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There are some small pockets in India where people actually speak Sanskrit as a native language. From Wikipedia:

In these Indian villages, inhabitants of all castes speak Sanskrit natively since childhood:

  1. Mattur in Karnataka
  2. Jhiri, District: Rajgadh, Madhya Pradesh
  3. Ganoda, District: Banswada, Rajasthan
  4. Bawali, District: Bagapat, Uttar Pradesh
  5. Mohad, District: Narasinhpur, Madhya Pradesh
  6. Shyamsundarpur,District: Kendujhar, Odisha

Are these modern Sanskrit speakers studied? Are they preserving a holy language or is it evolving like a real living language?

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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

As far as I know, Mattur's effort is the oldest one, but that began in 1982.

Ganoda does not seem to be doing all that well. An article on Jhiri is happy to call the Mattur experiment a failure. (It isn't, AFAIK.)

As you can see here, and in the two links above, the motivation for speaking Sanskrit was to go back into tradition.

The towns/villages that have adopted Sanskrit are too far apart for neologisms of one location to be understood in another. The occasional movies made in Sanskrit, are aimed for Sanskrit speakers across India, and not specifically aimed at these native speakers of Sanskrit. These movies are based on traditional stories and themes. There are some news telecasts on radio and TV (in Sanskrit), broadcast across the country. Given:

  1. their motivations to adopt Sanskrit,
  2. how recently the efforts began,
  3. how far-apart these towns and villages are from each other,
  4. availability and themes of media in Sanskrit, and
  5. the intended audience of the media,

I don't see how this kind of a Sanskrit can be an evolving language.

Disclaimer: I have interacted with just one native speaker of Sanskrit, but that was over 15 years ago. He spoke just Sanskrit, I spoke no Sanskrit. Therefore, I cannot have first-hand information about the state of Sanskrit in these places.

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Wow I meant to ask if any of the speakers were monolingual. –  hippietrail Sep 21 '11 at 22:26
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@hippietrail This I can answer with first-hand info: my friend from Mattur was a monolingual Sanskrit speaker. I understand that businesses in Mattur use just Sanskrit. That gives me the impression that there are many more like him. –  prash Sep 21 '11 at 22:27
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I would say tha Matturites aren't monolingual. Though they heavily use Sanskrit, many of them understand Kannada. This is a must for them, because mattur is a small village and they have to visit other towns e.g. Shimoga-their district headquarter, the nearest city. So they can't possibly be monolingual. In fact, Indians are pretty much accustomed to bilingualism. –  Nikhil Bellarykar Jan 17 '12 at 6:41
    
@NikhilBellarykar: The person I met was training for monastic life at Ramakrishna Mission -- perhaps that gives you some context about his background. Educated Indians, by and large, are not monolingual, but I would not generalize to all Indians. –  prash Feb 4 '12 at 13:00
    
@prash: Fine, I am not claiming that the person you met was ignorant in any way. But do take a look here at the comments on the article, people are saying that the Matturites know kannada as well. enidhi.net/2009/12/sanskrit-village-mattur-near-shimoga.html –  Nikhil Bellarykar Feb 4 '12 at 18:50
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Sanskrit in South India (when/if learned) has a lot of influence from native Dravidian languages:

  1. most of the times, it's written in the local Dravidian script and not in Dev'nag'ri

  2. people pronounce it with a heavy Dravidian accent (even Sanskrit loans in Malayalam are pronounced in a Dravidian way in 99% of situations, most Malayalis pronounce Bhavana as simple Bavana or Bavna, intervocalic GH is pronounced as kh or k or g or as a soft g, it is very rare to hear the ''correct'' Sanskrit pronunciation of Sanskrit words in Malayalam, most of the times, people treat them like normal Dravidian words).

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(1) Sanskrit does not have a native script of its own. (2) The features you describe are not shared by all Dravidian languages. –  prash Feb 4 '12 at 12:56
    
Loss of aspiration is shared by all major Dravidian languages. In Brahmin sociolects of Dravidian languages, this may not (and often does not) feature prominently, esp in pronounciation of Sanskrit words. But otherwise, loss of aspiration is a major feature of "Dravidian accent/s", so to speak. The Tamil rendering of many Sanskrit words is a different issue altogether, as this is not shared by Kannada and Telugu. –  Nikhil Bellarykar Feb 4 '12 at 18:58
    
@NikhilBellarykar: I don't get what you mean about loss of aspiration being shared by all major Dravidian languages. Kannada and Telugu are no less Dravidian than Tamil or Malayalam. Yet, the Kannada alphabet is nearly identical (in range) to Devanagari: compare ಕ ಖ ಗ ಘ to क ख ग घ. –  prash Feb 4 '12 at 19:46
    
The alphabet having aspirated letters does not mean that the spoken language contains them. Although Kannada and Telugu alphabets are nearly identical with Devnagari alphabet, the spoken languages show a prominent loss of aspiration. I have observed this for Kannada as well as Telugu speakers when they speak Hindi as well as their respective mothertongue. –  Nikhil Bellarykar Feb 6 '12 at 7:04
    
The Kannada alphabet recited: youtube.com/watch?v=qJJ_gOdIuHo. A dialect typical of south Karnataka: youtube.com/watch?v=bPbkhswCSNY. A dialect typical of coastal Karnataka: youtube.com/watch?v=kiGopyreV6w. Next up: you'll have to get some kannada text, find a recitation of it, and see if the pronunciation corresponds to my first link. Some non-native Hindi speakers pronounce things in strange ways. That does not mean these sounds are absent from the language. –  prash Feb 6 '12 at 12:41
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