[INDOLOGY] Sanskrit linguistics

Jim Ryan jim_ryan at comcast.net
Mon Aug 23 19:11:40 UTC 2021


A question: I go back to a memory (possibly incorrect) of hearing from a linguistics teacher at UW (long ago) that the retro-flex "ṣ" in Sanskrit was "barely phonemic." A  former student who had studied, through his Ph.D. exams, historical linguistics at UCLA focusing on Indo-European (maybe also Indo-Aryan) insisted that this sound was not phonemic. From time to time I'd encounter the issue in articles/books and found that the consensus seemed to favor this understanding. I used to challenge my student from time to time to test this, somehow, I suppose, wanting to vindicate my long ago teacher's position (or at least what I thought I recalled it to be). I've thought recently of two examples: the verbal root bhāṣ - “to speak.” and ṣaṣ (six). In neither case is there a "non-a vowel" preceding the sibilant, which would ordinarily condition retroflexion. In the case of "six,"  the ṣ is initial also.  How do we explain these instances in accord with the non-phonemic nature of ṣ?

Jim Ryan

Asian Philosophies and Cultures (Emeritus)
California Institute of Integral Studies
1453 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
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