Sanskrit at SOAS Language Centre
Sanskrit belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages. It is the ancestor of modern Indian languages such as Panjabi, Gujarati, Hindi and Bengali. Sanskrit is also related to languages such as English, French and Russian but its closest relatives outside of South Asia are the Iranian languages – especially Avestan, the language of Zoroastrian scripture, with which it shares a startling similarity.
Since its discovery by Western scholars in the 18th century, the interrelationships of the various languages within the Indo-European language family have been a constant source of fascination to linguists. Indeed, the discovery of the genetic relatedness of Sanskrit to Latin and Greek gave rise to the science of philology and comparative linguistics.
Sanskrit literature is ancient, the earliest compositions dating back to the early Vedic period – an estimate of around 1500 BC is in order - and copious: it incorporates the epic works known as the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa (the former containing the Bhagavadgītā), court and lyrical poetry, prose, drama, works on philosophy, mathematics, science and nutrition.
Sanskrit continues to be cultivated and is one of the twenty-two official languages of India.