A serenade of obscurity lurks around this progenitor of grammar. When, where, why as well as the language targeted by him find dubious answers. And yet, this man stands out of obscurity to profundity, veritably a vanguard heralding the flourish of several languages. P?nini has endowed a model not for Sanskrit alone but classical languages like Pali and Prakrita, Indian languages like Marathi, Kannada and Tamil notwithstanding non-Indian languages like Persian as well.
P?nini is conjectured to belong to a place then called ?al?tura, presently identified as Lahur, a village beside the Indus River between 5th and 4th century BC. It falls in the then Gandhara region of the modern day Attock District of Pakistan'sPunjab province. Tradition imputes P?nini with several books on grammar?Ashtadhyayi, Dhatupatha, Ganapatha, Paniniyasiksa besides Jambavativijaya being a drama. Before the advent of P?nini, Aindra system of grammar existed. Several Vedangas?Nirukta, Nighantu and Pratishkayas?had gained credence. P?nini was a reformist who did not compose a totally new grammar but transformed it into a pragmatic and prudent one. Classical Sanskrit that bloomed to its immaculateness has P?nini as its helmsman.
Ashtadhyayi is esteemed as Vedanga, an ancillary to the Veda. The Vedanga corpus is considered indispensable as auxiliary scholarly disciplines of the Vedic religion. Ashtadhyayi per se name has eight chapters and each chapter further subdivided into eight padas further shredded into s?tras amounting to 3995 aphorisms, according to tradition. The padas are a series of grammatical statements while the s?tras contain the essence of a thought, in omnidirectional manner but free from ambiguity. P?nini instilled an ingenious contraption involving technical terminology, abbreviatory tools, and devices for information chaining and appended the decoding mechanism as well.
What the world echoes
Leonard.Bloomfield, one of the proponents of structural linguistics in America as well as the main founder of the Linguistic Society of America, hails Panini'swork as ?one of the greatest monuments of human intelligence?.
Paul Thieme, one of the last great Indologists and a noted comparative linguist and philologist regales the experience: ?Studying P?nini'sscience of vyakarana we are in the presence of a momentous hour in the history of the development of human thinking. It is an hour of birth. It is the birth of science out of magic.? He goes on further to brand it as, ?prodigious sagacity and his ingenious intuition the splendor of which the millennia could not tarnish?.
The father of modern structural linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure was highly influenced by P?nini and the later Indian linguist Bharathari.
Noam Chomsky has heaped kudos on P?nini for having led him to moot the notion of an explicit generative grammar. On dint of the recursive device of embedding sentences amidst sentences, unlimited extension of a language such as in English has been possible.
August Wilhelm Schlegel, the ace German Indologist, remarked that P?nini'saphorisms could be compared with algebraic formulae. P?nini presents a mathematical model for language analysis which consists of finite set of rules for explaining infinite number of speech units.
Otto Von Bohthlingk, a towering figure in comparative philology, compiled an edition of P?nini'sGrammatik Ashtadhyayi, with a German commentary. Most fittingly he remarked: ?The more thoroughly one studies P?nini'sgrammar the more one is struck by the acuteness and the successful mystery of the vast matter, shown in it. It is indeed in its kind a masterpiece of the first rank.? He was so intrigued that forty-seven years after publishing his initial book, he republished it with a complete translation in German. Patanjali a later grammarian describes P?nini as ?analpa-matihh?, that is ?infinitely intelligent?.
Panini'sindelible imprint upon modern linguistics
The BNF grammar (Backus Normal Form) used to denote modern programming languages has profound resemblance with P?nini'sgrammar rules. To acknowledge his contribution, BNF grammar is also referred as P?nini-Backus form.
The inlaid integrity of P?nini'smetarules, transformations, and recursion has been hailed as a modern Turing machine. A consequence of his succinct grammar embodied in highly unintuitive structure invokes contemporary ?machine languages?
Modern formal language theory (mathematical linguistics) and formal grammar are but a sequel to P?ninian grammar.
P?nini'stheorem on Constant Ranking? showcases the hypothesis formulating the relation between specific and general constraints thereby laying the cornerstone of Optimality Theory.
Panini'shallmarks: A sneak-a-peek into P?nini'sgrammar of Sanskrit
His generative model and s?tra mode form the mainstay of his approach. His descriptive technique is hailed as a boon to linguistics. The s?tra mode of composition that was already in practice was further honed and sophisticated with P?ninian chisel. Thus P?ninian s?tras being a perfect model exemplify the genre of s?tra.
His structural approach is an outstanding feature that rendered perspicuity to Sanskrit giving an edge over Greek. P?nini made a significant contribution in the field of structural linguistics with his theory of substitution. During the process of derivation substitution transmutes a crude base. This step-by-step construction has a functional basis rendering his analysis a mathematical foundation.
P?nini workshop also showcases adroit principle of economy and thereby its management.
Panini formulated a grammar of Sanskrit language in Sanskrit itself. But his metalanguage, the language of description is strikingly different from the object language, the language that he describes.
In a unique m?lange, Panini doles out a language description entwining both matter and mind.
