Sanskrit is Simple – Only Four Parts of Speech

Sanskrit is Simple – Only Four Parts of Speech

सुलभं संस्कृतम् – चत्वार्येव वाक्पदानि

Having posted 37 lessons by such serial numbers, I am not calling this as Lesson No. 38. This is a new angle of looking at sentences in Sanskrit. We would very much revisit the concepts studied in the previous lessons, but with this new perspective of Only Four Parts of Speech.

I first composed this write-up for my other blog But when I started looking at “Sanskrit is Simple – Only Four Parts of Speech”, I realized that it would develop into a good supplement to this blog of Simple Sanskrit. Here in this post I will explain what this concept Only Four Parts of Speech is.

When speaking of Sanskrit, there is some natural mention of Sanskrit grammar. It is also well-accepted that Sanskrit has to be grammatically correct. The need for Sanskrit to be grammatically correct is emphasized to the extent of an impression to grow in mind that it is grammarians, who created the language and they would not tolerate any Sanskrit, which is grammatically incorrect.

It is my contention however that grammar does not make the language. Rules of grammar are framed to systematize how the language should be spoken or written. I am clear in my mind that पाणिनि did not create Sanskrit language. In अष्टाध्यायी his treatise on Sanskrit grammar he framed and compiled, in a style and in a scheme of his own, rules of grammar, which are recognized as the norm for Sanskrit.

While पाणिनि’s lifetime is dated to be some 500 BC, Sanskrit existed millennia before पाणिनि. In his aphorisms such as लोपः शाकल्यस्य ८।३।१९ or ओतो गार्ग्यस्य ८।३।२०, he makes mention of many grammarians before him. Since पाणिनि was not the first grammarian, he could not have created Sanskrit. And the logic would apply to any grammarian.

He did find many exceptional usages, especially in texts and speeches very ancient to himself. They were exceptional, because he could not fit them in rules, which he had compiled. Nevertheless he took cognisance of such usages in his अष्टाध्यायी by referring to them as छन्दसि meaning “in ancient texts/usages”, primarily the Vedas.

As far as my own initiation into Sanskrit is concerned, I must also mention that my father taught me Sanskrit to a fairly good level of understanding, without ever mentioning पाणिनि. My father was a teacher of languages. He taught as many as four languages – Marathi, Hindi, English and Sanskrit. On recapitulation, I think his style was of comparative study. Basically, we have thoughts. And language is the aid or medium to express the thought. Any thought can be expressed in any languages, What is needed is the use of relevant words and “constructs”, which are typical of that language. Linguistic study then is getting to understand the words and “constructs” or the diction and the grammar.

Speaking of constructs, in English grammar, one learns of eight Parts of Speech – Verbs, Nouns, Pronouns, Adjectives, Adverbs, Prepositions, Conjunctions and Interjections. These eight parts of speech are like bins. Every word in a sentence must get sorted out into one bin or the other. The term “Part of speech” seems to denote types of words. Every word in a sentence is a part of the speech, because a sentence puts the words in such format that the speech becomes meaningful. Every word is then a part of speech and hence would be of one of the eight types.

Having said so, it comes to mind that in a sentence such as “Why did you not go ?”, in which bin do we put the word “not” ? The word “not” is an auxiliary to the verb. But we do not have a part of speech as “auxiliary”. Again, in a sentence such as “That is not good”, the word “not” is more related to the word “good”. What part of speech is the word “not” in this sentence ? In another sentence, “I shall do it, but not now”, the word “not” is more related to the adverb “now”. So a word such as “not” could be more related to the verb or to an adjective or to an adverb or to a pronoun in a phrase such as “not me” or to a noun as in a phrase “not Ganesh”. One can surmise that words need not be, rather, should not be typified. That concept should apply to any language.

Comparatively, in Sanskrit, every word, to be eligible for use in a speech, needs to be so dressed up, as would be appropriate for its intended use in a sentence. Intended use of a given word could be different in different sentences. A word appropriately dressed up is called as a पदम्.

Broadly पद-s are of only two types, either of सुप्-type or of तिङ्-type पाणिनि summarizes this as सुप्तिङन्तं पदम् (पा. 1-4-14)

Does that make one good answer to a question – What is simple in Sanskrit grammar ?

