`Conversational Sanskrit' vs `Real Sanskrit'

zydenbos at flevoland.xs4all.nl zydenbos at flevoland.xs4all.nl
Tue Apr 29 22:43:00 UTC 1997

Replies to msg 28 Apr 97: indology at liverpool.ac.uk
(vidynath at math.ohio-state.edu)

 voe> From: Vidhyanath Rao <vidynath at math.ohio-state.edu>

 voe> And am still waiting to know how `real' Sanskrit speakers
 voe> say [...]

Whether you wish to call written Sanskrit which is full of sandhis "reified
Sanskrit", as you did previously, does not matter either. What matters is that
written sandhi is found throughout Sanskrit literature. This is a hard,
empirical fact. It cannot be denied. It has also been mentioned here, not only
by me, that sandhi is not, and has not been, always written wherever it can and
could be; sandhi is not just a matter of applying a straightforward
mathematical formula or running something through a computer program. But a
reader must know sandhi in order to understand traditional Sanskrit. This is my
point, and it always has been my point. I am sorry if I have not been
sufficiently clear.

 voe> The difference can be settled by an experiment that I am not in a
 voe> position to perform. Teach Hindi to a number of students who have
 voe> had no formal instruction in grammar, and not familiar with any
 voe> language with ergative constructions. Do not talk of active versus
 voe> passive during the introduction of the perfect past, and make sure
 voe> that the textbook/readers and any supporting materials do so as
 voe> well. First drill the students in the past of the `transitive'
 voe> verbs. When they are familiar with it, introduce the
 voe> changes to made
 voe> in the case of the other verbs. My theory predicts that the
 voe> students
 voe> will insert `ne' in the case of intrasitive verbs more often
 voe> than they drop it in case of transitives and that the tendency to do
 voe> this will have no relation to the frequency of the `passive' in the
 voe> student's primary language. Your theory predicts that they will do
 voe> the reverse and will have been doing this from the beginning,
 voe> and that this will be inversely correlated with the frequency of the
 voe> `passive' in the student's primary language.

S.K. Chatterjee (in his book to which I referred before) has already noted that
the dropping of "ne" is precisely what happens in the Hindi of those new
speakers ("Mai.m pustaka pa.rhaa" etc.), so it is not a prediction of mine: it
is an empirical fact.

Moreover, this experiment of yours would be wrong. I believe that anyone can
learn any language. I have learnt more than a dozen languages to date, with
different levels of active and passive mastery. I also believe that you can
drill innocent students in such a way as to make them make any kind of mistake,
which is apparently what you want to do in this experiment. It does not
disprove any point of mine.

My point is that certain constructions which are extremely common in Indo-Aryan
are not common at all in Dravidian, and that unfamiliarity with certain
grammatical features (e.g. ergativity) is an additional hurdle in learning a
new language, so the HSP tries to hide this in their simplified Sanskrit.

>Irrespective of our considerations on more abstract and debatable levels,
>what matters very much is the switch from "aha.m pa.thaami" to
>"mayaa pa.thitam", clearly visible in the surface grammar.
>Why should "aham" suddenly become "mayaa"?

 voe> The real question is why ``aham aagata.h'' but ``mayaa
 voe> pa.thitam''?

But this is a different issue. We were talking about "aha.m pa.thitavaan", and
I believe it was you who pointed out that this was a characteristic of HSP
Sanskrit. I responded to that remark (and I now regret that I did, and I will
not make this mistake again). I am not interested in a terminological squibble
about "accusative languages", "ergatives" and what not, and a truly serious
discussion about these matters is more philosophical than linguistic. This is
most interesting, but my own thoughts on such semiological topics are such that
I would need a small bookful of space to explain them.

(We may also note that in HSP Sanskrit, one says not "aham aagata.h" but "aha.m
aagatavaan", although this too is not common Sanskrit, in an obvious
parallelism to "aha.m pustaka.m pa.thitavaan". Why? Again: simplification
through superficial similarity - let all the past tense forms look alike.)

> - which I think is a waste of time and energy when something is
>glaringly obvious. It is just as obvious as the surface grammar in
>my explanation of -tavant.

 voe> It is also `obvious' that the sun goes around the earth or that
 voe> when the motive force is removed, moving objects will come
 voe> to a stop. Why dig deeper?

This depends entirely on what you want. You are, e.g., free to leave the
empiricalness of falling objects and to speculate about gravitation. It is
quite nice to do so. But think of this: when an airplane runs out of fuel, it
will crash; so a builder of aircraft must install a sufficiently large fuel
tank. This is all he needs to know for his purpose. He has no need of theories
of unified force fields, relativity theory etc. Also, it seems unlikely that
any such theory will dispel the need for a fuel tank. The remarks I made about
-tavant were entirely on this admittedly low, technical level. I have not yet
seen any better explanation of this empirical phenomenon about which we have no
differences and which is not explained when we merely use terms like "ergative"
in preference over "passive", "transitive" etc.

- Robert Zydenbos

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