Statistics (was `Out of India')

Lars Martin Fosse l.m.fosse at
Sat Dec 7 10:06:16 UTC 1996

V. Rao wrote in answer to Kishore Krishna:
>[This thread may not be of any direct interest to most members of
>Indology. I am posting this publically because I wish to
>correct a potential misunderstanding which my previous post may
>have created. I would suggest all purely statistical discussions be
>switched to private e-mail.]

Allow me to disagree. As long as we are discussing Indological statistics, I
think the discussion should be available to everybody who cares to follow
it. I believe it would be useful for people to know about the subject. It
might also spare us the more naive attempts at using numbers to prove
points. If the other netters don't want it, I suggest they give us a hint. 

>The general idea is that when I start using something new, I try it
>out in known situations first. If it works there, then I can think
>about using it in situations where the answer is not known.

This is sound method and really the only way to proceed. Only if you can
show that statistical methods give good results in situations where you know
the answer in advance you will be able to use them with any degree of
confidence in situations where you don't know the answer.

>In other words, I was not testing for interpolations in Mahabharata or
>Kumarasambhava  etc., but I was testing the idea that statistical
>differences in metrical patterns of anushtub (that is half-stanzas of
>16 syllables, ending in LHLX, L=light, H=heavy, X=any) can indicate
>differences in age or authorship.

My own experience is that metrical patterns at best only would serve to
separate a few very rather long historical periods from each other. You
cannot use it to differentiate between texts by unknown authors. Or rather:
Differences in metrical patterns may indicate that you are dealing with two
different authors, but also that you are dealing with one author who changes
his style. Stylistically, the young author and the old author are two
different persons! In Sanskrit, you have the additional problem that writers
knew thousands of shlokas by heart, and often consciously tried to imitate
the style of previous centuries. I compared some samples from Somadeva with
samples from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata (using linguistic criteria) -
they were quite similar, at least as far as the criteria I used were
concerned. Somadeva did a great imitation job! To put it succinctly: You can
never be too careful when dealing with Indological statistics. 

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

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