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Instances, Classes, See Also, Object in Names
Definitions, . Quotes . - . Chapters .

object:5.2.03 - The An Family
book class:Vedic and Philological Studies
author class:Sri Aurobindo
subject class:Integral Yoga
collection class:cwsa

Proceeding always from the basis that the seed sound A is especially significative of vaguely extended being with a point of beginning or station, but no fixed limit, we shall see how this root guna works out in the word-clans and families which belong to this small but important tribe.

Let us take for our starting-point the dental & cerebral groups, which will give us, if it is complete, the five dental roots, at, ath, ad, adh, an and the five cerebral roots, a, ah, a, ah, a. If we are right in the belief that there is no fundamental difference of quality between dental & cerebral groups, except that the cerebral sound perhaps emphasises & as it were coarsens the sense of the dental, this will appear by our analysis & we can treat the corresponding members of each group as one root, for all practical purposes.

In this duplicated group, let us start with the nasal sound as the lightest & least likely to modify seriously the original intent of the base vocable A. What does the sound N add to the sense of being contained in the A? N, we shall find, is the especially characteristic sound for substance, but substance in its more subtle rather than its denser forms. AN then will signify, first, substantial being or subtle substance and it will always be capable of the idea of extended existence or expanded substance. If applied to motion it will particularise expansive movement or vaguely continuous movement, possibly, of subtle substance, or, if to force, a large extensive force; or if to sound, a thick but not sharp far-extending sound; if to contact, extended contact without any strong pressure; to light, heavy substance of light.

We find, actually, AN & its descendants arranged in the group-significances that follow:

I. Being

(1) Vague & general

to live

The words formed from the root in this sense are:

soul, being
thus, indeed

verbal noun of

in all its senses

1. birth 2. living being 3. parent

1. a man 2. a proper name

1. soul 2. the supreme spirit 3. a Vasu

Vishnu (cf Isha Up.
divine Life)
in abundance (Vedic)

(2) with idea of substance, mass or extension

food or matter .. rice, corn .. earth .. (water)

rice, boiled food

1. group, mass 2. form 3. front, head.. face .. 4. row, line, column..
face, mouth (perhaps 3) 1

Massed force or use of strength

battle, army

(3) with idea of expansion tending to motion

to breathe

breath (, )
(mouth), breath, nose



(4) with the idea of subtleness, slight substance, predominating

mean, base

edge, point

II. Motion

to move, go about



III. Light




IV. Sound

V. Contact

alongside, behind, after, with, near, at, towards, according to


attainable, friendly


If we examine the root A we find that it starts from the same beginnings. It means to live, to breathe. It has lost the sense of motion possessed by
, but in revenge it keeps a sense, to sound, which
preserves only in its derivative , a kettledrum or thunderbolt.On the other hand the cerebral root has this peculiarity that in all its derivatives it abandons the vaguer or heavier ideas of being & substance & concentrates on the idea of subtlety or paucity which is inherent in the idea of substance as represented by the N sound, but not its chief characteristic. This subordinate idea which is merely a secondary shade in the N guna, serving to distinguish it from its brother dentals, is here brought out & constitutes the chief connotation of the

We note in this relation of the twin roots AN and A certain characteristic features which we shall find to be common features of the process by which language has evolved.

(1) The two sounds are originally one, beyond possibility of mistake, and possessed a single stock of basic significances, to live, to breathe, to sound, to move.

(2) Differentiated, they both keep the most vital of the significances as a sign of their common origin.

(3) The others they share between them, each keeping one or more of the original ideas as a root, but losing it in the derivatives, keeping others in the derivatives & losing them in the root.

(4) The rarer & less prolific root concentrates in its derivatives on a single shade of meaning, or one or two, & leaves to the family of its richer twin the greater portion of the original property.

(5) The derivatives always preserve a great number of significances which the parent root has not cared to carry about with it.

Next let us scrutinise a little more closely the family of the root AN & see if it can help us to understand in some of its details this ancient process of language.

We see first that the root meaning of A has a tendency to minimise the shade of sense which has been added to it by the addition of the letter, but does not cast it off wholly. Anu means man, just as &
means man, the primal idea being that of an existing creature. We get back to this root idea of existence in
, soul, being &
, soul, spirit (cf anala and anila as names of Vishnu); nevertheless, the trend of the significance is towards physical or substantial existence,
, to live,
, birth, living being, the parent or producer of being.

We notice, next, the full sense of the complementary letter N emerging in the words that mean substance, mass, form or front & adding to itself the idea of extension or expansion contained in A in
, row, line, column. Connected with this characteristic significance is the idea of extended contact or proximity in
& its derivatives.

We see the idea of force coming in & joining itself to that of extension & mass in
, an army, & moving into the idea of motion of force in
, a battle.

The idea of motion emerges yet farther in the sense of breathing, but as we can see from other words meaning breath is not divorced from that of expansion. Motion of wind rather is conceived as an expansion in being.

The full idea of motion emerges in
, to move &
, a cart. Unfortunately the words are too few to decide whether motion here still keeps the shade of significance of vague extended motion or whether it has lost it by detrition of sense & gone back to the general sense of motion. If, however,
means essentially to go about, then the original shade has been kept & may be the original idea of
, the nomads wain.

