VYAKARAN: Re: Classical Sanskrit Accent

bpj at netg.se bpj at netg.se
Sun Apr 6 14:34:27 UTC 1997

This question of Sanskrit accents in different parts of India rises the
question what model a western student should adopt: a theoretical
"scientifically reconstructed" accent -- more or less that of P^a.nini i.e.
--, the modern Indian accent closest to this ideal (Maharashtra?), the
accent of their Indic teacher, or allow for a greater degree of influence
from their _western_ substrate languages?

The latter was AFAIK the rule among western scholars a generation or so
back, and given the fact that Sanskrit is for us mainly a _read_ language,
it may have some justification, as long as students are aware of the fact
and the manner that their pronunciation differs from that of P^a.nini and
of modern Indians -- especially the latter is often lacking. Admittedly
this would give a variation of pronunciation across Europe no less than
across India. I as a Swede have no trouble distinguishing retroflex and
dental sounds (Swedish, and Norwegian, even has a distinction between
palatal, retroflex and dental sibilants!), while vowel length is a crux --
in Swedish vowel length is correlated with stress, so that I tend to stress
every long vowel, with a main stress falling on the last one of a word even
if it is final, since the quantity of the last syllable often carries
important grammatical information. A Swede will also pronounce anusv^ara as
[N] (velar nasal!) and visarga as [x]. By contrast a Finn will have no
problem with quantity or visarga, but their language contains only one
sibilant, no voicing distinction,  only one series of apicals and has
severe restrictions on consonant clusters -- incidentally Finnish differs
from other European languages much the same way Tamil differs from IA
languages! English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Polish,
Czech, etc. would each present its own modification/deviation from a
P^a.ninian standard. Aspiration is of course a problem for almost ALL

My question is: given the variation that is a fact of life in India (not to
mention Tibetan -- vajra -> /bendzra/! -- or Thai pronunciation of
Sanskrit), is it REALLY worth the while to try to impose an elusive
standard of "correctness" on western students (unless they be
phoneticians)? Isn't it better to aim at "local" pronunciation standards
that still allow for good scansion of verse and hilights grammatically
important contrasts like final long vowels? The phonetician and the
pedagogue (sp?) in me have fought their battles over this...

How, btw, do Anglophones pronounce visarga? Does "du.hka" come out as
/dUhUka/, as /dUxka/ or as P^aliesque /dUkha/? I guess it would vary.

And how do Francophones and other Romance speakers handle /h/ and /.h/?


Philip Jonsson <bpj at netg.se>  (aka "V^ag^i;svara/Ngaq-dbang" :-)

At 14:05 6.4.1997 +0100, Madhav Deshpande wrote:
>        In connection with a discussion of classical Sanskrit accent, it
>may be remembered that classical Sanskrit as spoken today has regionally
>distinctive styles.  Just as one can identify a person's region within
>India from his/her Indian English, one can do the same from the style of
>spoken Sanskrit.  As someone who was extensively trained in a
>Sanskrit-speaking institution in Pune, I remember that we had a few
>teachers from the region of Karnataka, and their spoken Sanskrit accent
>was distinctly different from our other Maharashtrian teachers.  While we
>admired our teachers from Karnataka, we were not encouraged to follow them
>in their "accent".  The different "accents" in the regional modes of
>Sanskrit pronunciation were evident in all-India events such as
>Panditasabhas, Kavisammelanas, and in the various inter-university
>Sanskrit debate competitions.  The most important feature I have always
>noticed, and is imperceptibly also part of my own personal pronunciation,
>is that the Sentence intonation of modern Sanskrit is almost exclusively
>connected with one's regional language.  The same is true in the phonetic
>quality of vowels and consonants.  The gap between dentals and retroflexes
>gets wider as one travels to the south.  Similarly, one can notice the
>differences in the pronunciation of a sound like .n, which appears more as
>a flapped sound in the region of Gujarat, while it becomes more firmly
>stop-like in the region of Maharashtra.  The visarga and anusvaara are
>also pronounced distinctively in different regions.  What I find most
>interesting in Witzel's comments is the possibility of the regional
>accents interfering in the pronunciation of Vedic accents.  Since the
>pronunciation of a text like the Rigveda is identifiably different in
>Maharashtra from let us say Tamilnadu, one needs to objectively
>investigate the relationship of the regional accent of Sanskrit and its
>impact on the recitation of Vedic accented texts.
>        All the best,
>                                        Madhav Deshpande

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