Sanskrit Syntax Sangha

Thu May 23 12:47:20 UTC 1991

Status: RO

Brendan Gillon and Richard Hayes were very pleasantly surprised by
the recent interest in a Sanskrit Syntax Discussion Group. As we
mentioned in our original announcement in December 1990, we have
been exchanging ideas and observations about Sanskrit Syntax for
some time now and are eager to have the participation of others.
We have been working on the translation of a text, and as part of
that project, we have decided to do a grammatical analysis of
each of its sentences. As a pilot project to this research,
Gillon did an analysis of a random sample of 300 prose classical
Sanskrit sentences, looking primarily at constituency. Since
then, we have parsed over 450 from another text. The results, we
feel, have been well worth the effort. At the same time, many
interesting issues have arisen, both syntactic and semantic as
well as ranging from the somewhat theoretical to the not so
Here is a list of some of the topics.
1. Constituency
This topic has been looked into by Gillon, following up ideas of
Staal's from his book on Sanskrit Syntax and Universal Grammar.
Gillon would be happy to pass on a synopsis of his observations,
now based on a corpus of almost a 1,000 sentences, as well as a
sample of sentences which are problematic for the hypothesis he
is exploring.
2. Anaphora
Here, we have been discussing "tat", especially in what we have
concluded is its function as an indefinite pronoun. Gillon has
been suggesting that the function served by indefinite noun
phrases in English, in constructions commonly known by the term
"donkey sentences", a term due to Peter Geach (a philosopher who
has looked at Medieval European philosophers had to say about
quantification in natural language). Gillon has had the chance to
discuss the problem in some detail with Kamaleshwara
3. Asamartha Compounds
We have also put together data on asamartha compounds. One of the
interesting cases of these compounds, totally unexpected by us,
is the configuration in which the modifying element external to
the compound is an adverbial, modifying in a adjectival like
fashion an element subordinate in the compound. We thought it
would be interesting to see what observations and reactions
people would have to such compounds, certain totally unexpected
from expectations which would normally accrue to the standard
4. Copular Predication
We have had some discussion about the greater semantic
flexibility of the copula in Sanskrit.
5. Particles
We are attending to the syntax and semantics of a number of
particles. Over the past thirty years or so, an interesting
literature has grown up on the syntax and semantics of particles
in other languages. We are interested in seeing if equally good
accounts can be provided for their counterparts in Sanskrit.
Any particle is of interest. The ones which have caught our
attention are: "api", "eva", "iti", and "punar".
We have given the most amount of thought to "eva", cataloguing
its various uses and referring to some of the recent literature
on "only" in English, due to Geach, Horn, Partee, Shanon,
McCawley, and others.
If you are still interested and have a preference for one of the
issues mentioned above, or if you want to suggest a topic dearer
to your heart, then let us know.
A discussion group on Sanskrit syntax is probably not destined to
become enormous, so there will be no need to coordinate the
discussion through a LISTSERV. Perhaps the most efficient way of
seeing to it that all messages get to all participants would be for
all messages to be sent initially to one person, who could then
forward them to the others. If this arrangement does not sound
sensible, we are open to other suggestions. Meanwhile, let's try it.
Please send all messages intended for this group to Richard Hayes,
and he will send them on.
Brendan Gillon <gillon at>
Richard Hayes <cxev at>

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