what's in a root?

Sun Nov 16 13:34:52 UTC 1997

On Date: Sun, 16 Nov 1997 00:37:14 +0100 Jacob Baltuch
<jacob.baltuch at EURONET.BE> wrote:

>>a/ Is there a specific name for the unmodified grade of a root
   (by opposition to guNa or vRddhi grade) or do we have to continue
   using "zero grade"?

In pANinian grammar and its system of Ziva-sUtras and pratyAhAras, the terms
guNa, vRddhi, and saMprasAraNa (i, u, R, L instead of y r l v) suffice to
describe all relevant phenomena: the PANinian system has no need for a term for
'zero grade' (or 'low grade'). (I am not aware of a Sanskritic neo-logism; but
I saw Hindi-versions of originally English Sanskrit/Vedic grammars catalogued
somewhere: there one may find a Sanskritized equivalent.)

>>b/ What was the way grammarians viewed their roots? Were they taken to be
   a convention for the sake of the convenience of description (e.g. is
   the statement ever explicitly made that a grammarian is free to posit
   roots any way that simplifies his description) or are they deemed
   to have some sort of objective existence in the "competence" of
   the speakers and thus debate about the "true" form of the roots
   (beyond debate around the simplicity of a description) is legitimate?

The most explicit reflections are those given by Bhartrhari (5th century), who
definitely argues for accepting all word parts (and even sentence parts)
distinguished by grammarians and others as being for the sake of convenience of
description only. Some of Bhartrhari's observations in the VAkyapadIya, e.g.
3.14.76-77, would apply to modern (comparative) linguists as well:
  "Having seen the one or the other postulated continuity in meaning, [one
accepts] a word within a sentence, a root within a word, and a part within the
root, as in the case of the form muNDi."
  "There is no diversity in usage as far as the correct form is concerned. [It
is the method of] grammatical derivation which is not fixed. The means [of
derivation] [adopted for the sake] of those who are learning should not be
looked upon as real."
Comparisons between PANini (who refrains from making explicit his theoretical
problems and choices) and Chomsky have been made, but PANinis grammar is
definitely to be understood in the context of other literary products of his
time.  Like the ritual and dharma- SUtras, PANini's grammar is mainly of a
normative-descriptive character.
        Further, if I am allowed an abbreviated self-quotation: "It would be
incorrect to interpret [PANini] directly in the light of a Chomskian framework
of theories and presuppositions. Even before Chomsky, Faddegon saw in PANini's
grammar the work of someone who 'searches the rules that are unconsciously and
instinctively active in the minds of the people as a linguistic unity' . . . a
statement for which there is no scratch of evidence in the ancient PANinian
sources, but which foreshadows the transformational-generative research program
with so much precision that we can say that a Chomskian approach was apparently
already 'in the air' in the time of Faddegon . . ." (see my contribution on
SUtra and BhASyasUtra in India and beyond . . . essays in honour of Frits
Staal, London, Kegan Paul, 1997, p 298 note 2.)

On the evolution of the notion of the root and of the standardization in ways
of referring to the root (bare root, root + i, etc.) in the Sanskrit tradition
(from brAhmaNas through nirukta to the grammarians) see the excellent study of
G.B. Palsule, the Sanskrit dhAtupAThas, Pune 1961.

Forms like svar-ji'-t, u'pa-stu-t, but also 'bare roots as nominal stems' (dA',
bhi'd, vR'dh), occur already in the Rgveda: they are not dependent on the
analyses made by grammarians.

Jan E.M. Houben
Department of Languages and Cultures of South- and
Central Asia ("Kern Institute")
P.O. Box 9515
2300 RA   Leiden

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