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Monday, October 26, 2009

Spoken Sanskrit: why?


A couple of years ago, the Indology mailing list has hosted a great number of very interesting posts on spoken Sanskrit. Stella Sandahl, for one, has argued that so-called spoken "Sanskrit" is full of Hindī neologisms (sebaphalam as apple, for instance, although there were no apples in classical India) and has little to do with the classical language. On the same track, George Hart has pointed to the self-restriction of spoken Sanskrit, which does not aim –he maintains– at expressing complex thoughts and is only meant for everyday usage. Thus, it does not do any harm and can be fun, but no more than that.
I understand such concerns but am more in favour of spoken Sanskrit, basically for two reasons (apart from the practical reason of using Sanskrit as a medium with Indian paṇḍits).
  1. 1. It can be useful for didactic purposes. In my years of teaching experience, I noticed that students have usually either a figurative memory (and are hence quite helped by visualizing the written form of a word) or an aural one. In this second case, remembering the way a word sounds or the context of a conversation may be more helpful than hours of memorizing declension-endings.
  2. 2. I hope that to acquire some proficiency in spoken Sanskrit may lead to thinking in Sanskrit along with the texts one is working on. And I am absolutely sure that one needs to think along with a text in order to make sense of it (especially in case of śāstric Sanskrit, but I guess that similes may also be difficult if one is not ready to follow them beyond what is explicitly written).

(For the ones who want to participate, Adrian Cirstei is collecting spoken Sanskrit resources.)

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