`real' Sanskrit vs `conversational' Sanskrit

zydenbos at flevoland.xs4all.nl zydenbos at flevoland.xs4all.nl
Sat Apr 19 00:52:08 UTC 1997

Replies to msg 18 Apr 97: indology at liverpool.ac.uk (mmdesh at umich.edu)

 me> From: Madhav Deshpande <mmdesh at umich.edu>
 me> Subject: Re: `real' Sanskrit vs `conversational' Sanskrit

>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").

 me>    While I would support the use of the term "full variety"
 me> to refer
 me> to the high-end variety of modern Sanskrit seen in scholarly
 me> Sanskrit works, [...] we need to take
 me> a more studied look at the kind of Sanskrit taught by the
 me> HSP.  While it
 me> is clearly not "full" in terms of its relatively small
 me> inventory, I would not call it "unreal".  It is, to use a more neutral
 me> expression, a "subset" of the full variety.  

Agreed, this looks like a fair assessment of the nature of that new Sanskrit.
But my problem is this: speech is, or at least should hold out the possibility
of, two-way communication. Those who master full Sanskrit will understand the
subset, but those who have only learnt the subset will be lost when confronted
with the full variety. So two-way communication will be impossible. There is of
course the theoretical possibility that all those who master full Sanskrit will
learn what the subset is and use only that subset in conversation, thus
knowingly and willingly impoverishing their Sanskrit, but I doubt whether this
will happen.

The same applies to written communication, and also to the one-way
communication through time with authors of the past. Therefore I still think of
ten-day Sanskrit not so much as "false" or "sham", nor as truly "real", but as
"unreal" (just as Sanskrit in general is neither "dead", nor fully "living",
but "undead"). (I hope this does not sound facetious.)

It would have been fair if the HSP teachers would warn their students in
advance ("if you read or hear something which you cannot recognize at all, it
may be one of the many things which we do not teach you," or something like
that). But it seems that they do not do so, or at least not explicitly and
clearly enough; and if this impression of mine is correct, then I think they
are committing a pedagogical blunder.

 me> What seems most interesting is that different local
 me> varieties of simplified Sanskrit make different choices for
 me> their subsets.

This is a serious topic for study, which seems to have been relatively
neglected till now: not only for contemporary Sanskrit, but for medieval
Sanskrit too. Several studies have appeared about varieties of medieval Latin,
but I have not seen so many thorough studies about varieties of later Sanskrit,
apart from Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit. I suspect that it should be possible to
give well-founded descriptions of regional varieties, as in the case of
medieval Latin, for instance along the lines indicated by Vidhyanath Rao
(influence of local Prakrits etc.). When a Sanskrit text contains e.g. Kannada
words, it is clear where the text is from; but more interesting would be the
frequency of / preference for certain genuinely old Sanskrit words /
constructions (such as I suggested in my analysis of the penchant for -tavant).
Such descriptions will be useful tools for literary historians.

- Robert Zydenbos

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