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TAPSA: Studying Old Grammar

May 19, 2022 - 5pm

Foster Hall 103 and Zoom

Jo Brill, PhD Candidate in South Asian Languages and Civilizations, The University of Chicago 

What can we learn by studying the Sanskrit grammatical tradition through the lens of a scholarly community that flourished in Pune in the second part of the twentieth century? These mid-century Pune grammarians, along with their American and European students and interlocutors, were informed by the mood of the newly independent nation as well as the relatively young field of linguistics. At the time (as now) linguistics held a sprawling array of techniques and questions, while harkening back—in a way hidden to some of its practitioners—to the “discovery” of Panini’s ingenious system by colonial scholarship. My dissertation project is centered on one influential grammarian, S.D. Joshi, who held both traditional training in Pāṇinian grammar and academic training at the highest levels of western Indology. Joshi believed he had evidence of multiple compositional levels in the Aṣṭādhyāyī, asserting that two major sections and the rules explaining the older Vedic language, could not have been Pāṇini’s work and must have been interpolated before the work of his first commentators Kātyāyana and Patañjali. While the body of the dissertation will be devoted to empirical work, revisiting and fleshing out the data presented by Joshi, the present essay is an attempt to analyze and contextualize the questions that he posed, and the methods he proposed to answer them. Along the way I try to identify the various disciplinary homes—linguistics of course, but also philology, science, and history—of Joshi’s sheaf of research proposals.