We note again that the idea of sound conveyed by
is precisely the heavy wide rolling sound of a war drum or of thunder, & while the characteristic sense in the idea of light is not so clear, yet it is only fire & the sun which an admits into its family, perhaps because both are preeminently light in a material & in a very tangible substance of fire or heat. The family of
, sun with
, food, earth, is perhaps significant of this persistence of the idea of substantiality.

is generally derived from
, to eat, but cf
, food, rice; it is doubtful whether Sandhi was observed originally in the formation of Aryan nouns.)

Finally, we ask ourselves whether we have here all the senses of
, whether it has not like other roots sacrificed much of its store to give thereby a more precise value to those significances which it has kept. We turn to the cognate Greek & Latin languages for a clue.

We find in Latin a brief list of vocables obviously derived from the same root AN.

anima, breath, wind, life, soul animal

animus, mind anas, a duck

annus, year nulus, a ring

anus, an old woman

nus, the fundament

In Greek:

up, above, upon, over, beyond; apiece, severally .. to & fro; during, throughout, among, with, in .. according to

upwards, above, before

o wind, breath, life, mind

perfection, completion, finish

, accomplish, effect, complete .. fulfil, discharge .. consume, expend .. obtain ..

Not only the identities, but the points of contact & contrast between the same family in these three different languages contain many points that are suggestive & instructive.

We see first that though the root is the same, nowhere do the form & sense entirely agree. The Greek has kept the form ana which the Sanscrit has lost, lost the form anu which the Sanscrit has kept. Both are without the form ani which must, logically, have existed (cf apa, api, Greek & ). Greek has also the form which corresponds to an OA [Old Aryan] an and suggests at once long forms an (Vd?) and an. In sense & differ from anu only by preferring the significance above & before to that of after & behind& by adding a few significances which the Sanscrit has lost. But in both there is the same idea of extension & contiguity; the Greek fixes on extension in contact from above upward or in front, the Sanscrit on the same idea of extended contact from behind or downwards. The difference is eloquent of the real origins & processes of language, for we see that in the vaguer & more general idea the two languages agree,it is in certain precisions that they differ & apply the same idea from opposite standpoints.

Again Greek has o OA (anama) for wind, breath, life, mind, Latin anima & animus, Sanscrit preferred originally ana, then threw it aside and kept anila for wind, while it chose words from other but often kindred roots for the soul or mind ( tm etc). Did all these words belong to the original stock or were they developed from the same root separately by the three races? In view of the remarkable similarities in process of sense, the latter hypothesis is less probable. It is more likely that Sanscrit has kept nearer to the abundant & superfluous richness of the early Aryan tongue, while Greek & Latin have disburdened themselves of unnecessary variations.

We have Sanscrit anas, anasam and Latin anas, anatem, the same word (L. & Gr. t often stand for S. s), but anas in Sanscrit means birth, living being, parent, in Latin a duck. What possible connection can there be between the two vocables? Scientific philology shows us that they are identical in form & sense. For we find that in the primitive tongue, the first meaning of words of this kind is always the general idea of living creature, the second, a specific genus of living creature, the third a particular animal. Thus from av, to be, produce, we have avi, which meant originally a living creature, then was narrowed down on one side to the genus bird, the sense which it keeps in Latin avis (, a bird) and on the other to a four-footed animal; this latter sense was farther narrowed to the particular significance sheep, Latinm ovis, Greek , Sanscrit avi. Here we see the same process: anas means a thing born, a living creature; it keeps that sense in Sanscrit. In Latin it has lapsed like avis to the narrower idea, bird, & then to the still narrower idea of a particular kind of bird, duck, for which Sanscrit has kept the generic term hasa, a swift mover or flier, originally bird, then narrowed to swan, duck or goose. The latter word in the Latin form, anser (hasas) has been farther narrowed to the particular idea, goose, while for swan, it has chosen cygnus (Rt kj, to make a shrill or long sound). The intermediate step in the transition from anas, creature to anas, duck has been lost; scientific philology restores it and unifies the sister tongues.

We have the Latin nus, the buttocks, OA na, which in Sanscrit means mouth or nose. The contrast here becomes ludicrous. Yet it is the same word. na means something that strikes the eye by its substance, front, prominence; as always the vague sense comes first; then it is narrowed & expresses different parts of the body. In the same way we see S. , face or mouth, becomes Tamil mkku, nose, & Sanscrit nakra, nose, becomes Tamil nkku, tongue. So too tala in Sanscrit means bottom, talai in Tamil the head.

Anus, an old woman, is the OA anu, which means in Sanscrit a man. Where is the connection? But anu means life or living; from this sense it can easily come to mean long-lived. This epithet becomes a noun & as a feminine specifies in Latin an old woman. In Sanscrit it has kept its vaguer sense & narrowed it down to the general idea of a man.

(Anu, however, may have meant adult, grown up & then old, like vddha in Sanscrit.)

We have again annus, a year. In Sanscrit anna means the sun. One may argue that the word for the sun which determines the year has been transferred to the year itself; but this is one of those identifications, captivating to the fancy, which are not really sound.

  I.e., perhaps to be placed in group (3) below.Ed.


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