Bromberger, Pāṇini and Vedic Recitation

Via an excellent philosophy blog that I follow, “Leiter Reports”, I read the sad news that the linguist, philosopher and Professor Emeritus at the MIT philosophy department, Sylvain Bromberger passed away at the age of 94. Prof. Bromberger had an interesting history. His family escaped from France and the Nazi war machine in Europe largely due to the humanity of the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, France at that time – Sousa Mendes. Sousa Mendes disobeyed the direct orders of the Portuguese government and issued Portuguese visas to about 10,000 Jews over the period of a few days. You can read the entire story at the foundation web-site. I quote:

Portugal, officially neutral, yet unofficially pro-Hitler and under the dictatorial rule of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, issued a directive – the infamous “Circular 14″ – to all its diplomats to deny safe haven to refugees, including explicitly Jews, Russians, and stateless persons who could not freely return to their countries of origin. Aristides de Sousa Mendes’s act of heroism consisted in choosing to defy these inhumane orders and follow his conscience instead. “I would rather stand with God against Man than with Man against God,” he declared.

In all, Sousa Mendes issued some 30,000 visas, including about 10,000 to Jews, over the period of a few days. This heroic feat was characterized by the Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer as “the largest rescue action by a single individual during the Holocaust.”

For his act of defiance Sousa Mendes was severely punished by Salazar, stripped of his diplomatic position and forbidden from earning a living. He had fifteen children, who were themselves blacklisted and prevented from attending university or finding meaningful work. In this way what was once an illustrious and well-respected family – one of the great families of Portugal – was crushed and destroyed. The family’s ancestral home, known as “Casa do Passal,” was repossessed by the bank and eventually sold to cover debts.

It is inspiring to read such stories of humanism, even in the darkest of times like Nazi Europe. But, back to Bromberger. His oeuvre can found in here and his excellent book “On What We Know We Don’t Know: Explanation, Theory, Linguistics, and How Questions Shape Them (1992)” can be found here. Bromberger, it should be noted, dedicated this book to the memory of Sousa Mendes.

The last chapter in the book is titled “The Ontology of Phonology”, which is a very interesting paper, and Bromberger published multiple revisions of the paper over his lifetime, even after publication in this book. Here he points out

Though many philosophers of language have views on linguistics, few, if any, have given serious attention to phonology

But that is quite different in the Indian philosophic traditions, as he himself points out later

The questions that make phonology possible also had to be discovered. And their discoverers are heroes of our field: Panini, Rask, Bopp, Saussure, Jakobson, Chomsky. Without them phonology would still consist of pedantically collecting odd curiosities.

I may point out here that

  • Pāṇini was at least 2000 years older than the oldest linguist in the list above, showing the genius of the Indian/Sanskritic linguist traditions.
  • Phonology obtained an even more comprehensive treatment in the various texts belonging to the genre of the prātiśākhyam-s and śikṣā-s, of which we have literally hundereds of texts still available – See Veda-lakṣaṇa, Vedic Ancillary Literature: A Descriptive Bibliography . We can be sure that at least some of them are as old as Pāṇini.

In a practical and demonstrative way, a comprehensive expression of the ontology of phonology can be found in the particular Vedic recitation technique – the varṇakrama, a vikr̥ti mode of recitation. In the commentary to the Vyāsa-śikṣā, the sarva-lakṣaṇa-mañjarī-saṅgrahaḥ, Rājā-ghanapāṭhī quotes the skanda-purāṇam

संहितापाठमात्रेण तत्फलं प्रोच्यते बुधैः ।
पदे तु द्विगुणं विद्यात्क्रमे तु चतुर्गुणम् ॥
वर्णक्रमे शतगुणं जटायान्तु सहस्रकम् ।

The fruit which the wise say is obtained by reciting the saṁhitā text,
The recitation of the pada mode is two-fold and the krama mode is four-fold,
The recitation of the varṇakrama mode is 100-fold and the jaṭā mode is 1000-fold.

The varṇakrama mode is very interesting and complex. It first takes each word and splits it into syllables. Then gradually more and more layers of detail are added, tying up the syllables to the place of production of the sound, the stress levels, and even other ontological categories such as sattva, rajas, tamas, etc. This follows the ancient Indian philosophical tradition that the universe is in the ultimate sense an undivided whole, and bandhu-s, i.e., relationships, exist between different ontological categories. A good investigation of bandhu-s, but from a ritual perspective is a paper by Jan Gonda, Bandhu in the brāhmaṇa-s, Adyar Library Bulletin, Vol 29, 1965, pp. 1-29.

I give you here two links of the varṇakrama recitation. The first is the the word sajoṣāḥ and the second is the phrase namaḥ śivāya, which occur in the kr̥ṣṇa-yajur-veda (I have not shown the accents here).

The first example starts off with:

sakāra-akāra jakāra-okāra ṣakāra-ākāra visarjanīyāḥ । sajoṣāḥ ॥
sakāra-hrasvānudātta-akāra jakārodātta-okāra ṣakārālpatara-prayatna-tairovyañjana-svarita-ākāra visarjanīyāḥ । sajoṣāḥ ॥

There’s more to it of course, but these first two sentences in the sequence should give an idea of how the layering of detail proceeds. Note that a single word, sajoṣāḥ takes a little more than seven minutes for the full exposition! This is truly a marvel of phonological analysis.

Finally, I would like to plug one of my own papers on one particular arcane aspect of phonology – duplication of consonants when conjunct consonants occur in Sanskrit. Pāṇini gives rules, but declares duplication as optional (8.4.47, etc.). However this is not optional in Vedic recitations, and the rules vary by the veda-s as well as śākhā-s. Note that duplication is to be avoided in the varṇakrama mode, but is present in all other recitation modes including the pada. I have examined in detail consonant duplication in kr̥ṣṇa-yajur-veda recitation, and have given a mathematical as well as an algorithmic model in my paper which I presented at the World Sanskrit Conference 2018, Vancouver. The paper is now a chapter in the book Computational Sanskrit & Digital Humanities, Selected papers presented at the 17th World Sanskrit Conference University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 9–13 July 2018, D K Publishers Distributors Pvt. Ltd.


Useful LaTeX classes for book publishing

I needed to do two things:

  • In the table of contents, the subsection names were getting too close to the numbering, after exceeding 9 subsections, and
  • I wanted a 14pt font

The first was easily done by using the tocloft class and the second by using the extbook, instead of the book class


MikTeX with Windows 7

I tried reinstalling MikTeX after changing my laptop. After many unsuccessful tries, turning off the anti-virus, etc., it turned out that the 64 bit version wasn’t working for me. The 32 bit version installed fine. I don’t know if this is a general problem, but try the 32 it version if the 64 bit version doesn’t work.