Query on var.nabheda

Richard Salomon rsalomon at u.washington.edu
Wed Mar 5 21:40:20 UTC 1997

A while back a colleague in Chinese linguistics asked me virtually the
same question.  While I don't remember the details, I did try,
unsuccessfully, to track
the text called varna-bheda-vidhi.   If I remember correctly, a single
manuscript of this
text is listed in Aufrecht's Catalogus Catalogorum, with reference to an
old, unpublished ms. catalogue of a collection in, I think, in Mysore.
There doesn't seem to be much chance of finding a copy or edition of what
seems to be an obscure and minor text.  But guessing from the title and
its resemblance to similar names of other texts, I would venture that it
is probably a late or modern about Sanskrit "spelling rules" with
reference to minor problems like varying sibilants (Z/s, etc.).  In
other words, the term
varna-bheda here probably meant 'differentiating between [similar or
frequently confused] sounds/letters', and as far as I know it does not
occur elsewhere in the grammatical tradition; certainly it is not a
standard term.  I doubt
very much that it would have had anything to do with "syllable dimidation"
or the like.  

Richard Salomon

 On Wed, 5 Mar 1997, Wolfgang Behr wrote:

> An outsider's query to all the vyAkara.na-wallahs out there ----
> One of the most important sources for the phonological
> reconstruction of Old and Middle Chinese are the so-called
> "_fan3qie4_-spellings", found fur each Chinese character
> in Middle Chinese rhyming dictionaries. The _fan3qie4_-tech-
> nique, first mentioned in a text from the mid-3rd century, but
> possibly dating back to the first century CE, splits up the target
> syllable to be "spelled" into onset and rhyme, which are then
> represented by seperate characters (=syllables) in the following
> fashion (T=lexical tone):
>      C1-V2-C3+T ---> C1(-anyV-anyC)-(anyC-)V2-C3+T
>         A syllable like wang2 "king" could thus be rewritten as by
> any of the disyllabic combinations of the type _w(oT)-(l)ang2_,
> _w(engT)-(k)ang2_, _w(aiT)-(f)ang2_ etc. Since the the medi-
> eval period, Chinese scholars have commonly associated this
> peculiar technique of "syllable dimidation"  with the introduction
> of Buddhism in China. It has been argued over and over in the
> literature that the emergence of _fan3qie2_ notations must have
> been triggered by the newly acquired knowledge about alpha-
> betical systems of writing employed in the Sanskrit or Central
> Asian sources underlying Chinese Buddhist translations. Leaving
> aside the considerable historical and philological problems surroun-
> ding this "contact induction"-hypothesis for a moment, it has often
> been noted that the term _fan3_ (lit. "to reverse, return")-_qie4_
> ("to split, cut, splice, cleave") has no convincing etymology in Chi-
> nese, i.e. "turning-and-cutting[-spelling]" ,"reverse cutting[-spelling]"
> etc., commonly found as glosses in standard dictionaries, don not
> seem particularly convincing. Moreover, the first syllable of the
> compound is sometimes written with a Middle Chinese near-hom-
> onym of _fan3_ (pronounced _fan1_ today) meaning "to overturn,
> upset, come back; flutter" etc., which would seem to point into the
> direction of a loan interpretation for the enigmatic technical term. 
>         Building upon these (and other) observations, Victor Mair
> (UPenn) has recently advanced a new explanation for the com-
> pound in an unfortunately little-known article entitled "A Hypothesis
> Concerning the Origin of the Term _fanqie_ ('Countertomy')"
> (_Sino-Platonic Papers_ 34, 1992, 1-4). Noting that derivations
> of the Sanskrit root v.r- "to cover" etc. are usually translated into
> Buddhist Hybrid Chinese by a synonym of _fan3_, he  suggests
> that _fan3_ (< Early Middle Chinese *puan', '=glottal stop) may
> in fact have been a phonetic *and* semantic represantation of
> Sanskrit var.na, and that the whole Chinese compound would have
> been a hybrid translation of Sanskrit var.nabheda- as encountered
> in var.nabheda-vidhi, a Sanskrit "method of spelling or letter di-
> vision" (cf. MW 924c). While this scenario would seem quite
> impeccable from the viewpoint of Chinese historical phonology,
> the backdraw to it is that Mair was neither able to find "any Sans-
> krit text (Buddhist or otherwise) in which the term _var.na-bheda_
> occurs and which has been translated into Chinese", nor has he
> been able to locate a copy of the treatise on spelling named
> *Var.na-bheda-vidhi* quoted in MW.
>         The question I would thus like to ask the most erudite
> members of this list is:
>         (a)  What is the exact meaning and usage of var.na-bheda
>                in Sanskrit grammatical literature (or Tibetan translations
>                thereof) and/or BHS literature?
>         (b)   Where does it occur and how can the occurences be
>                dated?
>         (c)   Is there anything like an edition of a work named
>                *Var.na-bheda-vidhi*, and if so which library holds it?
>         (d)   Have there been similar techiques of "syllable dimidation"
>                around in ancient India, and if so, how did they work?
> Any pointers & comments will be highly appreciated. Thanks & cheers,
> Wolfgang
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Wolfgang Behr <w.behr at em.uni-frankfurt.d400.de>
> Sinologie, J.W. Goethe-Universitaet, Dantestr.4-6,
> P.O.B. 111 932, D-60054 Frankfurt/Main, Germany
> Tel.: (o) +49-69-798-22852, Fax: +49-69-798-22873
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------

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