Importance of Sound in Language
The concept of sound is one of the most important factors in the development of human history, and it also acts as the deciding factor in advancement of the society and its sustenance in the ever-changing flux of this world. Sound is God! -This is the declaration of ancient texts. According to Indian Mythology, it is believed that before THIS, there was only Soul. It manifested itself through the primordial sound-AUM. This sound is believed to be everywhere in the universe: among all the five elements of nature-earth, water, wind, fire, and ether! Ether is the lightest and it pervades everything. Sound is the characteristic of ether, and so, sound component pervades everything.
Story-telling and verbal-reading of scriptures have been old and long-standing practices, which are purely based on the importance of sound, and its impact on human life. In the Upnishadas, a particular Shanti Mantra or invocation starts with the line, whereby the person asks to listen to good sounds through the ears.
ऊँ भद्रं कर्णेभिः शृणुयाम देवाः ।
Sound and its impact are well known from the Vedic Culture, though almost all over the world, scholars and seers know its value.
The sound or the combination of sounds-the words-that we utter, make a tremendous effect on the listener. A story clarifies it more:
A teacher was teaching her students. She was inspiring them very enthusiastically exhorting them to do good deeds and be good in life. The school inspector, who was listening to this from outside, stepped in and asked the teacher in disbelief:
Teacher! You are inspiring them with good positive words and all that. What’s the use of it? Will it have any impact on them and will they practice what you ask them to do?
The teacher did not answer him and asked the students: who will throw this fool out of the class!
The school inspector was visibly angry and thundered, “Do you know to whom are you talking? You will have to mete out your punishment for this!”
The lady replied very softly: Dear sir, I am sorry for all this! I did not mean what I said. But you see, how my negative words affected your calm and made you angry, and similarly, my positive words will also make them to act rightly! My words will certainly have their impact on the student’s mind.
This story clearly depicts the value of sound, which is full of energy and power, able to inspire or enrage the people. Many saints and enlightened souls have emphasised the importance of sound from time to time, and they deemed the sound and the power of the speech as one of the most powerful that man is endowed with!
Sounds were formulated in words, and different languages got developed using the power of speech for communication, which has great importance in human life.
Let’s now take a look on the specific aspects of importance of language in human life.
Importance of sound in language and language development
The first and most important factor of sound in human life is the language that we use to communicate with one another, and also to do all the things that keep this world moving. Down from history, the use of language and its development has played a major role in the development of human life. We will not go into the details of language development as such, but would concentrate ourselves on the role of sound in the language development.
Different languages have different sets of sounds to combine and make the words. However, correct sounds and the pronunciation of the words that are formulated, are necessary to ensure that the language does not die down or lose its original flavor. The grammar stops having any role or significance if we do not pay heed to the sound aspect of any language.
English, which is known today as the universal language, has so many variants in its dialects and accents that people from different countries speak different English. The English language has been made so liberal in its grammar and use that almost everybody seems to have his or her own grammar and set of rules. This, no doubt, helps in spreading the language among masses, but clearly mars its development and sustenance from the tides of time.
We move to India and take the example of Sanskrit. This language is the most ancient one; and according to famous magazine of France-Forbes-it happens to be the mother of all languages. This was stated by Forbes in 1976. However, if we make a look, we can clearly see that in India itself, nobody seems to worry about this language-keep apart the thing of developing it. No wonder that the ancient wisdom has been lost or ignored, and we are finding it difficult to cope with the advancement of the world. Reason? –Because, we did not developed our own language and accepted foreign languages. Almost nowhere in India, young people like to read or study Sanskrit. But how can India stand or move ahead without Sanskrit. The greatest foreign supporter of Sanskrit, and the first translator of Rigveda in English, Sir Freidrich Max Müller has stated that Sanskrit is the soul of India. Its culture, society, wisdom, and almost everything is based on the development of Sanskrit among the masses.
But, why this entire clamour about Sanskrit? Let us check:
1. It is the fittest language to be used in computers due to its perfect and smallest syntax. Scientists from NASA are thinking about implementing the use of Sanskrit in computers and Artificial intelligence.
2. It is believed to be the language of gods, and no wonder that the first book ever written-Rigveda-was written in Sanskrit.
3. Vedic chanting-an integral part of Sanskrit, has been declared an intangible heritage of humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This was declared in a meeting of jury members on November 7, 2003 at Paris.
