An interesting article to those who are uninitiated and new to India/Sanskrit/Hinduism/Yoga; all of which are inseparable and one.
First thing is that there is no such thing as "proto-European" language. The euro-centric academicians are keen on denying the rich history of India and thus conjured up a precursor to Sanskrit called proto-Indo-European. I am curious as to why you left out the "Indo"! Also, there is nothing "European" about Sanskrit. All valuable knowledge was disseminated from Bharat (India) and thus Sanskrit is the oldest and most refined language in the world. The word Sanskrit itself means "that which is perfect".
On the whole, a nice piece, though peppered with inaccuracies. While the pronunciation of Sanskrit is relatively easy to learn from a good teacher, the grammar is perceived by most English speakers as monumentally difficult. It is true that the grammar is highly systematic, and therefore Sanskrit would be seen as easier than English from the perspective of a Mandarin speaker, say. But it is misleading to suggest that English speakers can read the Sanskrit originals without years of study.
Finally, English did not borrow at all from Sanskrit in its development; that is flat wrong. It simply has a common origin with Sanskrit, giving rise to cognate words with similar sounds (like dvāra and door). And Nāvāsana is definitely not related to navy. Someone just made that up. the root of nāvāsana is nau (boat).
Sanskritist, UC Berkeley
I agree we should teach the Sanskrit names of asanas. In my class with kids (at school), we usually have access to a white board. This makes it easy for the class. I've considered getting a small white board for my other classes since learning new words is exercise for the mind.
However, even if you go to India you well hear variations in how to pronounce words, example "namaste" is pronounced slightly different in different areas.
Also, you say ch in chakra is pronounced same as in chat. Yet, in "The Yoga Tradition" on page xxiv in the section on transliteration G. Feuerstein (one of the most highly regarded authorities on yoga) says it should be pronounced like "tshakra"
I'm not disagreeing with anyone on which is correct. I'm pointing out that we should not get too obsessed with the "correct" way to pronounce these words as slight variations exist and have existed for centuries.
I use the CD by N. Bachman (Language of Yoga) as my guide as well as a local teacher, Tom Thompson who studied extensively.
Namaste, Gloria Moore
You might also find the "Polair Illustrated Yoga Dictionary" useful, containing nearly 1500 Sanskrit and English terms with guide to pronunciation
Someone who truly learns sanskrit language never say about it "relatively simple language". Have you ever know that there are singular, plural and dual noun? and 9 noun cases with different endings?
Dhanyavad (Thank you!) for a very timely article. Yes, most yogic practitioners and experts in the West don't realize the extent to which they frequently mispronounce and even misuse Sanskrit terms in yoga. Years ago a friend while explaining a technique kept using a word which sounded like "City or Siddy". It was only much later that I realized that he was actually talking about "Siddhi". When this mispronunciation was pointed out to him he replied that this was the way they pronounced it. I reminded him that there was only one pronunciation for this term and he couldnt just modify it to conveniently suit his Midwestern tongue!
The deeper aspects of Yogic study become so much more meaningful when one at least attempts to develop a Sanskrit vocabulary and learn the meanings of the root words. Mantras and many rituals of puja are really not intended to be repeated mechanically. They have an innate beauty and power that can only be realized by seeking to learn the meanings of those words and the significance of those sounds.