South Asian Languages Most Prominently Taught at Harvard
Of all the languages in South Asia, Hindi is the most widely spoken, and it is geographically native to the upper Ganges region of the subcontinent. Classified within the Indo-Aryan branch of modern Indo-European languages, it is one of the national languages of the Republic of India, and is most predominant in the northern regions. Hindi is written in a 46-character Devanagari script, which is also used for writing in other languages like Sanskrit. Devanagari is similar to the scripts used for Bengali, Gujarati, and other languages.
Also among the official languages of India, Urdu is the national language of Pakistan. It is written in a 35-character Nastaliq script, a style of Persian derived from the Arabic script.
Hindi and Urdu have many similarities. Although they are written in different scripts, their grammar and vocabulary overlap and have much in common with similar structures in English. Usage reflects complex social relations and corresponding forms of address. Hindi-Urdu boasts a long literary tradition since approximately 1000 A.D., tracing its literature from the 12th century to the present, including celebrated poetry since the 17th century and prose since the 19th century. Hindi today is dominant in cinema and television.
Students interested in an international career, whether in regard to cultural industries, politics, the non-profit sector (e.g. child welfare, public health), or economics, have much to gain by studying Hindi-Urdu. Proficiency in these languages is essential for communicating effectively in the rising sphere of South Asia within the globalized world. As well, the knowledge embedded in library collections recorded in these languages provides a rich trove worth poring over by humanists of any professional persuasion.
An Indo-Aryan language, Sanskrit is an important member of the Indo-European language family that originated in ancient India. It evolved over time, beginning in its Vedic form around the 2nd millennium B.C., when it was transmitted orally, mainly through religious chants. Epic Sanskrit came into being after this first phase, and is showcased in the Rāmāyana and the Mahābhārata, among other epic tales. After the middle of the first millennium, B.C., Classical Sanskrit became standard, including vernacular forms of the language, called Prakrits. These were spoken widely in India. There were many early scripts used for writing Sanskrit, but most surviving documents are written in Devanagari.
Many intellectual and cultural traditions in India are rooted in Sanskrit. Learning Sanskrit opens to the student a common template for most Indian languages, among them Hindi, Gujarati, and Punjabi. Like Latin for English, Sanskrit is an etymological treasure chest from which the meaning of many words derived. For scholars interested in historical texts, it is a gateway to Indian knowledge systems and historical records documenting literary theory, philosophy, religious beliefs and practices, and more.
A sophisticated and systematic language of great intrinsic beauty, Sanskrit offers a broad vocabulary and complex grammar on topics both sacred and secular.
Tamil is the oldest documented language among the Dravidian family of languages. Both a Classical language inscribed in Brahmi around 200 B.C. and a modern language, it is spoken in north and east regions of Sri Lanka and Puducherry and Tamil Nadu in India, as well as Singapore. Tamil is recognized as a minority language in Malaysia, Mauritius and South Africa. Tamil literature has ancient origins and was represented in two of the earliest manuscripts from India. Since the late medieval period, the present Tamil script, a simplified version of Chola-Pallava, has been standard for the modern Tamil language. It is also written in Arwi by some Tamil-speaking Muslims. The Arwi script is derived from Arabic.
The Tamil language is important not only for understanding the contributions of Dravidian languages to the culture of South Asia, but to Southeast Asia, as well. Peoples who have spoken Tamil over the course of many centuries migrated throughout the globe. With them, they brought influences from Tamil culture, which can be surveyed through Tamil literary culture, history, and cinema.
Harvard Library stewards a growing collection of Tamil materials and maintains relationships with other repositories with strong Tamil collections.
The precise historical links for classifying the Tibetan language, both within and outside India, are somewhat uncertain. Most scholars construe genetic descent from Tibet-Burman and Sino-Tibetan. It is related to many smaller languages of the Himalayan region. There is interest among scholars in exploring potential Sanskrit influences on Tibetan. Its 30-character alpha-syllabic script, developed around 649 C.E., is based on the Devanagari model, from India. Mahavyutpatti, the first Sanskrit-Tibetan dictionary, dates from around the 9th century. Buddhist themes are the chief concerns of most Tibetan literature, much of which was translated from original sources in Sanskrit or Chinese.
Other South Asian Languages
In addition to Hindi-Urdu, Sanskrit, Tamil, and classical Tibetan, students at Harvard have the opportunity to learn other South Asian Languages through the Department of South Asian Studies. These include Bahasa Indonesia, Kashmiri, Nepali, Punjabi, Thai, and colloquial Tibetan.
