Sandhi in `real' Sanskrit vs `conversational' Sanskrit

zydenbos at zydenbos at
Thu Apr 17 22:34:20 UTC 1997

Replies to msg 16 Apr 97: indology at
(vidynath at

 voe> From: Vidhyanath Rao <vidynath at>
 voe> Subject: Sandhi in `real' Sanskrit vs `conversational'
 voe> Sanskrit

 voe> I am curious about the use of sandhi in `real' spoken Sanskrit:
 voe> In print, it is customary to apply sandhi except at
 voe> sentence junctures.

 voe> if I want to speak the following in `real' Sanskrit, am I
 voe> supposed to
 voe> run through the whole thing in one breath, or can I pause?

In texts written in technical Sanskrit prose (e.g. commentatorial literature),
we see that in practice sandhi rules were relaxed. In metrical texts we do not
see this, because sandhi effects the phonetic form of the words and therefore
has prosodical influence.

 voe> Isn't it the case that in Pali and Prakrits, sandhi is
 voe> applied only
 voe> to standing phrases or very closely connected words? Isn't
 voe> the same the case in living languages?

 voe> [...] Why not break this cycle by ignoring
 voe> sandhi in printing (as in done in >all< languages except Sanskrit)

This is not so. Sandhi is very much alive in the literary Dravidian languages.
(If by "all" you also mean languages outside India: French is an obvious
example of a language with written sandhi.) It is of course true that sandhi in
these languages has less far-reaching consequences, but it is there.

 voe> To return to my original question, who owns Sanskrit? That is, who
 voe> decides what is `real' Sanskrit? Why is it `real' Sanskrit even
 voe> when intonation patterns that peek out from A.s.taadhyaayi
 voe> are not followed [for example, ``ki.m kriyaapra"sne ...'' suggests
 voe> that it was ``kim, ga'cchasiii'' for ``Are you going''
 voe> (literally ``What, you are going?'') opposed to ``ki"n gacchasiii''
 voe> for ``Whither are you going?''], but it is no longer Sanskrit
 voe> when sandhi is not applied blindly paying no attention to
 voe> natural pauses? Why is it `real' Sanskrit when we write ``ki.m
 voe> gacchasi'' even though the pronunciation is mostly ``ki"n gacchasi''?

Clearly Hindus do not "own" Sanskrit, since it has also been used by Jainas and
Buddhists (and Caarvaakas: viz. the Tattvopaplavasi.mha). Nor does any jaati or own it. Nor do people in any part of India own it, since it is used all
over India. Nay: it is not even owned solely by Indians, since it is has been
used also by Nepalis, Indonesians and Tibetans.

Nor is there any need for a distinct group of 'owners' to determine when
something is no longer real Sanskrit. There is no such thing as an English
Academy in imitation of the Academie francaise, and yet it is possible for the
average speaker of English to determine whether something is real English or
pidgin English. This also allows a degree of variation among e.g. regional
varieties of English (southern English, northern English, Scottish, Irish,
Canadian,...). There are varieties of Sanskrit, just as there were varieties of
later Latin.

When somebody arbitrarily decides to abolish features of a language which have
been part and parcel of the traditional, gradual development of that language,
and abolishes such features as to make it extremely difficult to understand the
literary products in that language as they have been produced up to that point
in time, then there is a break in the natural development and we have a newly
produced language, derived from the old one, but not the same. Decades ago an
Italian mathematician, Dr. Peano, devised "Latino sine flexione" as an
international link language: Latin without inflexions. The very name shows that
it is no longer real Latin: "Latino" cannot possibly be a nominative in real
Latin, and although I do not "own" Latin, I can say this with certainty.
Ten-day HSP Sanskrit has not gone quite as far as Latino sine flexione, but by
the same criteria we can say that it is no longer "real" Sanskrit (in the sense
that it is far from what Madhav Deshpande aptly termed the "full variety").

- Robert Zydenbos

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