Panini and Pali
- Since I have not contributed to this discussion group
before, perhaps a brief self introduction will not be
out of place. I taught linguistics at the University
of California in Los Angeles from 1968 to 1991, and at
International Christian University in Tokyo from 1991
to 2005. Last year I retired from ICU and moved to
Thailand. My interest in Pali comes from its position
among so-called Indo-Aryan languages and its
traditional grammars, as well as its influence (via
Theravada Buddhism) on Burmese and Thai.
In this initial posting, I have a small bone to pick
with Dmytro Ivakhnenko. In a posting to this group on
3/16/06, he stated:
Sanskrit didn't exist at the time of Buddha.
In the accompanying text, he referred us to a brief
chronology he originally posted on 11/22/05, in which
we find the following:
(500 BC) Probably the Indian Brahmanists feel the
need to counteract the popularity of Buddha's teaching
by propagating their knowledge. Indian grammarian
Panini begins a project of resurrecting Vedic language
(which he calls 'chandaso') in a form that can be
widely used, and composes a grammar.
There, he refers us to the Wikipedia entry for Pali,
in which it is stated:
However it [Pali] was ultimately supplanted by
Sanskrit as a literary and religious language
following the formation of Classical Sanskrit by the
scholar Panini in India.
I am quite willing to accept, for present purposes,
that the Buddha belongs to the 6th century BC, and
Panini to the 5th, though not much is known about
Panini's life and his date remains quite
controversial. Still, it is overwhelmingly clear from
comparing Sanskrit and Pali, on phonological,
morphological or syntactic grounds, that Sanskrit
represents a historically prior stage of Indo-Aryan to
Pali. This is why in the accepted view Sanskrit is
termed 'early Indo-Aryan' and Pali 'middle
Indo-Aryan'. Panini's Astadhyayi (A) represents, not
the first grammar written in India, but rather the
culmination of development over a considerable period.
Panini refers to ten predecessors by name; though
their works have not been preserved, some of their
ideas can be gathered from the commentarial literature
Like most grammarians or lexicographers, Panini had
an agenda, which may well have included preserving a
conservative variety of his language. But his
grammar, judging both from what it says and from what
commentators say about it, is primarily descriptive.
His use of 'chandasi' referring to the Vedic language
is always to distinguish that language from what later
came to be called 'sanskrit'. See for example, A
3.4.117 (which describes the use of the technical
terms saarvadhaatuka and ardhadhaatuka) or A 4.1.29
(which deals with the use of a suffix -ii in
There is a sense in which we might say that Panini
created Sanskrit: roughly the same sense in which it
is said that Martin Luther created German. But from
this it hardly follows that the German language did
not exist before Luther translated the Bible into it.
We cannot find a parallel case with a European
grammarian simply because (for better or worse)
grammar never played the central role in European
culture history that it did in Indian.
Great poets, dramatists, philosophers, religious
leaders, translators and (at least in India)
grammarians have an influence on languages which it
will not do to ignore. But it also will not do to
forget that languages belong to entire populations and
not just to those who use them in a memorable fashion.
The changes which relate different stages of
development in Indo-Aryan (say Sanskrit and Pali), as
in all languages, are driven by social forces to which
the details of culture history are largely irrelevant,
however difficult culture history may make it for us
to trace them.
There is no reason to think that Panini was even
aware of Buddhism, much less that his grammar is in
any sense a reaction to it. Indian grammar, from
before Panini through the medieval grammarians
(including the Pali grammarians) to relatively recent
times, can be understood as a product of the ritual
concerns of Brahmanism; it cannot be understood in
relation to Buddhist concerns. There is also no
reason to blame Panini for the adoption of Sanskrit as
the language of northern (Mahayana) Buddhism.
Whatever sectarian conflicts led to the disappearance
of Buddhism in India should not be read back to the
time of the Buddha or Panini.
Later in the brief chronology referred to above,
(200 BC) The language of Theravada canon comes to be
known as 'Pali'. Buddhist grammarians write down the
rules of this language.
There are three 'schools' of Pali grammar: that of
Kaccaana (in India?), that of Moggallaana (in Sri
Lanka) and that of Aggava.msa (in Myanmar). The
latter two are datable to the 12th century AD. The
Kaccaayana grammar is the earliest; its origin is not
clear, but most scholars agree that it could not
really be earlier than the 7th century AD (a full
millenium after Panini, and very much under his
influence). So this reference to Pali grammarians
active as early as 200 BC is rather mysterious.
It goes without saying that I am no authority on any
of the matters raised above. Some of them may have
been considered already in this group, or there may be
relevant points that I have overlooked. If so, I
would value your guidance. In any case, I hope there
are others interested in discussing these issues
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- --- In Pali@yahoogroups.com, George Bedell <gdbedell@...> wrote: Still, it is
overwhelmingly clear from comparing Sanskrit and Pali, on phonological, morphological or
syntactic grounds, that Sanskrit represents a historically prior stage of Indo-Aryan to Pali.
This is why in the accepted view Sanskrit is termed 'early Indo-Aryan' and Pali 'middle
Oberlies, Thomas. âMiddle Indo-Aryan and (the) Vedic (Dialects) (Miscellanea Palica VII).â
Historische Sprachforschung 112 (1999): 39â"57.
This may be of some interest to you.
- I think it is Vedic Sanskrit that is called Early
Indo-Aryan while Classical post Panini Sankrit is
posterior to prakrits - among which Pâli - of which it
is a systematisation.
--- lighthisertim <lighthisertim@...> wrote:
> --- In Pali@yahoogroups.com, George Bedell__________________________________________________
> <gdbedell@...> wrote: Still, it is
> overwhelmingly clear from comparing Sanskrit and
> Pali, on phonological, morphological or
> syntactic grounds, that Sanskrit represents a
> historically prior stage of Indo-Aryan to Pali.
> This is why in the accepted view Sanskrit is termed
> 'early Indo-Aryan' and Pali 'middle
> Oberlies, Thomas. âMiddle Indo-Aryan and (the)
> Vedic (Dialects) (Miscellanea Palica VII).â
> Historische Sprachforschung 112 (1999): 39â"57.
> This may be of some interest to you.
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- --- Jacques Huynen <jhuynen@...> skrev:
> I think it is Vedic Sanskrit that is called EarlyIt is true that the most important works in Classical
> Indo-Aryan while Classical post Panini Sankrit is
> posterior to prakrits - among which Pâli - of which
> is a systematisation.
Sanskrit are written later than the most important
works in Pali. Nevertheless, Classical Sanskrit is a
more archaic language than Pali regarding both
phonetics and grammar, and it is therefore classified
as Early Indo-Aryan.
In the same way, Latin is classified as an older
language than Italian, in spite of the fact that late
Latin was (and is) written later than early Italian.