pronunciation of Sanskrit

F. Smith fsmith at
Thu Apr 10 22:41:23 UTC 1997

A representative from the Sa.msk.rta Bhaaratii was in Iowa City a month or
so ago, teaching "spoken Sanskrit" to a relatively enthusiastic group of
perhaps 30 or 40 people. The size is in and of itself newsworthy. It
consisted of NRI engineers, medical personnel, etc. (perhaps 2/3), a few
of my students, and a few others from outside (several from the Fairfield,
IA, TM community). I attended only one of the five sessions that ran from
Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. My impression is that the class was
targeted to NRI's, people who had command of a certain amount of common
vocabulary. The instructor was very active, very enthusiastic, with no
evident political agendas (though I have heard from Adi Hastings that they
are indeed funded by the RSS). As far as pronunciation goes, again,
because of the target audience, little was done to drill or correct, and
the non-Indians were clearly groping. The delicate pronunciation issues,
such as those Robert Zydenbos mentioned, were not addressed. Among the
grammatical simplifications, adding to the list Adi Hastings mentioned,
was the complete non-recognition of duals. I would venture to guess that
the class did little for the students except provide them with a sense of
cultural recognition and identity, at least among the NRI's (something I
can well appreciate out here amidst the cornfields); as for the others, I
would guess that most if not all was quickly forgotten in the absence of

Nevertheless, it forced me to consider for the umpteen thousandth time the
shortcomings of the oversystematized pedagogy we indulge in here in the
universities. Everyone who teaches Skt is no doubt at their wits end
constantly with regard to their primer of choice, no matter how good it
might be. For my own part, I have decided to introduce 15 or 20 minutes of
conversational Skt to the tail end of my 1 hour and 50 minute 1st year
class (twice a week). For that I have had to introduce a few exceedingly
common verbs such as aap and k.r that would not come until just about
lesson 30, similarly numerals, and so on. But the students are enjoying
the change.

Fred Smith 
Univ. of Iowa

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