Sanskrit has played a notable role in the history of the language sciences. Its intensive study at the turn of the 19th century went hand in hand with the institutionalization of linguistics as an independent academic discipline. This paper endeavours to trace the earliest Sanskrit studies conducted by Protestant missionaries in Tranquebar (present-day Tharangambadi in Tamil Nadu) under the auspices of the Dänisch-Hallesche Mission from 1706 onwards. In contrast to some of their Jesuit colleagues, the Protestant missionaries did not leave us full-blown manuscript grammars. However, this does not imply that the Tranquebar missionaries had no interest in the sacred language of the Hindus. It was, of course, the primary concern of all missionaries to spread the word of Christ among the indigenous people. Hence, they placed an extremely high value on a firm command of the local vernacular languages. In the case of the Tranquebar missionaries, the study of both Portuguese and Tamil was, therefore, prioritized. In a second stage, however, many of the Tranquebar missionaries, once they had mastered the local vernaculars, gained interest in Sanskrit, which they frequently styled ‘Malabaric Latin’. Partly on the basis of unpublished manuscript sources, this paper (a) investigates why the Tranquebar missionaries were interested in Sanskrit in the first place, (b) surveys the numerous problems they had to overcome, and (c) studies their interaction with scholars working in Europe, from whom they received many incentives. In so doing, the paper investigates to what extent this 18th-century interest in Sanskrit reflects a fascination with the original traditional culture and religion of South India. In conjunction with this, the paper also examines to what extent this largely overlooked chapter in early Sanskrit philology may shed an indirect light on the specific role of Sanskrit in the institutionalization of linguistics.