Listen, My Children...

Every Little Helps

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

"a language glutted with puns, metaphors and multiple meanings"


Well, thanks!

As the article says, "scholars mostly work at chipped wooden tables in a large room lined with dusty metal bookshelves. Technology often amounts to a pencil stub and a paperweight." Perhaps; I never got a paperweight. I did use one of those four-color bic pens, though.

But right here:
There's "anekakrta," which is basically translated as "composed or obtained by many," but which Bhatta gleefully points out has 15 other definitions. "Sanskrit," he said, "has so many shades."
That's why I like it. The language is grand. So much structure, so much order, everything locking in its place, and all of it pretty much untranslateable. It reads somewhat like Finnegan's Wake. (Oh! which, I see, at least someone is believed to have been able to translate. I wonder if it's using Derrida's method, or Schopenhauer's, or what? I do like translation theory. And translations of the untranslateable, like Jabberwocky. I also like Hofstadter himself, for that matter.)

There's the delightful story, told by a prince who's just been snogging quite heavily with his ladyfriend, which includes no bilabials (his lips, you see, were all tired out). There's the Bhattikavya, written by a Sanskrit pandit on sabbattical, which, alongside the story, contains a refresher course in all sorts of obscure verb forms. There's even, I'm told (although I have not seen it), a poem in which each verse can be read in two entirely different ways, one describing one goddess, one describing another.

And then there's textual reconstruction: when you're reading along in a poem -- you have to chant them out loud to get the full effect -- and you come across something that jars, you look at it to see if the meter (which can be exceedingly intricate) is wrong; since, in Sanskrit poetry, the meter trumps all else, the meter can never have originally been wrong, so you get to try various things to see what the uncorrupted text might have been.

Yes, I like that language. Can hardly wait to start classes again.

As for dictionaries, while I wish those men success, they can't far supersede the work done by one man mostly alone, Boethlink, in his dictionary, nor will they come even close to the practical usefulness of the popular Monier-Williams dictionary (also one man plus two research assistants) or the remarkable portability of the quite reliable dictionary produced by Mr. Apte (who, it must be admitted, had a slew of native drudges helping out). Bother, why are books so much cheaper at amazon.co.uk? It evens out in the shipping, though.

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