Debates presuppose perspectives, the contestation of two different perspectives.A debate has emerged in social media between an editor and a teacher: The contestations of correct usage of words! The editor prescribes what he believes ‘correct’ in accordance with instructions of lexicons and negates the incorrect. The teacher describes what he finds in the current practice of language irrespective of the authority of lexicons. The contestation is of descriptive vs prescriptive understanding of language (and grammar). The debate is about shabdanushasan (शब्दानुशासन).
Galauj(गलौज) or Galauca (गलौच)!
By Ravish K. Chaudhary
A passage from Mahabhasya is worth mentioning.
एवं हि कश्चिद्वैयाकरण आह I कोऽस्य रथस्य प्रवेतेति I सूत आह I आयुष्मन्नहं प्राजितेति I अपशब्द इति I सूत आह I प्राप्तिज्ञो देवानांप्रियो न त्विष्टिज्ञ इष्यत एतद्रूपमिति I वैयाकरण आह I आहो खल्वनेन दुरूतेन वाध्यामह इति I सूत आह I न खलु वेञः सूतः सुवतेरेव सूतो यदि स्रुवते: कुत्सा प्रयोक्तव्या दुःसूतेनिति वक्तव्यम् I (Mahabhasya ed. Kielhorn Vol I, 1880, p. 488)
Let’s now read the same in English with little elaboration:
‘ In.this way, as is known, a certain grammarian said : * Who is the pravetr” driver ” of this chariot ?’ The charioteer said : * O long living one, I am the prajitr ** driver ” ‘. The grammarian said : ‘This is an apasabda ” incorrect word”. The charioteer said : ‘Your Honour is praptijna ” one who knows (the outcome of) the application ( of the rules ) “, but not istijna” one who knows the desired usage “. This form (prajitr) is desired ‘. The grammarian said :’ Well, by that Duruta we are pressed hard indeed . The charioteer said: ‘ Certainly, (the word) sitta” charioteer” is not (a derivation) from ( su + utaderived from the verbal base ) veH” to weave “, but suta( is derived) from (the verbal base ) su- ” to set in motion ” only. If your abusive term (had been derived) from sit-, you should have used (the correct form)duhsWa“a bad charioteer “. (Paspasahnika trans: Joshi &Roodbergen University of Poona 1986, p.142)
The passage offers a nice illustration of the point of acceptability and grammaticality. The grammarian who knows the rules (of derivation) is honoured by praptijna. He is not a person to whom ista(desired) usage is to be asked. The grammarian has no authority on desired usage. Mahabasya suggest that even though the rules of grammar derive what the grammarian has uttered, it is the charioteer whose utterance shall have precedence over the derived word. The grammarian, who only knows Panini’s rule, wrongly believes prajitr to be an apasabda. Indeed the term uttered by the charioteer is desired (isyata etad rupam). The user (of the language), the charioteer in response, to the preaching of grammarian, with a hint of sarcasm, says that the trouble with the grammarian is that he does not know usage.
It is important to find that Mahabhasya prefer the usage of native speaker over the rules of Astadhayayi. It signifies that grammar shall follow the language of native user. Language with its internal dynamics shall mould itself and grammar and lexicons shall follow this flowing current of langauge. Historically, all known languages in its due course have abandoned some words, adopted, formed some new ones, altered some others in its usage or have changed meaning of some of its words. Fluidity is inherent to languages. Languages have adequately borrowed from other languages. Even classical language like Sanskrit and Greek has borrowed from each other. Some examples can be Pancha (पंच) Pente (Πέντε) Five, Kendra(केद्र) Kentro (κέντρο) Center, Dwi(द्बि) Dio (δύο) Two etc. Mahabhasya also refers to some words of Persian origin which were in use but had become obsolete in time. Some words have reversed its meaning in due course of time. An example is Sanskrit word साहस which is bravery in current use. Earlier the term was used for ‘insulting women’s dignity. It is possible for a grammarian to derive these words from the rules of language and justify its meaning in the current use? These words are to be used in accordance with the current usage of its native speaker.
Then native users of language use the language with innate competence and not by the instructions of grammarians. The usage of words with this innate competence decides the correct usage of words. In this regard grammarians have no authority. Mahabhasya (81) mentions this view in the passage quoted below:
यल्लोकेऽर्थमुपादाय शब्दान्प्रयुञ्जते, नैषां निर्वृत्तौ यत्नं कुर्वन्ति I ये पुनः कार्या भावा निर्वृत्तौ तावत्तेषां यत्नः क्रियते I तद्यथा-घटेन कार्येकरिष्यन् कुम्भकारकुलं गत्वाऽऽह-कुरू घटं कार्यमनेन करिष्यामीति I न तद्वच्छब्दान्प्रयुयुक्षमाणो वैयाकरणकुलं गत्वाऽऽह्- कुरू शब्दान्प्रयोक्ष्य इति I तावत्येवार्थमुपादाय शब्दान्प्रयुञ्जते I
(Because, in daily life, having brought to mind different-things(people) use words. They do not put in an effort to make these(words). On the other hand, they do put in an effort to makethings which are karya‘ to be produced . For instance, one whoneeds a pot for some purpose, goes to the house of a potter andsays : ‘ You make a pot. I need a pot for some purpose ‘. (But) one who wants to use words does not go to the house of a grammarian and say : ‘ You make words. I want to use them ‘. (On the contrary,) having brought to mind (a thing), without further ado, he uses words.)
