`Conversational Sanskrit' vs `Real Sanskrit'

Srinivasan Pichumani srini at engin.umich.edu
Thu Apr 17 18:11:38 UTC 1997

>> But passive constructions in the Dravidian languages are 
>> cumbersome 

Robert, I am reminded of this striking paragraph in P.T.Srinivasa 
Iyengar's "History of the Tamils: from the earliest times to 600 A.D." 
(Madras, C. Coomarasawmy <sic> Naidu, 1929)... 

As he imported the seven cases of Sanskrit into Tamil,  Agattiyanar is also
responsible for importing the passive voice from Sanskrit.  The passive is
a definite inflection which all verbs,  transitive or intransitive,  undergo
in Sanskrit.  When transitive verbs become passive,  it serves the purpose of
making the object of the action the subject of the sentence,  as when in
English we say, "the lion was killed".  This way of speaking is useful,  when
the subject of the action is not known or is not intended to be mentioned or
when the object has to be emphasized.  When intransitive verbs were given
the passive inflection no such rational use can be found for it, but yet in
Sanskrit the use of the passive intransitive is more idiomatic than that of
the active, though no special meaning can be attached to the passive use; thus,
"saH bhavati" is the same as "tena bhUyate", only the latter cannot be
translated into any other language, for "he is been" is absurd even in English,
though it is allied to Sanskrit. Agattiyanar imposed the passive construction
on Tamil; even he could not transfer the passive intransitive into Tamil,
though he could translate "tADyate" into "aDikkapaTTAn", agglutinating the
verb paDu, to the past participle of aDi.  aDikkapaDu, if analysed into
aDikka [while (another man) beats], and paDu [let (you) suffer] is seen to
be opposed to the genius of Tamil, for compounding two verbs into one and
assuming different persons to be the subjects of the two elements of the
compound verb is violating both logic and grammar which is based on logic
at least as far as Tamil is concerned.  The true Tamil idiom for "undergoing
beating" is aDipaDu or aDiyu_n, where the first part of the compound is an
abstract noun.  AgattiyanAr invented this passive, because it is necessary
for translating the Sanskrit passive verbs into Tamil and it proved so useful
for men who think in Sanskrit and write in Tamil that AgattiyanAr's disciple,
TolkAppiyanAr, begins his grammar with a pseudo-passive "ezhuttenapaDupa".
This pseudo-passive which no Tamil man ever uses in natural Tamil speech, but
which was invented to enable Sanskritists to translate easily from Sanskrit
into Tamil, has, in our days, become very fashionable in written Tamil, because
we have learnt to think in English (which revels in passive forms) and write
in Tamil.  This barbarous form in "paDu" mars every page of the Tamil
translation of the Bible, and unfortunately the Tamil composition of Pandits."

PTSI's book is quite dated now, but still makes for _very_ interesting 
reading.  For his times, he seems to have steered well clear of "patriotic
megalomania" and "prejudiced micromania".

Happenstance, I found out that this book which grabbed my attention about 8 
years ago, inspired Prof.Zvelebil too... he says this in a footnote in his 
"Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature" (Leiden, Brill 1992)...

     I remember being absolutely thrilled by reading this book for the
     first time while I was a student at Charles University in Prague
     in 1947 or 1948.

Wish I could say sans embarrassment that "great minds think alike". ;-)


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