We can say सुप् and तिङ् are two broad types of dresses to dress up raw (or seed) words. The dresses are of two broad types, because raw (or seed) words are of two broad types – nominal roots प्रातिपदिक-s and verbal roots धातु-s. English grammarians have coined for धातु, this term “verbal root”. I don’t like it that way though, because धातु is more basic than a root. Because it is more basic, I would like to call it as the seed. To go further, more basic than even the concept of seed, I would say that धातु is the “formless” state, from which “forms” emerge.

Am I speaking philosophy ? Yes ! One good starting point to understand Sanskrit is to get some philosophical tune up of the mind. Learning Sanskrit grammar is also like learning philosophy. If Vedas are like nourishing food, to digest that food, it has to be first put into the mouth. And grammar is the mouth, through which the Vedas are to be sent in for assimilation and digestion. So, they say, मुखं व्याकरणं स्मृतम् | Grammar is the mouth for the vedas.

The concept of “… “formless” state, from which “forms” emerge …” has been dwelt upon also in GItA. See the mention अव्यक्तादीनि भूतानि व्यक्तमध्यानि भारत | अव्यक्तनिधनान्येव तत्र का परिदेवना ||2-28|| Before they become manifest, all beings are in unmanifest state. Being manifest is just a middle stage or state. Death is only their passing again into the unmanifest state. So, धातु is the “formless” state, from which “forms” emerge. Similar is the case with प्रातिपदिक-s.

How many forms can emerge from these two basic formless states ? Asking this question is like asking how big a tree can grow from a seed ? How many branches can it have ? How many leaves can it have ? How many flowers and fruits can it have ? How many petals would each flower have ? How many ovules would emerge from the ovary of each flower ?

In a Sanskrit sentence, every word, the पदम् is “formed” by a forming process or morphology प्रक्रिया, which are broadly of the two types – सुप् and तिङ्.

सुप् and तिङ् are actually suffixes, word-endings प्रत्यय-s, which dress up the seeds प्रातिपदिक-s and धातु-s respectively.

What सुप्-प्रत्यय-s do is to form पद-s inclusive of prepositions. That eliminates “prepositions” as a type of part of speech. For example, देवेन is a पदम् with a सुप्-प्रत्यय-dressing up of प्रातिपदिक-देव. When so dressed up, its meaning “(with or) by God” includes the meaning implicit in the preposition “(with or) by”.

The morphology i.e. प्रक्रिया-s of सुप्-प्रत्यय-s embraces nouns, pronouns and adjectives. That eliminates any need for distinctive study of these parts of speech. Thus Sanskrit grammar has an inclusive philosophy.

पद-s formed by प्रक्रिया-s of सुप्-प्रत्यय-s often serve the function of adverbs also. For example, in a sentence अश्वः वेगेन धावति the word वेगेन is similar to देवेन. In the sentence अश्वः वेगेन धावति meaning of वेगेन is “with speed”. This meaning is adverbial, adverb of manner. The philosophy behind the morphology i.e. प्रक्रिया-s of सुप्-प्रत्यय-s then is further more inclusive, inclusive of adverbial meanings also.

तिङ्-प्रत्यय-s help us obtain verbs “क्रिया”-पद-s. In any language, one needs verbs in different tenses and moods, for singular or plural subjects, in first, second or third person, in active, passive voices, to connote causative, desiderative senses, etc. तिङ्-प्रत्यय-s do all that and do it much more crisply. An English sentence “May it be benevolent” would just be शुभमस्तु in Sanskrit.

Coming to an auxiliary word like “not” discussed earlier, in Sanskrit there are many words, which do not need dressing up. So there is no morphology of suffixes प्रत्यय-प्रक्रिया to be processed for these words. Some commonly words of this type are न, च, वा, अथवा, अथ, इति, एव, अपि, यदा, तदा, कदा, यथा, तथा, कथम्, एवम्, अद्य, ह्यः, श्वः, इदानीम्, अधुना, तदानीम्, अत्र, यत्र, तत्र, कुत्र, सर्वत्र, अन्यत्र, etc.

There are two viewpoints to understand such words.

