Retroflexion

George Thompson thompson at JLC.NET
Mon Mar 2 16:30:30 EST 1998


Many thanks to Lars Martin for his interesting examples from Norwegian.
That helps. Now back to Vedic:

aitareya-AraNyaka 3.2.6:

"Now kRSNahArIta proclaims this secret doctrine, as it were, regarding
speech to him. prajApati, the year, after creating creatures, burst. He put
himself together by means of the meters, therefore it is the saMhitA. Of
that saMhitA the letter N is the strength, the letter S the breath, the
self. He who knows the saMhitA and the letters N and S, he knows the
saMhitA with its breath and its strength.... If he is in doubt whether to
say it with an N or without an N, let him say it with an N. If he is doubt
whether to say it with an S or without an S, let im say it with an S....
hrasva mANDUkeya says: 'If we repeat the verses according to the saMhitA,
and if we recite [according to] the teaching of mANDUkeya, then the letters
N and S are obtained for us'.... sthavira zAkalya says: 'If we repeat the
verses according to the saMhitA, and if we recite [according to] the
teaching of mANDUkeya, then the letters N and S are obtained for us."

This passage is cited by Madhav Deshpande in his article "Genesis of
Rgvedic Retroflexion" [I take it from the version reprinted in _Sanskrit
and Prakrit: Sociolinguistic Issues_ (1993), p. 142.]

As Deshpande goes on to note. for the author of this text a certain option
existed between the use of retroflex N and S, as opposed to dental n and s.
And clearly the author's preference is for the retroflexes.

To return to Lars Martin's Norwegian examples: are the retroflexed forms
/ka.t/ and /ma:.t/ found to be in competetion with variants /kart/ and
/malt/? And if so is one form considered standard over against the other?

The sociolinguistic situation in Norwegian may help us to understand the
sociolinguistic in Vedic, and vice versa. And both situations invite a
consideration of the important socilinguistic work of William Labov....

George Thompson



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