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Sri Aurobindo and the English Language


August 24, 1973

Language is a vehicle of expression of thoughts, feelings and sensations. Poets enrich the language by fresh depths of emotions and thinkers expand the language while expressing their original thoughts. In one sense it may be said that no new thought can merely be expressed in the old patterns of the language. A new thought, mostly adds a new dimension to the language however slight it may be.

Sri Aurobindo has lived in new depths of consciousness, had his own visions of the cosmos and divinity. He has at certain stages integrated thought with emotion and lifted both to the realms of spiritual verities. His poetry has often flowed out of ranges that were constantly overmental, a realm not always accessible to the poets of the world. He has found infinite occasions to express the oriental spiritual visions in original English writings, using a language to whose origin and existence these concepts were alien. In doing so he has used many an English word in an extended sense, sometimes in a richer sense. The Vedic concepts - Sanskrit amplitudes were blended with the English words retaining their framework. The words have often been given a wider amplitude, a richer sense, an extra dimension. In his Integral Yoga, he employs the very Indian ideas, words, conceptions, etc. in his own fresh wider sense. His yoga is an attempt to widen the horizon of human evolutionary effort. This yields fresh thoughts, concepts, and fresh dimensions of the already available thought structure and vocabulary. In his writings as is common with original writers, we find his own creative phrasing. Two things can be noted: (1) Integration of traditional Sanskritic conceptions with the available English vocabulary and (2) Upgrading of the traditional Indian conceptions to the needs of his Purna Yoga and giving expression to them in English.

The contributions of Sri Aurobindo to the English language are not limited to these. But I would like to emphasise that his contributions have not been in the nature of those of an eminent writer. His were germinal in character as they were not merely expressive of fresh thought but of fresh cosmic as well as yogic visions. People who have heard him speak say that his voice seemed to issue out of a deep cave. Words issued out of the primeval silences. When he speaks of the Future Mystic Poetry he does not do so for others to create it. He himself initiates. He has spoken of English as having the possibility of becoming the Universal Language. We believe that he has himself touched the springs of the English language at such points where she could lend herself for evolving into one. A language which has grown in a period of expanding commerce which evolved to fulfill the needs of material conquest, has been given by him the benefit of integrating into herself the spiritual visions of the Vedic age. Further, she has been employed with facility to express his supramental vision in prose and poetry.

What he had done to English in the early decades of the century has given the language a new possibility. This is partly distinct from the growth of the language on its own, partly intermixed with his influence.

We are initiating a study to assess the area of Sri Aurobindo's contribution in terms of words, phrases, concepts, ideas unfamiliar to the West which have opened up the untapped creative possibilities of English.

It is our aim to locate the introduction of these influences and trace their growth in the language and how the growth of the language has been influenced by these aspects. We will later endeavour to assess the characteristics of a universal tongue in the light of the demands made on it by the emergence of global conceptions, emotions, etc.

story | by Dr. Radut