  • One viewpoint is to think that these words are devoid of suffixes. They can be used without any dressing up. But this viewpoint goes against the philosophy, that every word should be dressed up and only then it can be used in a sentence.
  • So in the other viewpoint, one considers that the word is already having a dress of its own. It is not visible as a distinct suffix, but it is there. पाणिनि embraces all such words by saying अदर्शनं लोपः १।१।५९ “Not visible” means that “some suffix was there, but during metamorphosis it got dropped off”. This may be considered as just some smart way, to avoid saying that these words have no suffixes.
  • Basically these words are of a class, which can be used in “as is” condition. Such words are called by English grammarians as indeclinables अव्यय-s. To my mind this pair of parallel terminologies “indeclinables = अव्यय-s” is again not correct. I shall come to that later.

One need not conclude that in Sanskrit there are no suffixes beyond the सुप्-प्रत्यय-s and तिङ्-प्रत्यय-s.

पाणिनि makes mention of अतिङ्-प्रत्यय-s. One type of अतिङ्-प्रत्यय-s are कृत्-प्रत्यय-s (See कृदतिङ्॥ ३।१।९३)

  • कृदन्त-s are words having suffixes or endings of कृत्-प्रत्यय-s
  • Among कृदन्त-s, words with suffixes क्त्वा/ल्यप्, तुमुन् and ण्वुल् are adverbial and/or conjunctive. For example कृत्वा, संस्कृत्य, कर्तुम्, कारम्
  • कृदन्त-s with other कृत्-प्रत्यय-s would be mostly adjectives and would need dressing up with सुप्-प्रत्यय-s. Some कृत्-प्रत्यय-s of this type, found in common use are क्त, क्तवतु, तृच्, शतृ, शानच्, ण्यत्, तव्यत्, अनीयर्, as in कृत, कृतवत्, कर्तृ, कुर्वन्, क्रियमाण, कार्य, कर्तव्य, करणीय
  • In his book कृत्-प्रत्ययविश्लेषणम् Dr. Gopabandhu Mishra has presented a study of as many as 139 कृत्-प्रत्यय-s.

It becomes helpful to take the basic concept of प्रत्यय-s to be one of so dressing up the seed, that it gets an identity of its own and by that it can stand by itself anywhere. A word being enabled to stand by itself anywhere, is freeing it from the bondage of syntax. That again is a great, great concept, very special of Sanskrit !

Some concept of morphology of words by use of suffixes and also prefixes is there in many languages. For example, in English we have “to act” → acts, acted, acting, action, inaction, actionless, actor, actors, actress, actresses, active, inactive, proactive, activity, activities, actual, actuality, actualities, react, reaction, etc. All these morphologies however do not free the words from bondage of syntax.

Great benefit obtained from freedom from bondage of syntax is in facilitating poetic compositions, It is easy to utter poetic compositions in a rhythm, maybe even sing them. Most importantly, by becoming rhythmic, they become easy to memorize. Wish to sing grammar as a song ? Yes, you can do that with Sanskrit grammar ! For example, see this श्लोक in श्रीरामरक्षास्तोत्रम् –

रामो राजमणिः सदा विजयते रामं रमेशं भजे |

रामेणाभिहिता निशाचरचमू रामाय तस्मै नमः |

रामान्नास्ति परायणं परतरं रामस्य दासोऽस्म्यहम् |

रामे चित्तलयस् सदा भवतु मे भो राम मामुद्धर ||

One can notice that in this verse one gets sequentially all singular-formattings (एकवचन-रूपाणि) of the प्रातिपदिक “राम” with सुप्-प्रत्यय-s in all seven cases from प्रथमा to सप्तमी.

Total number of सुप्-प्रत्यय-s are 21. PaNini summarized them in a single aphorism सूत्रम् स्वौजसमौट्छस्टाभ्याम्भिस्-ङेभ्याम्भ्यस्ङसिभ्याम्भ्यस्ङसोसाम्ङ्योस्सुप्॥ ४।१।२

This is to be deciphered as (1) सु (2) औ (3) जस् (4) अम् (5) औट् (6) शस् (7) टा (8) भ्यां (9) भिस् (10) ङे (11) भ्यां (12) भ्यस् (13) ङसि (14) भ्यां (15) भ्यस् (16) ङस् (17) ओस् (18) आं (19) ङि (20) ओस् (21) सुप्

One may notice that सुप्-प्रत्यय-s got their name from the ending of the above सूत्रम्.

