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To Sanskrit Speakers

Hi Zettlers,

does anyone speak (write and read) Sanskrit? If yes, how does it feel compared to English or other languages you speak?

I am asking because I think about learning Sanskrit to improve my thinking.

Example: To me, German is very sensitive compared to English. In German, tiny differences in wording make a huge difference in meaning and tone. English is much more simple.

A (translated) quote that is very telling:

French is a noble park, Italian a big, bright and colourful wood. But German is more like a primeval forest, as thick and mysterious, as lacking big trails and yet full of hidden paths. You can’t get lost in a park, and not that easily and dangerously in the Italian wood’s brightness; but in German can disappear in the thicket within four, five minutes. Because the paths are so difficult to follow, most try to march as straight as possible through it. Actually, this is against it’s against the nature of this language. Sure, it has a principal direction, but yet invites by hundred trails and hidden paths left and right to depart from it, and soon back to it.

  1. I butchered the quote through translation because it makes heavy use of the peculiarities of the German language.
  2. That is the reason why translations from German into English are very difficult.
  3. That is the reason why I plan to provide my own translation of the core texts of Luhmann in some distant future.

Live long and prosper
Sascha

I am a Zettler

Comments

  • edited March 26

    @Sascha said:
    In German, tiny differences in wording make a huge difference in meaning and tone.

    They do in English, too. Writing good English is very hard work. I believe it was Oscar Wilde who, when he was asked what he had done that day, said: "This morning I put in a comma, and this afternoon I took it out again." Truly great English prose stylists like Jonathan Swift and Jane Austen are rare. Something they understood is the power of rhythm, which is largely ignored by more modern writers, and not always perceived by non-native English speakers.

    1. That is the reason why I plan to provide my own translation of the core texts of Luhmann in some distant future.

    I, for one, would love this. Even his Communicating With Slipboxes paper. It would be helpful to see your translation!

    Scott P. Scheper
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  • Possibly a dumb quetion, but I'd like to ask anyways: Have you thought about getting better at the languages you already know with the goal of being easily understood?

  • @Annabella said:
    Possibly a dumb quetion, but I'd like to ask anyways: Have you thought about getting better at the languages you already know with the goal of being easily understood?

    I am doing it already. :) Believe it or not: Even my English was way worse just a year ago. :)

    But my main focus is on German.

    I am a Zettler

  • @Sascha said:
    I am asking because I think about learning Sanskrit to improve my thinking.

    Back when I was training in (and out) of monastic residence, I strongly considered learning Sanskrit to be able to read texts like the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā and the Mahāyānasaṃgraha in their original language. I first gave it serious consideration 20 years. I regret not starting.

    Loosely related sidenote: For anyone reading this who is unlikely to ever learn Sanskrit but would like solid exposure to a key concept of the Yogachara school called the Ālaya-vijñāna, I heartily recommend a book called The Buddhist Unconscious. It'll make you sweat (at least it did me), but it is well worth the effort. It provides a limpid explication of the Yogachara view of consciousness. It's basically a kind of map for navigating the mind.

    As far as improving thinking, reading Nāgārjuna’s process of negation (in effing Sanskrit) -- basically using logic to prove that all phenomena lack any fundamental intrinsic reality -- and doing so with unbroken concentration -- well that has gotta be one hell of a workout. Powerlifting for the mind.

    Wishing you well with your studies.

  • edited March 28

    @Sascha said:
    I am doing it already. :) Believe it or not: Even my English was way worse just a year ago. :)

    I didn't even notice. Your English has always been fine to me.

    @Sascha said:
    But my main focus is on German.

    If you got better at English, then I bet you'll get better at German too by applying the same or a similar approach.

  • does anyone speak (write and read) Sanskrit? If yes, how does it feel compared to English or other languages you speak?

    I am making progress on it but irregularly. I can read/write the devanagari script and understand some grammar and sandhi rules but a long way to go.

    I don't feel I can compare it with English given my limited experience with it but I love how it sounds. But one has to pay a lot of attention as its "sandhi" rule can create long compound words. In addition, word roots can mean a lot of different things in different contexts and objects can have many synonyms, based on their properties -- this why I get sidetracked!

    I am asking because I think about learning Sanskrit to improve my thinking.

