Panini’s ‘Ashtadhyayi’

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    • An Indian student claims to have solved Sanskrit’s biggest puzzle—a grammar problem found in the ‘Ashtadhyayi’.

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    • Confusion in Interpretation of Ashtadhyayi:
      • Ashtadhyayi delves deep into the language’s phonetics, syntax and grammar.
      • It also offers a ‘language machine’, where you can feed in the root and suffix of any Sanskrit word, and get grammatically correct words and sentences in return. 
      • To ensure this ‘machine’ was accurate, Panini wrote a set of 4,000 rules dictating its logic. 
      • But as scholars studied it, they found that two or more of the rules could apply at the same time, causing confusion. To resolve this, Panini had provided a ‘meta-rule’ (a rule governing rules), which had historically been interpreted as:
        • ‘In the event of a conflict between two rules of equal strength, the rule that comes later in the serial order of the ‘Ashtadhyayi’ wins’.
      • However, following this interpretation did not solve the machine’s problem. 
      • It kept producing exceptions, for which scholars had to keep writing additional rules
    • Solution to This Problem:
      • In his thesis titled ‘In Panini We Trust’, Dr Rishi Rajpopat took a simpler approach, arguing that the meta-rule has been wrongly interpreted throughout history; what Panini actually meant, was that for rules applying to the left and right sides of a word, readers should use the right-hand side rule.
      • Using this logic, he found that the ‘Ashtadhyayi’ could finally become an accurate ‘language machine’, producing grammatically sound words and sentences almost every time.
      • The discovery now makes it possible to construct millions of Sanskrit words using Panini’s system—and since his grammar rules were exact and formulaic, they can act as a Sanskrit language algorithm that can be taught to computers.

    Panini, the ‘father of linguistics’

    • Period:
      • Panini probably lived in the 4th century BC, the age of the conquests of Alexander and the founding of the Mauryan Empire.
      • He has also been dated to the 6th century BC, the age of The Buddha and Mahavira.
    • Location:
      • He likely lived in Salatura (Gandhara), which today would lie in north-west Pakistan.
      • Panini was probably associated with the great university at Taksasila, which also produced Kautilya and Charaka, the ancient Indian masters of statecraft and medicine respectively.

    About Ashtadhyayi

    • ‘Ashtadhyayi’, or ‘Eight Chapters’ – Panini’s great grammar
    • It is a linguistics text that set the standard for how Sanskrit was meant to be written and spoken
    • The Ashtadhyayi laid down more than 4,000 grammatical rules, couched in a sort of shorthand, which employs single letters or syllables for the names of the cases, moods, persons, tenses, etc. in which linguistic phenomena are classified.
    • Significance:
      • By the time it was composed, Sanskrit had virtually reached its classical form — and developed little thereafter, except in its vocabulary.
      • Panini’s grammar, which built on the work of many earlier grammarians, effectively stabilized the Sanskrit language. 
      • Panini’s grammar is one of the greatest intellectual achievements of any ancient civilization, and the most detailed and scientific grammar composed before the 19th century in any part of the world.
      • The earlier works had recognised the root as the basic element of a word, and had classified some 2,000 monosyllabic roots which, with the addition of prefixes, suffixes and inflexions, were thought to provide all the words of the language.
    • Commentaries on Panini:
      • Later Indian grammars such as the Mahabhasya of Patanjali (2nd century BC) and 
      • the Kashika Vritti of Jayaditya and Vamana (7th century AD)

    Source: IE