Panini'sgrammar is descriptive and not prescriptive as it tells how a language is used and not how a language should be used. He describes the structure of a language in generative mode.
Panini'sgrammar is derivational wherein he shows that larger linguistic units are but a conglomerate of smaller linguistic elements. The P?ninian breakup of a sentence is not merely grammatical units strung together but each one bears a subtle meaning individually as well as in coexistence with its neighbour.
This model is comparable to a machine that has bases and affixes as the input and subsequently churns out sentences as the output.
The entire Panini'sgrammar consists of general rules utsarga and particular rules upwaad. His s?tras have six orientations?rule of definition, rule of interpretation, a general rule, a particular rule, a rule of extension and governing rule.
Rivetting anecdotes grew around Panini
There have been several mythological accounts about P?nini but they hardly hold any ground. Even H?an Tsang has recorded a couple of anecdotes in vogue during AD 602-AD 644 in the northwest frontier of India. He recounts to have reached a place called So-lo-tu-lu-he, then believed to be where P?nini had composed his chingminglun (grammar). In the later years, Patanjali, in the second century BC wrote the Vyakaranamahabhashya, a treatise on Panini'sgrammar. To commemorate P?nini'scolossal flamboyance, he was worshipped as a deity, with statues erected during ancient period.
A certain verse explicates that P?nini met with a sudden death when he was attacked by a lion while he was engrossed with hatching the last s?tra of his grammar. The tale may have been on account of the diction used in the s?tra but reveals P?nini'ssteadfast perseverance over work, oblivious of surrounding.
Patanjali, a later grammarian, recounts an anecdote. About Brihaspati, the Lord of Learning. Indra, the God of Gods as his pupil wanted to know about the nitty-gritty of languages. The teaching based on word-by-word became an endless process proving a blunder. Thereafter a prudent methodology consisting of general and particular rules were hatched in fact by P?nini'spredecessors but found the right tenor under P?nini.
The big conundrum looms large
It is intriguing to know that P?nini never mentioned the name of the language for which he wrote the grammar. Tradition ascribes Panini'sgrammar ancillary to the Vedas but hardly 300 rules out of his nearly 4000 rules of grammar describe Vedic intricacies. This notion might thus be dispelled. Another conjecture hints at a budding language towards the final phase of the Vedic language. This very language was presumably the spoken language around the frontier falling around Punjab and Pakistan. Vedic literature upholds this language in high esteem as a standard language.
We are led to believe that Panini'sgrammar primarily quarried upon this dialect prevalent in northwestern India and only secondarily touched upon Vedic language. However P?nini took umbrage to reveal existing aberrations in other dialects as well that were spoken in adjoining regions. He plodded through a wide compass of linguistic geography surmising that dialectical variations happen only on phonetic and morphemic levels?there being no dichotomy between spoken and composed or written language.
The flipside of the genius
Panini'sgrammar standardised the language of the elite that later evolved to classical Sanskrit. All the classical writers of Sanskrit have paid heed to P?ninian norms. This straitlaced adherence to Panini'sgrammar down the ages has tantamounted to arresting the natural evolution into a spoken language for the hoi polloi as well. It remained stinted to genre of a written language. But then again, due to this factor, a fully matured language with a colossal vocabulary with extraordinary suppleness withstood all possible ravages and braved the possible vicissitudes still donning a marvellous capacity to communicate the subtle nuances with panache.
The Ashtadhyayi presents a formidable look even to one proficient in Sanskrit. Both linguistic terms as well as syntax prove stumbling blocks as the metalanguage stands discordant with Sanskrit language. Copious use of symbolic code words in the metalanguage renders this unsavoury experience. This prompted Sir William Jones to cast aspersions on the s?tras, calling it: ?Dark as the darkest Oracle.?
Greek has fared better than Sanskrit in preserving Proto-Indo-European elements.
Morphology is the cornerstone of P?ninian grammar. Syntax has been implicitly dealt with morphology. Phonetics and semantics do not have explicit corroboration that find a sanctimony in modern linguistics. Though semantics has been used extensively in his both structural and descriptive analysis, ?meaning? has been taken for granted. But then again, this has proved conducive for the development of the later semantic categories. P?nini felt every word to be agglomeration of meanings of varied sort, factual and emotional and every phoneme casting subtle nuances from each other.
Ashtadhyayi serves as a historical testimonial
P?nini follows a sifting process through the various social strata for his etymological approach while collating a huge linguistic data. This lets open several aspects of cultural, geographical, political, economical, social India between 5th and 4th century BC, now submerged in oblivion. Many of these startling revelations concur with Kautilya'sArth?shastra compiled during 4th century BC. Names of kingdoms and types of government mentioned herein fathom out various theories about ancient Indian polity.
? Otto B?hthlingk, Panini'sGrammatik, 1887, reprint 1998, ISBN 3875481984
? Katre, Sumitra M., Ashtadhyayi of Panini, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987. Reprint Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1989. ISBN 0292703945
? Vasu, S.C. (1962). The Ashtadhyayi, Motilal Banarsi-dass, Delhi, India
? Saroja Bhate, Panini, Sahitya Academy, ISBN 81-260-1198-X