[INDOLOGY] paratva again

John Lowe john.lowe at ames.ox.ac.uk
Tue Dec 20 12:50:15 UTC 2022

Dear all,

what has surprised and worried me most in all this is the way that an unsubstantiated claim has been propagated as truth by Cambridge University, and by many otherwise reputable newspapers and broadcasters around the world including, in the UK, the BBC and the Independent newspaper, without any of them bothering to seek independent confirmation.

I would like to note the honourable exception of the NY Times, who I spoke to on Friday after they sought a third-party view. After I explained that this is not 'Cambridge student solves 2,500 year old mystery', but rather merely 'Cambridge student proposes new idea, academic community yet to assess it', they quite rightly decided that it was not newsworthy. What I think would be much more newsworthy is quite how this Trump-esque propagation of what is really - at least at this point in time, that is, until or unless the claims are proved true and accepted in the academic community - fake news, happened.

It is of course good to see Sanskrit in the mainstream news, but at the expense of truth and academic integrity? I am not so sure.

Rishi, I like you and have supported you in the past, but since you have been bold enough to declare yourself the saviour of Pāṇinian studies, perhaps you will permit me a few critical comments/questions. The 'philological' argument you made in an earlier post does not actively support your argument. At best it shows that yes, para in the sense 'subsequent, to the right' can apply to contexts for rules. But that doesn't mean that 'subsequent' can't also apply in the context of the order of rules themselves, that is, it doesn't rule out the interpretation you are arguing against. What would be more probative would be to show that Pāṇini himself uses a different term for that, so that para cannot have the meaning usually assumed.

Then you note that most readers of this list wouldn't follow the detailed technical arguments. True perhaps, but what any academic could follow, what I would like in this context, and what is missing from your thesis, is any attempt at a quantitative and qualitative assessment of the relative coverage of your proposal vs the existing proposals. Let us say, for example, that the traditional Pāṇinīya model of rule interaction recognizes, or at least discusses, 30 exceptions or classes of exceptions, and the Kiparsky siddha model say 20. How many of these does your proposal immediately account for, without any other mechanisms required? To what extent can all the cases immediately accounted for on the previous models also be immediately accounted for on your model? What remains unassessed? What kinds of problematic cases are there, and what kinds of solutions are you forced into? How do the numbers and types of exceptions compare with those of previous approaches, and can this tell us anything about the relative value of the different approaches? This is not religion or poetry: it is, or at least aims to be, science - so there must be some objective verification available.

Your thesis admits that you have not considered the accent rules nor the Vedic rules, so at best you can only claim that your proposal works for a specific subset of the sutras. I also note that there are examples discussed in your thesis which don't immediately fall out from your proposal, and you admit the likelihood of more; and for these you propose 'solutions' like: excluding derivations involving uṇādi suffixes as being non-Pāṇinian (p. 230); proposing that rules which contradict your idea might be later additions to the Aṣṭādhyāyī (p. 212); taking forms which are standardly treated as two-step derivations as one-step derivations based on a previously fully constituted form (p. 231). To what extent are these 'solutions' better or worse, or narrower or broader in scope, than what is needed under earlier proposals?

Perhaps these solutions are valid in the particular cases you discuss, or perhaps not, but the point is: only if you, or someone else - but really it should be you first off - can provide a clear assessment of the overall picture, showing that your proposal uncontroversially - that is, in an objectively verifiable way - improves the empirical adequacy of the Aṣṭādhyāyī as a grammar of Pāṇinian Sanskrit in comparison with earlier interpretations, can the field even begin to move towards the point of accepting this as a revolution in our understanding. Otherwise, it is just another idea out there - a new one, and an interesting one, yes, and one you can be proud of, but not necessarily any better or truer than existing ideas.


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