William Jones and his linguistic studies – UPSC GS1

William Jones

  • William Jones was appointed as a judge on the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William in Bengal,
  • In the next couple of years, Jones established himself as an authority on ancient Indian language and culture, a field of study that was hitherto untouched.
  • He is particularly known for his proposition of the existence of a relationship among European and Indo-Aryan languages, which he coined as Indo-European.
  • He is also credited for establishing the Asiatic Society of Bengal in the year 1784

His linguistic studies

  • Jones’ was the first to suggest that Sanskrit, Greek and Latin languages had a common root and that indeed they may all be further related, in turn, to Gothic and the Celtic languages, as well as to Persian.
  • He also suggested that Sanskrit ‘was introduced to India by conquerors from other kingdoms in some very remote age’ displacing ‘the pure Hindi’ of north India
  • His claim rested on the evidence of several Sanskrit words that had similarities with Greek and Latin.

Some examples of his propositions

  • As he studied the languages further, it became clearer that apart from Greek and Latin, Sanskrit words could be found in most other European languages.
  • For instance, the Sanskrit word for ‘three’, that is ‘trayas’, is similar to the Latin ‘tres’ and the Greek ‘treis’. Similarly, the Sanskrit for ‘snake’, is ‘sarpa’, which shares a phonetic link with ‘serpens’ in Latin.
  • For instance, ‘mata’ or mother in Sanskrit, is ‘mutter’ in German. ‘Dan’ or ‘to give’ in Sanskrit is ‘donor’ in Spanish.