Studies of Vedic mnemonics

George Thompson GthomGt at CS.COM
Wed May 17 00:20:21 UTC 2000

In a message dated 5/16/00 3:47:49 PM Eastern Daylight Time, saf at SAFARMER.COM
writes [among other things]:

>  I know many studies, like Frits
>  Staal's, that discuss the topic in passing, but none that deal with it in a
>  dedicated fashion, unlike the dozens of books on premodern Europe. The
>  cross-cultural sides of the question are interesting, since ancient and
>  medieval mnemonics in the West were built around visual methods (e.g., the
>  construction of 'memory palaces' and the like) and not around the oral
>  transformations of texts, as in India.
Well, I don't know exactly which of Staal's books you have in mind here, but
I do not think that his *Nambudiri Veda Recitation* [1961] can be fairly said
to merely "discuss the topic in passing."  In any case, it is to my knowledge
the fullest discussion available, in European languages.

Madhav Deshpande has recently written an interesting article which may be of
interest to you: "Conceptualizing the Eternal Language: Features of Priestly
Sanskrit" in *Ideology and Status of Sanskrit: Contributions to the History
of the Sanskrit Language* edited by Jan Houben, 1996].  It is based on an
extensive collection of taped recordings of priestly recitations which needs
further study.  Let us hope that Madhav will have the opportunity to complete
this study.

Perhaps Madhav is paying attention to the list, and will be able to add
further comment for us.

I for one would be interested in the full reference to the book which you are
reviewing, as well as to other studies of mnemonics which may be of interest
to Indologists.

I will concede this point to you: I do not think that Vedicists in general
have taken full advantage of the insights into orality and mnemonics that
have arisen since the pathbreaking work of Parry and Lord.

If you can enlighten us about such things, please do.

Best wishes,

George Thompson

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