    It is a very deep rabbit hole. There are 2000 root words and about 4000 grammar rules. I study it because I am fascinated with it. I am thinking of taking an online class that starts in May, mainly to try practice it regularly. Here is a good introduction to it by a Sanskrit scholar Martin Gluckman for people who are not familiar with Sanskrit:

  • I have taken five years of Sanskrit in school. Beautiful language. It is easier for me because my first two languages are Marathi and Hindi (English is my third), and both these languages are derived from Sanskrit and share extensive vocabulary.

    I think learning any new language---and by this I mean learning it well enough to be able to understand idiomatic writing---enlarges our horizon, allows us to see things in an unanticipated light.

    Genuine question, not rhetorical: What makes you believe that learning Sanskrit will play this role better than some living language? I honestly doubt that learning Sanskrit will take you to the place you have in mind, and this I say this despite not yet precisely knowing the place you have in mind.

    Sanskrit is no different than other languages in terms of ambiguity and slipperiness of the words, although, being artificially frozen, some ambiguity and irregular constructions have been reduced by fiat. The grammatical constructions are more regular, and this supposed rigor gives the illusion that it is more "scientific". As a cognitive linguist, I don't buy that claim.

    Happy to answer any questions you may have with the limited knowledge I possess.

  • The "meta-language" Pāṇini uses has much in common with programming languages! Understanding the grammar and encoding it in a programming library was my original starting point, though it might never happen!

  • @bvs said:
    The "meta-language" Pāṇini uses has much in common with programming languages! Understanding the grammar and encoding it in a programming library was my original starting point, though it might never happen!

    Have you seen this: https://ashtadhyayi.com/

  • Since a good chunk there is Devanagari, I copied a bit of English from the intro:

    https://ashtadhyayi.com aims at providing a comprehensive study resource for the students of Paninian grammar. Back in 2015, it started as a personal fun project, but then quickly scaled up to become a serious portal that the students (and teachers) can depend on.

  • Have you seen this: https://ashtadhyayi.com/

    Thanks! It was on my list of sites to look at but didn't get around to it. There is also this Pāṇini Research Tool Martin Gluckman mentioned in his talk. https://sanskritdictionary.com/panini/

    Creating "atomic notes" out of Aṣṭādhyāyī sūtras seems like an amusing thought! But perhaps worth doing. The Pāṇini research tool above does seem a bit like that!

  • edited May 5

    @amahabal said:
    Genuine question, not rhetorical: What makes you believe that learning Sanskrit will play this role better than some living language?

    Some of my reasons:

    • Our way of thinking developed a lot in the last thousand years. At least the old linguistic part of thinking of is accessable by learning Sanskrit.
    • I really like the written letters.
    • I compare it to Latin which, when I studied it, gave me quite different insights than a living language.

    The first one is the most important reason. :)

    And: Since, I am German I expect to not having the hardest time with Sanskrit.

    I am a Zettler

  • In the 80s I took a Sanskrit class at Mainz University, as I had studied South Indian languages and literature before (in Heidelberg), so I knew Devanagari already. My reason was the challenge. I was a language nerd and someone I admired had mentioned Chinese and Sanskrit to be the biggest challenges to the mind - so I took both challenges. I do like the sound of the language being rhythmically spoken/chanted. As for the wisdom I had illusions. The crisis came when I had to translate the sentence: The greatest misfortune is a daughter. This threw me off the ‚starry eyed waggon‘. I went on to Chinese which I took for several years. HTH, Inky

  • Devanagari is not used in South Indian languages -- not only do they have their own scripts, many South Indians are opposed to Hindi as India's national language (which also uses the Devanagari script). Not to mention, typically Sanskrit is (or was) usually written in whatever is the local language since all major Indic languages have more or less the same phonetic alphabet (but written differently).

    I was not aware of the sentence that threw you off so I did a bit of googling and found this: https://hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/38222/why-aitareya-brahmana-says-that-women-cause-trouble

    There are supposedly 30 Million Sanskrit manuscripts so you will find pretty much everything in there! Very strange to have a new student translate such a sentence from an obscure manuscript!

  • @bvs Hi! This was in one of the early lessons in a German Sanskrit textbook. Maybe they chose it, because it is a short sentence.

    Nowadays I would read it and still keep my distance as it was a historic opinion. But then, in the 90s it hit me in the mark for reasons which are not connected to Hinduism at all. Sometimes I wish I had continued.

    I wasn‘t aware that Sanskrit can be written in the local scripts. Interesting!

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