simplified Sanskrit (was: pronunciation of sanskrit)

zydenbos at zydenbos at
Fri Apr 11 04:21:32 UTC 1997

Replies to msg 10 Apr 97: indology at (lfdelcanto at

 le> From: Leon Fernando Del Canto <lfdelcanto at>
 le> Subject: pronunciation of sanskrit

 le> I am not sending this message to the list but if you think
 le> may be interesting you can do it.

But your message came to me via the list anyway, so I will give a few points

 le> Namaskar Robert and thanks for your defense of spoken
 le> samskrit. I agree
 le> with you in some points, however I would like you to clarify
 le> the following ones:

 le> 1. Re. Latin: I would like you to know that it is still used
 le> as spoken language in some scholars circles [...]
 le> involved in Roman History, Law, language and Philosophy
 le> teaching in the European Universities mainly. For instance, [...]
 le> many of the international
 le> conferences in Roman Law are hold in Latin.

This is nice to know. I did not want to go into non-Indological detail, but
another obvious example is the Roman Catholic church, where an active use of
Latin is still cultivated.

 le> 2. Re. your appreciation on > it is better to use real_
 le> Sanskrit, not
 le> the 'simplified' Hindutva-Sanskrit of the ten-day crash
 le> courses from Bangalore> it seems a bit offensive to me,

 le> I would appreciate very much if you can  make a more
 le> concrete critique
 le> to point the mistakes or problems you have observed in this
 le> method so
 le> the ones are following it can improve their Samskrit
 le> knowledge, as
 le> finally we are her to improve and help each other to learn.

I hope you understand that it is far from my intention to offend eager learners
of Sanskrit in Spain, o en otra parte, who have enthusiastically attended such
courses. (I also hope that the other list members will forgive me for a
detailed explanation of what I find offensive about that kind of Sanskrit.)

My main objections to that "simplified Sanskrit" are these: (a) the dual number
has been discarded completely, (b) the second person has in effect also been
discarded, because it is substituted by the stilted "bhavaan", "bhavatii" etc.
with the verb in the third person, (c) the verb system has been reduced to a
bare minimum, (d) almost all sandhi has been discarded, except for certain
frequent combinations (e.g. ko 'pi). These are my most serious objections.
Matters such as some of the neologisms in the vocabulary, and some examples of
ugly grammatical usage are debatable (e.g. a sentence such as "aham idaaniim
aagatavaan": why not the simple "aagata.h"?).

You may ask why I find these matters objectionable. I have attended such a
course in Mysore, and I have seen how the teachers claim to give their students
access to "devabhaa.saa" - and indeed, more than wanting to use Sanskrit
actively, the majority of the students hope that they can read classical
literature in the original language. But that classical literature is of course
in the non-simplified language. It contains words in the dual (verbs, nouns,
pronouns, adjectives), uses second-person pronouns and verb forms, uses the
entire range of verb forms (the various forms for expressing the past in
different nuances have been thrown out of the simplified Sanskrit), and if the
reader does not know the rules of sandhi, he has a big problem.

All these difficulties also occur when one reads contemporary Sanskrit writing
by authors who were educated in the traditional manner (i.e., the vast majority
among the limited number of people who write in Sanskrit), and also when one
speaks Sanskrit with the majority of people who are able to speak in that
language. These people will most probably be able to follow the simplified /
impoverished / modernized Sanskrit; but if the other speaker (i.e. the student
of this neo-Sanskrit) does not know how a dual, second person, imperfect etc.
sound, or what these look like in writing, or if he does not know that they
exist, then I foresee difficulties in mutual comprehension.

When I mention my objections to those who propagate this new Sanskrit, I always
hear the same reply: yes, everything that I say is correct, but their aim is to
popularize Sanskrit and to remove the general fear that learning Sanskrit is
excessively difficult; they want to help people cross a threshold, after which
the students can continue studying on their own. But that fear is suspended. I
personally know people who have gone through the ten-day crash course and
afterwards picked up a Sanskrit grammar book to learn more: and when they saw
what classical Sanskrit really is, they quickly gave up. I do not know how many
of the students at all try to continue their study. The Hindu Seva
Pratishthanam apparently has no intention of guiding their students further
towards real Sanskrit - which in a way makes sense, since it appears that
Hindutva does not really represent a genuine interest in the past.

If anyone in the West wishes to learn Sanskrit without becoming a philologist,
there are other, better methods. Apart from those which have been devised by
academicians in the West, there is, for instance, the system which has been
developed in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, which aims at being a
simple method without simplifying the language (cf. their publications like
_Samsk.rta.m bhaa.saamahai_ and the textbook with a title like One of the persons connected with that ongoing
project has also written an article in which he points out the shortcomings of
the HSP project.

Personally, I strongly sympathize with the idea of propagating the active use
of Sanskrit. And presumably some will argue that HSP Sanskrit is better than
none at all. But when better alternatives exist, I think we should prefer them.

- Robert Zydenbos

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