Words are not used by instruction of grammarians. Regarding the origination and the use of words grammar has no authority. No one goes to a grammarian for a word. The (native) speaker who uses the language is the only authority as far as the laukik language is concerned. No native speaker of a language refers to the lexicons while choosing the words in daily use. Even words of foreign origin have been adopted in languages without the approval of grammarians. English language has adopted words like juggernaut (जगन्नाथ) and satrap of different cultural origin without any grammatical exercise and usage of these words are equally acceptable with words of Greek and Latin origin.
Whether knowledge is the basis of correct usage (शिष्टप्रयोग) or the correct usage (शिष्टप्रयोग) is the basis of grammatical knowledge has always been the point of contestation. This quest has been in the centre of grammatical studies for time immemorial. We can infer from the passages, mentioned above, that the early tradition of grammarians suggests correct usage as the basis of grammatical knowledge. That a language and the correct (शिष्ट) use of the language is not dependent upon the knowledge of grammarians. It is the innate competence of the native speakers that make the correct usage. The early traditions of grammarian suggest a prescriptive understanding of language.
If it is the innate competence of native speakers that decide the correctness of words, then what is शब्दानुशासन all about? If loka prayoga is the pramana in ‘instruction in words’, what does shastra do ? what is grammar good for ? According to Mahabhasya, Shastra provides us dharmaniyama of words used in loka.
लोकतोऽर्थप्रयुक्ते शब्दप्रयोगे शास्त्रेण धर्मनियमः I(Mbh 83)
That the role of shastra is in the dharmaniyama of the words in usage. What is dharma niyama ? The term dharmaniyama is an ambigious term in the corpora of snaskrit literature. In different context it carries different meanings. It can have multiple connotations depending upon the context. To resolve this we can refer to Kaiyata who is an authority on Mahabhasya with his celebrated tika called Mahabhasya-Pradeep. Kaiyata explains this in following manner: धर्मप्रयोजन इति I लिङादिविषयेण नियोगाख्येन धर्मेण प्रयुक्त्ः इत्यर्थः I i.e. dharma forms the domain of the verb endings called IN,etc. in Panini’s grammar. That grammar has an assigned role of the analysis. The earlier tradition, as we can see, assigns the grammarians the role of analyst and not of instructor. The tradition of grammarian in India favours a descriptive understanding of language and grammar.
This is not to say that prescriptive view of language and grammar is the only view available in the tradition of grammarians. BhattojiDikshita’s SiddhantaKaumudi or “Illumination of the established (position)” (17th century) is perhaps the first text in this regard which prescribes the correct usages to the learners of Sanskrit language. The context of this prescription needs explanation. It is important to underline that prescription presupposes something static, already established and unchangeable without having its own dynamics. Surely this not applicable to a language which is active and changing itself by its own inherent dynamics in a given social-cultural context. As discussed earlier, that was case with the language on which Panini and Patanjali were writing sutras and commentary. The language they were dealing with had its regional variants, known to both the scholars. They were even aware of obsolete usage or changed meaning of words. The case with Bhattoji Dikshita was quite different. He was required to teach Sanskrit to non-native speakers of this particular language. Texts available in the traditions of grammarian were the only means to learn this language. No wonder, prescription of words and rules were inevitable in this particular case.
The prescriptive understanding of language and the attitude of learning correct usage from texts and rules already established has dominated the later Sanskrit traditions. This attitude has also silently slipped to the grammarians of later Indian languages. Grammarians of later Indian languages, under the dominance of prevalent practice of later Sanskrit grammarians have allowed prescription to be the rule of regulation of their languages without much reflection on the subject. Frequent references to lexicons and grammatical rules to derive words are penchant to align with the tradition of later Sanskrit grammarians without differentiating the context of languages. To some extent it is a Brahmincal exercise to establish the hierarchy of language, words in use and of the users on the basis of usage. Contrary to this, we can see that for Panatnjali no word was apraukta as all words have a potential to be used and without the knowledge of a grammarian can be used in different time-space and different regional variants of a language.
In sum, prescription in language cannot be logical if the language is live and dynamic and is actually used by millions of native speaker. It is inherent to the language that its users in due course of time shall modify, alter and change its terms/words/phrases and also the meanings of the words from its present usage. The language in its internal dynamics will change its own shape. It shall borrow, include and exclude words from other languages and alter its form in accordance with its own nature. Grammarian can not intervene in this process. Any intervention from of a grammarian to prevent this dynamics shall be a futile exercise. Grammarians are mere spectator and analyst of this dynamics. The grammarian and lexicons are bound to accept both Galauj(गलौज) or Galauca(गलौच) if found in current use of native speakers.
The very adherence to the correct usage of words has its own problematic from the class perspective. I shall restrain to comment upon that, have heard the editor is anti-Marxist.
Ravish is an engineering graduate and master in Sanskrith from JNU. He briefly pursued philosophy at JNU, and is now an engineering personnel with the ONGC, Mehasana. He has also been involved in the cultural politics. You can contact him through firstname.lastname@example.org.