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Classical languages

Classical languages

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A classical language, is a language with a literature that is "classical"—ie, "it should be ancient, it should be an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own, not as an offshoot of another tradition, and it must have a large and extremely rich body of ancient literature."[1] (George L. Hart of UC Berkeley)

In another sense of the word, an important criterion is that a language should have a broad influence over an extended period of time, even after it is no longer a colloquial mother tongue in its original form. If one language uses roots from another language to coin words (in the way that many European languages use Greek and Latin roots to devise new words such as "telephone" etc.), this is an indication that the second language is a classical language. Also, the writing system of such a classical languages will often have spread to be used by other languages.

Thus classical languages tend to be either dead languages, or show a high degree of diglossia, as the spoken varieties of the language diverge further and further away from the classical written language over centuries.

Note that the judgment as to whether a language is "classical" is made on the basis of external factors, and not the nature of the language itself.


Classical studies

In a most restricted meaning, in the inherently Eurocentric context of Classical studies, "the Classical Languages" are the Greek and Latin literary languages of Classical Antiquity, foundational to Western culture.

In terms of worldwide cultural importance, Edward Sapir in Language (1921) would extend the list by Chinese, Arabic and Sanskrit:

"When we realize that an educated Japanese can hardly frame a single literary sentence without the use of Chinese resources, that to this day Siamese and Burmese and Cambodgian bear the unmistakable imprint of the Sanskrit and Pali that came in with Hindu Buddhism centuries ago, or that whether we argue for or against the teaching of Latin and Greek [in schools] our arguments are sure to be studded with words that have come to us from Rome and Athens, we get some indication of what early Chinese culture, Buddhism, and classical mediterranean civilization have meant in the world's history. There are just five languages that have had overwhelming significance as carriers of culture. These are classical Chinese, Sanskrit, Arabic, Greek, and Latin. In comparison with these, even such culturally important languages such as Hebrew and French sink into a secondary position."

General usage

The following languages are generally taken to have a "classical" stage. Such a stage is limitited in time, and is considered "classical" if it comes to be regarded as a literary "golden age" retrospectively. Thus, Classical Greek is the language of 5th to 4th century BC Athens, and as such only a small subset of the varieties of the Greek language as a whole. A "classical" period usually corresponds to a flowering of literature following an "archaic" period, such as Classical Latin succeeding Old Latin, Classical Sumerian succeeding Archaic Sumerian, Classical Sanskrit succeding Vedic Sanskrit, Classical Persian succeeding Old Persian. This is a partly a matter of terminology, and for example Old Chinese is taken to include rather than precede Classical Chinese. In some cases, such as those of Arabic and Tamil, the "classical" stage corresponds to the earliest attested literary variant.

Classical languages of India

Main articles: Classical languages of India, and [[{{{2}}}]], and [[{{{3}}}]], and [[{{{4}}}]], and [[{{{5}}}]]

In 2004, a new category was created by constitutional decree under which languages that met certain requirements could be accorded the status of a 'classical' in India.[3] With the creation of this category, Tamil and a year later, Sanskrit have been accorded the status. More languages are being considered to be added to the list.[4]



See also

ca:Llengua clàssica el:Κλασική γλώσσα nl:Klassieke talen no:Klassisk språk sl:Klasični jezik fi:Klassinen kieli sv:Klassiska språk ta:செம்மொழி th:ภาษาคลาสสิก

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