`Conversational Sanskrit' vs `Real Sanskrit'

zydenbos at flevoland.xs4all.nl zydenbos at flevoland.xs4all.nl
Wed Apr 16 19:59:06 UTC 1997

Replies to msg 16 Apr 97: indology at liverpool.ac.uk
(vidynath at math.ohio-state.edu)

 voe> From: Vidhyanath Rao <vidynath at math.ohio-state.edu>
 voe> Subject: Re: `Conversational Sanskrit' vs `Real Sanskrit'

> It is possible (or likely?) that a parallel, though certainly not
> cognate,
> construction in the Dravidian languages has contributed to the popularity
> of -tavant, namely the combination of a relative participle with a
> pronominal ending. E.g.: Kannada maa.dida-, or Tamil ceyta-, [...]

 voe> I don't know Kannada. But in colloquial Tamil, the past
 voe> tense is not
 voe> expressed using participle like forms. The typical
 voe> formation would be
 voe> ``vii.t.tukku ppo_n~e'' and not ``vii.t.tukku po_nav~a
 voe> n~aa'' [...]
 voe> Participles are used in place
 voe> of relative claueses and to put emphasis on the subject,
 voe> but not, AFAIK,
 voe> as the typical means of expressing the past tense.

Of course, "vii.tukku poo_nava_n naa_n" would be more literally translated
something like: "The one who went home am I." And this is hardly a typical
everyday past tense construction -- just as, we may add, the Sanskrit past in
-tavant is unusual.

But passive constructions in the Dravidian languages are cumbersome and little
used, which is a reason why South Indians (and not only they: me too!) have
difficulties in using the Urdu-Hindi past tense of transitive verbs, which is
historically a passive. So it is understandable that they would gladly avoid
common Sanskrit constructions like "mayaa pustakam pa.thitam", with the agent
in the instrumental case, in favour of "aham pustakam pa.thitavaan", where the
agent is in the nominative case and the object in the accusative, as in
Dravidian. And Kannada "naanu pustakavannu oodidavanu" and Tamil "naa_n
puttakattai pa.tittava_n" ("I am [the] one who read a book") superficially mean
the same as the Sanskrit sentence, have the same word order, and also the
endings resemble each other phonetically, which is helpful in memorizing the
construction. Furthermore, avoiding a conjugated active past-tense verb form by
using a verbal agentive noun reduces the amount of grammar which the learner
needs to learn and thus further simplifies this neo-Sanskrit.

- Robert Zydenbos

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list