Is Yoga a Language Killer?

Patrick McCartney
27 min readFeb 12, 2021

Language loss in the Indian Himalayas

This was a DRAFT, which became published in some other articles, like this one in the Wire. Not all of it was included and most of the images were left out. So, this version presents a more comprehensive picture.

DOI 10.17605/OSF.IO/4GVPB Patrick McCartney CC-By Attribution 4.0 International

Language-killer = bhāṣā-hantṛ

As a consequence of the global popularity of yoga, there is an unspoken threat to the marginalised languages of South Asia, such as the Central Pahari languages, Garhwali and Kumouni. This occurs via the banal support and shared appreciation that Hindus, Hindu supremacists and global yoga consumers have for the Sanskrit language.

The title is meant to be provocative, and grab your attention. I hope that by the end of the article, should you get that far, that it becomes apparent what I mean, when I ask the question, ‘Does yoga help kill languages?’ Today, Sanskrit plays a central role in the global yoga industry, as well as a peripheral role in the wellness and spiritual tourism industries; which, combined, these industries represent multi-trillion dollar opportunities for the Indian state to promote its cultural heritage on the global stage, while representing itself as the apogee of morality through the term viśva guru (world guru).

Below, I discuss how the politics and consumption of yoga are, in some ways, involved in language endangerment. This occurs through privileging Sanskrit, which is the language that many ancient and medieval texts of Hinduism, yoga, and other philosophical traditions from South Asia, are written in.

To the casual observer, or participant, it might not be that obvious how money, power and politics intersect, through manufactured narratives and subjective experiences, in the production of desire and cultivation of affect. This is because the global popularity in many things Indian, and yogically-related, lends itself to other, often under appreciated or unrecognised…