VYAKARAN: Re: Classical Sanskrit Accent

bpj at netg.se bpj at netg.se
Mon Apr 7 08:26:58 UTC 1997

At 23:00 6.4.1997 +0100, Jacob Baltuch wrote:
>B.Philip.Jonsson wrote:
>>>how about the meaning of the word 'saNskRta'? shouldn't we strive for one
>>>(re)constructed standard of decent pronounciation and rise above our indian
>>>western prakRta?
>>Maybe we SHOULD, but could those of us who are not phoneticians? And is it
>>worth it with a read-only language? Every language teacher sometimes ponder
>>the question which is most reasonable: striving for a goal of perfection
>>that some or most students cannot attain, or striving for an accent that,
>>while "foreign" causes as little misunderstanding and embarrasment as
>Aren't you confusing the question of what quality of prononunciation
>to accept from a student, which is one thing, and the question of
>what model to propose, which is another thing? Arguing over whether
>to accept "Marathi Sanskrit" or "Reconstructed Sanskrit" as a model
>can to some extent make sense to me, but can it ever make sense to
>aim at "French Sanskrit" or "Swedish Sanskrit"? Can "French Sanskrit"
>or "Swedish Sanskrit" be targets or can they only be something one
>unwillingly accepts because there are higher priorities and time is
>limited? It's not clear to me which of the two you are saying here.

OK, let's put the question this way: given that most students will effect a
broken pronunciation, should one allow _any and all deviations_, or should
we aim for a pronunciation that, while broken, preserves as much as
possible of the functionally most loaded distinctions, even if it does so
in a non-native manner? To take two examples from experience as
Swedish-as-second-language instructor: (1) if the students cannot make a
distinction between dental and retroflex consonants, should one allow them
to conflate them, or should they be encouraged to pronounce [r]+dental
where a native Swede has retroflexes (in Swedish retroflex consonants and
/r/+dental are in complementary distribution, though /r/+dental clusters
are only used by those who have a uvular /r/ [R]). (2) Should a student be
allowed to conflate the Swedish /%/ (High front to mid central lax rounded
vowel [Yw]<>[U+]) with Swedish /u/, which distinction carries high
functional load, or encouraged to conflate /%/ with /y/ which carries a low
functional low, or encouraged to conflate /%/ and /@/ (Low front to central
rounded vowel), as some native dialects do although this distinction
carries a considerable functional load -- a very real problem; incidentally
Finnish, German and Turkish learners follow quite different spontaneous
strategies here! A parallel in Sanskrit is the distinction of long final
vowels: should students be encouraged to stress these, to preserve this
functionally rather highly loaded distinction?

>Incidentally I think it would be interesting to hear from people
>who are teaching Sanskrit, whether the question of the prononciation
>model is an issue for them, how they have settled it (if they have),
>how much importance they attach to oral proficiency and a good pronun-
>ciation (if at all), how much importance and interest their students
>appear to attach to those questions, etc.

Yes, and how do they explain/describe the relevant distinctions to students
without phonetic training? When I took part in a group learning Tibetan
from tapes the problem wasn't with reproducing the tones accurately, but
with understanding their distinctiveness and applying them correctly. And
that in spite of Swedish being a tone language!

The phonetically untrained are often not aware even of the distinctions of
their own language. A fact, btw, that king Seidzong noted among Koreans
half a millennium ago: people thought that the sounds of their language
were those that the rhyme dictionaries described for Middle Chinese! I
wonder if this applies wrt to Sanskrit in relation to modern Indic
vernaculars also?

Philip <bpj at netg.se>

*  B.Philip Jonsson <bpj at netg.se>               *
*  Editor, Translator (English <-> Swedish),    *
*  Scholarly font-designer, Web-book designer   *

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list