INDOLOGY FAQ. Re. Varanasi

Dominik Wujastyk wujastyk at GMAIL.COM
Tue Feb 16 12:05:33 UTC 2010

So anyone can pronounce any word any way they like?  Surely you don't think

I don't think it's being precious at all, Matthew.  Of course, as Einstein
proved, it's all relative (that's a joke).  But then again, it's not all
relative, and there is indeed right and wrong, in a particular framed,
situated locale (like spoken Sanskrit).  The criterion is what is received
as comfortable, acceptable, and immediately intelligible by the community of
other local speakers.  We're not launching a campaign, but answering
frequently-asked questions.  (Or will be, if anyone actually writes any of
this in

I am reminded of a big bust-up that I had with my English teacher once, at
school.  I was about 9 years old, and I was at Comboni College, Khartoum,
where my teacher was an Egyptian gentleman.  He was teaching us about
London, where I was born, and when he got to the name of London's river, he
told the class that it was the river /thaymees/ (like "rabies").  I put up
my hand and offered another opinion.  But he wouldn't have it.  I was
severely reprimanded, and the class was reassured about the correct

Actually, most people quite like "getting the pronunciation right," as part
of a modest process of acculturation.  All they need is some information
about the history of word change, and they can make up their own minds
whether they want to emulate historical speakers of Sanskrit (who cared, and
followed a learned tradition of śikṣā, after all) or contemporary tourists
superimposing English speech patterns on written words in unhelpful

I'm absolutely certain I don't get my Arabic right, but I'd really like to.
Now, where's the :-)


On 15 February 2010 17:52, <mkapstei at> wrote:

> Isn't every one being a bit too precious about all this?
> What do French speakers do with English names?
> What does everyone do with Chinese?
> How many of us get our Arabic quite right?
> Not to mention Thai, Tibetan or Khmer...
> The idea that one is going to launch a campaign to
> rectify the massacre of Indian names and terms in
> English is plain silly when you think about it.
> Matthew
> Matthew T. Kapstein
> Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies
> The University of Chicago Divinity School
> Directeur d'études
> Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris

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