Sanskrit – the only unambiguous natural language on the planet

We bring the readers excerpts from an article written by NASA researcher, Rick Briggs which appeared in AI (Artificial Intelligence) Magazine, in Spring of 1985.

In the recent years, much time, effort, and money has been expended on designing an unambiguous representation of natural languages to make them accessible to computer processing. These efforts have centered around creating schemata designed to parallel logical relations with relations expressed by the syntax and semantics of natural languages, which are clearly cumbersome and ambiguous in their function as vehicles for the transmission of logical data. Understandably, there is a widespread belief that natural languages are unsuitable for the transmission of many ideas that artificial languages can render with great precision and mathematical rigor.

But this dichotomy, which has served as a premise underlying much work in the areas of linguistics and artificial intelligence, is a false one. There is at least one language, i.e., Sanskrit, which for the duration of almost 1000 years was a living spoken language with a considerable literature of its own. Besides works of literary value, there was a long philosophical and grammatical tradition that has continued to exist with undiminished vigour until the present century. Among the accomplishments of the grammarians reckoned a method for paraphrasing Sanskrit in a manner that is identical not only in essence but in form with current work in Artificial Intelligence. This article demonstrates that a natural language can serve as an artificial language also, and that much work in AI has been reinventing a wheel millennia old.

The discovery is of monumental significance. It is mind boggling to consider that we have available to us a language which has been spoken for 4 to 7000 years that appears, to be in every respect a perfect language designed for enlightened communication. But the most stunning aspect of the discovery is this: NASA the most advanced research centre in the world for cutting edge technology has discovered that Sanskrit, the world’s oldest spiritual language is the only unambiguous spoken language on the planet.

Sanskrit is the most ancient member of the European family of languages. It is an elder sister of Latin and Greek from which most of the modern European languages have been derived. The oldest preserved form of Sanskrit is referred to as Vedic . The oldest extant example of the literature of the Vedic period is the Rig-Veda . Being strictly in verse, the Rig-Veda does not give us a record of the contemporary spoken language.

The very name “Sanskrit” meant “language brought to formal perfection” in contrast to the common languages, Prakrits or “natural” languages. The form of Sanskrit which has been used for the last 2500 years is known today as Classical Sanskrit. The norms of classical Sanskrit were established by the ancient grammarians. Although no records are available of their work, their efforts reached a climax in the 5th century B.C. in the great grammatical treatise of Panini, which became the standard for correct speech with such comprehensive authority that it has remained so, with little alteration until present times.

Based on what the grammarians themselves have stated, we may conclude that the Sanskrit grammar was an attempt to discipline and explain a spoken language. Until 1100 A.D., Sanskrit was without interruption the official language of the whole of India. The dominance of Sanskrit is indicated by a wealth of literature of widely diverse genres including religious and philosophical; fiction (short story, fable, novels, and plays); scientific literature including linguistics, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine; as well as law and politics.

With the Muslim invasions from 1100 A.D. onwards, Sanskrit gradually became displaced by common languages patronized by the Muslim kings as a tactic to suppress Indian cultural and religious tradition and supplant it with their own beliefs. But they could not eliminate the literary and spiritual- ritual use of Sanskrit. Sanskrit being a language derived from simple monosyllabic verbal roots through the addition of appropriate prefixes and suffixes according to precise grammatical laws has an infinite capacity to grow, adapt and expand according to the requirements of change in a rapidly evolving world.

Why has Sanskrit endured? Fundamentally it generates clarity and inspiration. And that clarity and inspiration is directly responsible for a brilliance of creative expression such as the world has rarely seen. The Ancient and classical creations of the Sanskrit tongue both in quality and in body and abundance of excellence, in their potent originality and force and beauty, in their substance and art and structure, in grandeur and justice and charm of speech and in the height and width of the reach of their spirit stand very evidently in the front rank among the world’s great literatures. The language itself, as has been universally recognized by those competent to form a judgment, is one of the most magnificent, the most perfect and wonderfully sufficient literary instruments developed by the human mind, at once majestic and sweet and flexible, strong and clearly-formed and full and vibrant and subtle, and its quality and character would be of itself a sufficient evidence of the character and quality of the race whose mind it expressed and the culture of which it was the reflecting medium.

Another hope for the return of Sanskrit lies in computers. Sanskrit and computers are a perfect fit. The precision play of Sanskrit with computer tools will awaken the capacity in human beings to utilize their innate higher mental faculty with a momentum that would inevitably transform the world. In fact the mere learning of Sanskrit by large numbers of people in itself represents a quantum leap in consciousness, not to mention the rich endowment it will provide in the arena of future communication.

Sanskrit has always inspired the hearts, mind and souls of wise people. The great German scholar Max Muller, who did more than anyone to introduce Sanskrit to the West in the latter part of the 19th century, contended that without a knowledge of the language (Sanskrit), literature, art, religion and philosophy of India, a liberal education could hardly be complete –India being the intellectual and spiritual ancestor of the race, historically and through Sanskrit.

The fact is that Sanskrit is more deeply interwoven into the fabric of the collective world consciousness than anyone perhaps knows. After many thousands of years, Sanskrit still lives with a vitality that can breathe life, restore unity and inspire peace on our tired and troubled planet. It is a sacred gift, an opportunity. The future could be very bright.