`real' Sanskrit vs `conversational' Sanskrit

Adi Hastings amhastin at midway.uchicago.edu
Sun Apr 20 17:36:40 UTC 1997

On Sat, 19 Apr 1997, Robert Zydenbos wrote:

> 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.

   With regard to the 'purpose' of the '10-day' HSP Sanskrit, there seems
to be some variation of stated opinion by the proponents I have spoken to. 
Krishna Shastri (the 'founder' of HSP Sanskrit) has tried to make the case
for 'simple Sanskrit' (as they term it) being not only a national link
language for India, but an _international_ language as well (citing
examples of how Sanskrit is being used in experiments with machine
translation, etc). In other words, there does not seem to be much emphasis
on using 'simple Sanskrit' as a first step in acquiring the more
'elaborated' Sanskrit (I think Basil Bernstein's opposition of
'elaborated' vs' 'restricted' codes may be useful here).
   However, when I visited Mattur (Karnataka) this summer, I got the
impression that 'simple Sanskrit' was supposed to serve more as a
launching board for further study (eventually leading to mastery of the
'elaborated' form of Sanskrit), ultimately enabling access to the
canonical texts of the Sanskrit tradition. 

>  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
 I think especially pertinent here are some of the manuals for spoken
Sanskrit produced in classical India. For example, in Richard Solomon's
(1982; IIJ 24:13-25) study of the _Ukti-vyakti-prakara.na_ he shows how
the Sanskrit promoted by DAmodara is "often no more that Old Kosali with
Sanskrit endings, and which may be regarded as an artificially regularized
and exaggerated form of a current vernacular-influenced Sanskrit" (p. 21). 
What are we to make of the various attempts throughout Indian cultural
history (the UVP is c. 12th century or so? Also see Deshpande's essay on
the GirvA.navanmaNJjarI, a 16th-17th c.(?) manual of spoken Sanskrit) to
promote an explicitly 'spoken Sanskrit,' which always seems to be informed
by 'vernacular' sensibilities? Perhaps this isn't stated quite right, but
what I'm trying to say is that the current HSP/Sanskrita Bharati 'simple
Sanskrit' is, in some ways, a different face on a familiar phenomenon.

Adi Hastings
Depts. of Anthropology
   and Linguistics
University of Chicago

p.s. In response to Vidhyanath Rao's change of topic, my own experience
was that my first Sanskrit professor started us out with Gonda and then
Whitney, which ended up entirely crippling me: by the end of a year of
Sanskrit study, I could sit down with a fairly simple text (e.g., the
BhagavadgItA), and with the assitance of a dictionary and Whitney's
grammar, read, but I had no internalized knowledge of Sanskrit grammar,
and definitely no knowledge of the grammatical terminology used by the
Sanskrit tradition. Over the next few years, I had to re-learn everything
(and I'm still not entirely comfortable with it, as you can perhaps see). 

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