Sanskrit is among the oldest languages, of all our Indo-European tongues. Now [Frits] Staal* says mantras, rhythms of sound that do not quite make sense, may lie at the roots of Sanskrit. Here’s an ancient song from the Vedas to be sung in the forest: Ayamayamayamayamayamayamauhova. Literally all it means is “thisonethisonethisonethisonethisonnnnnne …”
You are supposed to sing it when you consecrate an altar out of doors. Staal believes such resonating, repeating measures of sound may be older than human language itself. It may have worked like this: Our ancestors chanted rhythmic patterns of sound long before we ever thought that sounds should signify specific things. Sound came before sense, before we had history, back in the time of birds. Language came out of ritual rather than the other way around.
Why birds sing : a journey through the mystery of bird song by David Rothenberg. New York: Basic Books, ©2005, p. 185.
* Frits Staal. Ritual and mantras: rules without meaning. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1996, 1993. [For the above quote, see other ed., New York: Peter Lang, 1990, p. 305]