Madhav, Hans,

Many thanks for the references and detail. As Madhav stated earlier, the issue of retroflex ṣ is “complicated” and it was instructive to see the factors at work behind its various incarnations, going back to PII.


On Aug 29, 2021, at 5:49 PM, Madhav Deshpande <> wrote:

Hello Hans,

     I have lost track of some of the relevant old publications, but I remember that some of the occurrences of ṣ in Sanskrit were accounted for by Fortunatov's law regarding the IE l+dental changing to retroflex in Sanskrit, and some others may be what Thomas Burrow called spontaneous retroflexes. Are some of your examples [other than ruki and oḱtō > aštā ‘eight’, covered by these theories?
     The other indication to suggest the instability of ṇ/ṣ is the discussion in the Aitareya-Āraṇyaka about whether the RV Saṃhitā was aṣakāra/aṇakāra or saṣakāra/saṇakāra. The Āraṇyaka says that the Māṇḍūkeya version of the RV was saṣakāra/saṇakāra, and that Śākalya followed Māṇḍūkeya in this respect. But the discussion itself indicates that there may have been other reciters whose Saṃhitā was aṣakāra/aṇakāra. 


Madhav M. Deshpande
Professor Emeritus, Sanskrit and Linguistics
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
Senior Fellow, Oxford Center for Hindu Studies
Adjunct Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India

[Residence: Campbell, California, USA]

On Sun, Aug 29, 2021 at 1:55 PM Hock, Hans Henrich via INDOLOGY <> wrote:
Dear Colleague,

Even as early as the Rig Veda there is evidence, both for  occurring after a-vowels and for s occurring after i- and u-vowels. See the evidence further below.

What made the distribution of s and  unpredictable is the fact that Proto-Indo-Iranian š, the source of Skt.  is of two sources. One if the development of earlier s to š after “RUKI” (i.e. r-sounds, u-sounds, velars, and i-sounds; in the case of the vocalic sounds, both syllabic and nonsyllabic); the other was the development of PIE *ḱ to š before obstruent. Examples are nis- > niš ‘down’ and oḱtō > aštā ‘eight’. 

As the second example shows, the second of these changes introduced š after a-vowels and thus made the RUKI outcome of s opaque and hence contrastive (consider e.g. Skt. asta- ‘thrown’ beside aṣṭā(u) ‘8’, with s and  contrasting after a-vowel. 

This contrastiveness, in turn, made it possible for analogical processes to extend  into contexts after a-vowels (as in pary-a-ṣasvajat) as well as for borrowings and the like with  after a-vowels and s after “RUKI” to be adopted without further adjustment.

All the best,

Hans Henrich Hock
Linguistics and Sanskrit (emeritus)
University of Illinois

Contrastiveness of retroflex sibilant in Sanskrit

Unpredictable occurrences after a-vowels in the RV 

áṣāḍha ‘invicible’

áṣatarā ‘more beneficial’ (1.183.4)

kaváṣa (PN) (534.12)

cā́ṣa ‘Häher’ (923.13)

jálāṣa ‘healing’ (1.43.4 in compound)

caṣā́la ‘Knauf der Opfersäule’ (1.162.6)

váṣaṭ (ritual call) (passim) 

Note also

paryaasvajat (pluperf.) ‘embraced’ 

Contrastive and unpredictable examples after a-vowels in later Vedic

mā́ṣa ‘bean’

mā́sa ‘moon, month’

bhāṣ- ‘speak’

bhās- ‘shine’

jhaṣá ‘large fish’ 

Some Post-Vedic examples after a-vowels

kaṣ- ‘rub, scratch’

kas- ‘go, move’ (DhP)

laṣ- ‘desire’ (MBh etc.)

Dental sibilant (s) after i- and u-vowels in Vedic

ṛbī́sa ‘cleft, gap’ (RV)

kīstá ‘singer’ (RV)

kúsindha ‘trunk’ (AV)

Some examples of ental sibilant (s) after i- and u-vowels in Post-Vedic

kisalaya ‘sprout, shoot’

kusuma ‘flower’

bisa ‘shoot, sucker’








On 23 Aug2021, at 14:11, Jim Ryan via INDOLOGY <> wrote:


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-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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