian Census data I could find, there are at least 14,000 people for whom Sanskrit is their *first* language [plus many, many thousands of additional speakers who’ve learned it later in life]. So perhaps what people mean is that it is ‘ossified’ rather than ‘dead’ – although again, this isn’t necessarily the case, as the Sanskrit in use for compositions in the last millennium has changed in some ways from the original Sanskrit used to give form to the RigVeda.
But take a look at this list of words recently added to one of the more prominent online Sanskrit dictionaries. It’s the text in the lighter shade of orange:
प्रथमवंशश्रेणिकविधिभाषा [romanized as:] prathamavaMzazreNikavidhibhASA
What does it mean? “first-generation programming language”
Now, as with many Sanskrit words, it’s a compound composed of a number of shorter, simpler concepts. “Vidhibhasa”, for instance, would mean ‘Language of Rules’ [‘Bhasa’, and ‘Vidhi’ respectively] [and ‘rule-language’ is pretty much *exactly* what a programming language is, isn’t it?]; whilst “Prathamaja” ordinarily means a “firstborn”. [I’m still working on what the middle conjunct means; although while I *have* seen “vamzazreni” used to mean “generation”, it’s possibly also worth noting potential other meanings including “sasre” [“flowing”] and “nika” [“channel”]; or alternatively “srenikah” [“front tooth”], and abbreviated ‘Maz’ [a humming noise.]].
And a quick poke around reveals quite an array of other terms evidently constructed for use in computing – including सङ्गणक [Sagganaka], which means “Computer”. [the conjunct here is most probably ‘Sagga’ meaning ‘joining’ and ‘Naka’ in the sense of the firmament of the heavens … it shouldn’t be too hard to see how a modern-day computer is figuratively derived from this :P]
The probable reason for this profusion of terms relating to computing in a language which was arguably of its greatest prominence some three thousand years ago, may be part of the reaction to a recent observation by some scientists working in fields related to artificial intelligence etc. that Sanskrit – due to the nature of its grammar – appears to be very well suited for computing.
So, in sum .. is Sanskrit a “dead” language?
I do not think so. It doesn’t take a belief in Sanskrit being the language of creation to see that it maintains active, communicative relevance for multitudes. And, in light of the developments above, I would be entirely unsurprised if, in a few years’ time, Sanskrit had increased in salience even further.
Although it will, obviously, always have greater significance as the language with which to communicate with the Gods; rather than a means with which to command machines.