Malayalam to get ‘Classical Language’ status

The Union Cabinet has approved classifying Malayalam as a ‘Classical Language’.

What is a ‘Classical Language’ ?

A classical language is a language with a literature (art of written work) that is classical. U.C.Berkeley linguist George L. Hart defined Classical Language as follows:

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.

Classical languages are those which are ancient, of an independent nature and not a derivative of any other tradition. And based on above, Chinese, Sanskrit, Tamil, Hebrew, Greek and Latin are considered as the Classical Languages of the World. Of these only Chinese and Tamil are used by masses now. 

In India, Tamil was the first to gain the Classical Language status, followed by Sanskrit in 2005. These two languages (Tamil and Sanskrit) are undoubtedly parental sources for many languages belonging to the Indo-European family and the Dravidian family of linguistic groups.

In 2006, the Union Minister for Tourism and Culture announced in the Rajya Sabha the creation of a new category of languages as classical languages based on 4 norms:

  • (i) High antiquity of its early texts/recorded history over a period of 1500-2000 years;
  • (ii) A body of ancient literature/texts, which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers;
  • (iii) The literary tradition should be original and not borrowed from another speech community;
  • (iv) The classical language and literature being distinct from the modern, there may also be discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or offshoots.

A committee of linguistic experts followed it up, and based on its recommendation classical status was conferred on Telugu and Kannada in 2008. Thus, the definition of classical languages has undergone several changes over the years and the latest criterion too is susceptible to changes.

Which are the Classical Languages of India?

Languages thus far declared to be Classical are:

  1. Tamil (2004)
  2. Sanskrit (2005)
  3. Kannada (2008)
  4. Telugu (2008)
  5. Malayalam (2013)

How it will help the Malayalam language?

With the conferment of this status to Malayalam, the language will get the benefits extended to Classical Languages include, two major annual international awards for scholars of eminence and setting up of a Centre of Excellence for Studies in Classical Languages. Other benefits include creation of certain number of Professional Chairs for Classical Languages for scholars of eminence in classical Indian languages.

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