This is in pure contrast to the fact and actual state of Sanskrit in India! But how is that Sanskrit being neglected for so many centuries is able to keep the whole humanity in its spell? How people are finding it that it is the best language according to the technical aspects and also looking from linguistics’ point of view. The main reason for all this is that Sanskrit language is purely sound based! The sound characteristic of Sanskrit is so much strong that no alteration or modification to the sound is allowed, and thus, Sanskrit has been able to keep its value even now. Whoever knows Sanskrit, he follows the same grammar, and the pronunciation of the words never fails the listener.
Almost all the religious texts are verbally read or advised thus, which actually helps in purifying the atmosphere. Divine sounds make divine vibrations, which are pretty much important for human life and growth. The recitation of Vedic Mantras is one of the oldest rituals of India, and very aptly, now the world is recognizing its significance. Actually before any book was codified, the meaning of learning was purely sound based. The Vedas themselves are called “Shruti”-that which is heard! So, it is clear that sound is the most important factor for language! Due to lesser stress paid on the pronunciation of these scriptures, students find it difficult to read them and understand them, when they try to learn something of their own.
Let us resort to some classical examples as to know what could happen if sound aspect of the language is not taken care of:
There was a saint named as Gorakhnath! There is a district named after him in Uttar Pradesh-Gorakhpur. Now his actual name was Gorakshnath-meaning the protector of cows. What actually happened that the sound of “ksh” was changed to the sound of “kh”, and it came to be known as “Gorakhnath”! But what is bad here? -So many names got changed and we never care for them? The problem is that now we use the name of “Gorakh” in the most-unwanted way-if a person is caught by the police doing some mysterious works and indulging in bad habits, he is termed as to be doing a “Gorakh-Dhandha”. The name of the saint changed its significance and became synonyms with somewhat very deplorable.
The sound of the “ksh” consonant is so much unique that almost all other languages of foreign countries fail to get its essence, and so does some of our Indian languages also. Wherever it is used, either it is replaced by “ch”, “kh”, or “x” of English. The word Sanskrit itself means, refined. If we look closely at the sounds produced by the consonants and vowels of Sanskrit, we will find that the sets of consonants are particularly made to get the sounds, which can be produced by touching the tongue on a specific part of the roof of the mouth cavity; through closing or opening the lips; or by other means. There is no primary sound that has not been included in the alphabet of Sanskrit. It is clear that the language was developed taking care about all the sounds that can be produced by the mouth. And this is where our present system of teaching the languages fails in its effectiveness; for, we tend to ignore the sound and pronunciation of the words that we teach to the students.
Another example of sound is the “Halant” used in Sanskrit and Hindi. The names of Hindi and Sanskrit end with an additional “a” in English. We resort ourselves to the classical example of “Yoga”. In Sanskrit this words means-union. It has a wider significance and wider horizons and is one of the most prized wealth of India. “Halant” used in Hindi or Sanskrit, takes out the root “a” from that consonant. But this “Halant” is never used in any name-and therefore, in English, an additional “a” is placed to make it clear that the name ends with its root sound “a”. Very fine from this point of view! But what has happened is that it has been pronounced as “Yogâ”, whereby people accent the last “a”. There seems no fault in this, for, almost in all Indian languages, they have their own additions to the names. But what has happened actually-the sound of that changed name has caught the minds of our people and they also use this word as “Yogâ”. The original word “Yoga” lost its significance. If people do “Yogâsna”, which is actually a small part of “Yoga”, they say that they are doing “Yogâ” to keep the body fit. The original language lost its significance due to the improper use of sounds that should have been taken care of!
In another example, we move to a European country: Germany! Their language is called Deutsch-known as German in English. Okay, so now we take a German name-Ludwig Van Beethoven! Now this name in German would be pronounced as “Ludwish Fan Beethofen”, because when the “g” in Deutsch language comes at the end of the word, and with a preceding “i”, it is pronounced as “ish”, and “v” in Deutsch has a sound of “f”. But due to same spellings used in English, the name of this greatest music composer of Europe is changed to what it seems written actually, in English.
All these examples clearly show that the text aspect of the language is lesser important, and for the development of the language, sound aspect should be stressed more and taken care of properly by the teachers who are teaching in the schools. We have stressed too much on the written words, and thereby, lost all the significance of the words and perhaps the meanings also, which the ancient and original languages have cherished and preserved so faithfully!