Additional library collections at Harvard include materials written in these and other South Asian languages, including Bengali and Gujarati, among others.
Languages are classified in two different ways. Firstly, they can be defined by whether or not they are spoken and used. Secondly, they can be defined by their place and function in a society.
Status by Speakers and Use
A living language is a language which is still spoken and used.
An extinct language is a language which is no longer spoken. It is a language which is not in use in any form.
A dead language, also called a historical language or classical language, is a language which does not have any living native speakers but which is still used for various purposes. Latin and Ancient Greek are examples of dead languages.
A revived language is a language which fell out of use and was no longer spoken, but which has been intentionally reintroduced, usually because it is considered important to the cultural identity of a region or country.
Status by Function
An official language is a language which is used in a country in government, education, administration, legislation, and business. This type of language has legal status.
A national language is a language associated with a nation and its identity. It may or may not also be an official language used by the government. As well, it may or may not be used by the majority of the population of a nation. Its status is tied more to its cultural significance.
De facto national languages are languages which are spoken by the majority of the population of a country. They may or may not be recognized as official national languages.
De jure national languages are languages which have been recognized by the government of a country as a national language. They may or may not actually be spoken by the majority of the populace but have been designated a national language, usually for cultural reasons. These national languages have legal status.
An indigenous language is a language which is spoken by groups historically associated with a specific region or country. It is also called a native language because it is "native" or original to a specific area and spoken by the group of people considered "native" or original to a region. Indigenous languages may also be considered regional or minority languages. An indigenous language does not necessarily have legal status.
A regional language is a language which is spoken in a part or region of a country. A number of minority languages are regional. These languages are not usually official languages, because their use is limited primarily to only one part of a country. A regional language does not necessarily have legal status.
A minority language is a language which is spoken by only a minority of the population of a country. These languages are only very rarely also official languages of a country; Irish being an exception in Ireland. A minority language has legal status.
What does legal status mean?
Languages with legal status have some level of privilege, power, and protection defined in legislation.
Searching by Language
To find materials in non-Roman scripts, search for both transliterated and original scripts:
Search in the original script: Current best practice is for items to be cataloged by their original titles, in the original script. HOLLIS accepts non-roman scripts in the search box; however, some records in HOLLIS have romanization only and do not have parallel titles in the original script.
Search in transliteration: Transliteration is the conversion of the written script of one language into another script. When this transformation entails conversion from any non-Latin script(s) into the Roman (i.e., Latin) alphabet (e.g., from Devanagari "अ" to Roman "a") it is called romanization. Many older records have only transliterations, so it's important to try your search both in the original and in roman transliteration. HOLLIS ignores diacritical marks in South Asian languages. That said, systems differ, so try searching both with and without diacritical marks.
- Harvard Library uses the American Library Association and Library of Congress Romanization tables for the bibliographic description of resources in non-Roman scripts, which you may consult here: ALA-LC Romanization Tables
Use search filters to specify the language of materials you are seeking:
Advanced Search Language drop-down menu
If you use the language filter in the Advanced Search form, you will be able to retrieve all items published in the chosen language. However, you will need to enter additional keywords.
Code: MARC language
Unlike the language drop-down menu also available in Advanced Search, this field allows you to see all items published in the chosen language, without having to enter additional keywords.
Add the desired code from the MARC language code list.
Example: search for all Hindi-language journals dated 1947.
Refine your search results by language:
After you have entered a search and you are viewing the list of results, you may refine those results by selecting a language facet on the right, under "Refine my Results."
Example: search for Urdu language newspapers. Additionally, see a different example below:
Try an auxiliary approach. Use search filters to specify the place where the materials you are seeking were published:
You can see the list of MARC place of publication codes organized alphabetically or by geographic region. (If you have trouble finding the country you're looking for, there is a cross-referenced list available.). Unlike the “place of publication field,” which is free-text and uses the publisher’s language for place, the MARC place codes key individual cities and other place names to a country or a U.S. state.
Example: to find all items in the Library Catalog that were published in Bangladesh in the last 5 years, you can use the place code “bg” instead of having to search “place of publication” for Dhaka OR Chittagong OR Khulna....
Note: this is not a failsafe search, as not all Library Catalog records are coded for place of publication.