`Conversational Sanskrit' vs `Real Sanskrit'

Vidhyanath Rao vidynath at math.ohio-state.edu
Fri Apr 18 18:53:48 UTC 1997

zydenbos at flevoland.xs4all.nl (Robert Zydenbos) wrote:
> 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.

I expressed my reservations about this view earlier, but it may be
worthwhile to be more explicit:

(1) Replacement of finite forms by participal forms goes back a long
way. By Patanjali's time, the participle in -ta had replaced perfect
in asking questions: `kva yuuyam u.sitaa.h?' instead of `[kva] uu.sa?'
In drama dialogues, the use of -ta participle is quite common
compared to aorist or perfect. This process may have started even in
Vedic times: McDonell (Vedic Grammar for Students) qualifies the
use of -ta forms in place of finite verbs as `frequent', in constrast
to the use of other participle forms in place of finite verbs.

(2) The participle in -ta is more ergative than passive. It is
`raama aagata.h' vs `raame.na pustakam pa.thitam'. (I know that
many Sanskrit grammars call it the `past/perfect passive participle',
but syntax should be determined from usage, not from what names books
choose to give to a construction. This is especially true for the most
used books on Sanskrit grammar, which are quite outdated in terms of
the underlying theory of language.)

[An interesting tidbit: In English, even in the 18th century,
the past participle of verbs of motion used forms of `be' as
auxillaries (see Jespersen's ``Essentials of English Grammar'' for
citations). This would have led to the above situation in English also:
`Mr. Harley was gone out' vs `The song was sung by John'. Of course,
English also used `have' as the auxilary and that prevailed, with `be'
only for the passive and for indicating close relation with the present
(``He is gone!''). What I find curious is that `The fat lady has sung'
virtually the same as `giitavatii pu.s.ta"sariiraa'. After all, the
meaning of the suffix -vat/mat is not so different from `have'.]

(3) Technical and scholarly writing in English uses the passive more
often than colloquial talk, either in English or Tamil. Tamilians
seem to have no trouble with this. Why should they have trouble with
passive in Sanskrit?

(4) The way present is formed in the writings I see in Sambhaa.sana-
Sande"sa is with present participle `vadan asti', instead of `vadati'.
For thematic verbs, the vast majority of verbs in actual use,
the imperfect is trivial to form from the present participle.
There is no reason to avoid the imperfect to simplify the
conjugation. [Of course, even if the imperfect is sytematically
used, somebody would say ``They teach their students to say `gate
ravivaasare raama.h aagacchat'. That is not `real' Sanskrit.''
I fully expect some others to just keep repeating this. Such is
human nature.]

(5) If nominal formations are preferred, periphrastic future
should be preferred to sigmatic future. Is there any evidence
for this?

It is far simpler to assume that `Conversational Sanskrit' started
from the widespread use of -ta participle and replaced it by -tavat
so that sentences are subjective [closer to Dravidian and English]
rather than ergative. The simplication of inflection occured
centuries ago, and has nothing to do with `this neo-Sanskrit'.


To change the topic :-), is there a difference in attitudes to things
Indian between those who learnt Sanskrit grammar from Whitney and
those who learnt it from McDonell or Renou (and then went straight
to Altindische Grammatik/Syntax for further information)? Just curious.


Nath Rao (nathrao+ at osu.edu)		614-366-9341

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list