September 25, 2017

Those Sanskrit long compounds: how do they sound?

Filed under: Sanskrit Literature — Tags: , , — Giulio Geymonat @ 7:16 pm

It is a shared belief that a very important feature of any piece of poetry is the specific way it sounds: in a sense, what distinguishes poetry from prose is exactly the fact that with prose the same meaning of a given piece could, at least in theory, be conveyed by a different syntax and/or by different words, while poetry can’t be changed not even for a single sound, or else it vanishes away.

In this respect, when considering Sanskrit poetry, it is important to remember that Sanskrit is the only ancient language of which we know precisely the way it was pronounced, in as much as it inherited the results of centuries of phonological enquiries over the correct pronunciation of Vedic formulas and prayers. (more…)

August 23, 2017

The painful joys of dealing with Sanskrit long compounds

Filed under: Sanskrit Literature — Tags: , , — Giulio Geymonat @ 8:12 pm

It is a fact that one of the peculiarities that makes Sanskrit what it is, and one that no other language displays (at least as far as I know), is the possibility of writing unbelievably long nominal compounds.

We can define a nominal compound as a semantic and grammatical entity made of a sequence of nominal stems (including participles and possibly adverbs) with no case endings between them, only the last one having a case ending fitting the grammatical structure of the sentence where the compound occurs.

A short compound is one made of up to three stems: for example (with two stems) prasannaprAya “almost correct” (literaly “whose largest portion (prAya) is correct (prasanna)”, or (with three stems) mAdhavAlekhyaprayojana “the intended use (prayojana) of the portrait (Alekhya) of Madhava (a proper name)”.

Compounds of four stems are pretty common, at least in works with literary value (all the examples given here are taken, quite randomly and mostly from the first act, from the mAlatImAdhava, a very famous and important drama written around the VII century AD), and often easily understandable: for example upacitamahAmohagahana “deeply mysterious (gahana) because of a great (mahA) infatuation (moha) massed up (upacita)” or saundaryasArasamudAyaniketana “an abode (niketana) of the collection (samudAya) of chief ingredients (sAra) of beauty (saundarya)”.

Compound of five stems, although being not rare, may start posing some problems of immediate understanding. (more…)

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