Likewise तिङ्-प्रत्यय-s are summarized in

सूत्रम्॥ तिप्तस्झिसिप्थस्थमिब्वस्मस्तातांझथासाथांध्वमिड्वहिमहिङ्॥ ३।४।७८

It may be noted that the सूत्रम् starts with ति and ends with ङ्. Hence the name तिङ्-प्रत्यय-s

The सूत्रम् has been deciphered as धातोः, तिप्-तस्-झि, सिप्-थस्-थ, मिप्-वस्-मस् (परस्मैपदम्), त-आताम्-झ, थास्-आथाम्-ध्वम्, इट्-वहि-महिङ् (आत्मनेपदम्) इत्येते अष्टादश आदेशाः meaning, there are 18 तिङ्-प्रत्यय-s, two groups of 9 each, as contained in the सूत्रम्. Why 9 in each group is detailed in two सूत्र-s

तिङस्त्रीणि त्रीणि प्रथममध्यमोत्तमाः॥ १।४।१०० and

तान्येकवचनद्विवचनबहुवचनान्येकशः॥ १।४।१०१

Words in a Sanskrit sentence will be of one of four types. Or Sanskrit has only four Parts of Speech चत्वारि वाक्पदानि –

  1. Words with सुप्-प्रत्यय-s
  2. Words with तिङ्-प्रत्यय-s
  3. Words with अदृष्ट-प्रत्यय-s or लोपमान-प्रत्यय-s i.e. words, प्रत्यय-s of which tend to vanish.
  4. Words with अतिङ्-प्रत्यय-s, prominent among them being words with कृत्-प्रत्यय-s

This phrase चत्वारि वाक्पदानि is in श्रीगणपत्यथर्वशीर्षस्तोत्रम् which is an ode to श्रीगणेश. This is not to suggest that the phrase चत्वारि वाक्पदानि in श्रीगणपत्यथर्वशीर्षस्तोत्रम् has this grammatical meaning of four parts of speech. There, it actually connotes that श्रीगणेश is the Lord of all four stages or aspects of emanation of speech, namely, परा, पश्यन्ती, मध्यमा and वैखरी. The last one वैखरी is expressed speech. The three previous stages are unexpressed speech. पाणिनि uses this concept to explain meanings of धातु-s, e,g, गद् -व्यक्तायां वाचि, meaning, धातु गद् to be used when the speech is expressed. For धातु णद् the meaning is given as णद अव्यक्ते शब्दे. What the phrase चत्वारि वाक्पदानि in श्रीगणपत्यथर्वशीर्षस्तोत्रम् connotes is some digression. But since the phrase चत्वारि वाक्पदानि, that came to my mind in this discussion of Sanskrit grammar is absolutely identical, to the one in श्रीगणपत्यथर्वशीर्षस्तोत्रम्, I could not resist the temptation of the mention.

It should be acceptable, basically, that major portion of learning of Sanskrit will be covered by learning चत्वारि वाक्पदानि.

Actually it comes to mind that we can as well consider that what is not तिङ् is अतिङ्. By this logic सुप्-प्रत्यय-s and अदृष्ट-प्रत्यय-s are also अतिङ्. So, one can think that प्रत्यय-s are all of only two broad categories – तिङ्. and अतिङ्. Under अतिङ्. there are 3 major sub-categories – सुप्-प्रत्यय-s, अदृष्ट-प्रत्यय-s and कृत्-प्रत्यय-s.

Although this is theoretically correct, this becomes like tooth-picking on the word अतिङ्. चत्वारि वाक्पदानि is simple enough and one can take that as the approach to learn Sanskrit.

Before closing, I should discuss, what I had mentioned “.. this pair of parallel terminologies “indeclinables = अव्यय-s” is again not correct. I shall come to that later. ..”.

One popular definition of अव्यय reads – सदृशं त्रिषु लिङ्गेषु सर्वासु च विभक्तिषु । वचनेषु च सर्वेषु यन्न व्येति तदव्ययम् | meaning अव्यय is that, which remains same in all three genders, in all cases and in all numbers and does not undergo any change. This definition is again not correct. पाणिनि defines अव्यय as स्वरादिनिपातमव्ययम् (१-१-३७) Dwelling on this definition may complicate the matter.

I would prefer to stay on with the topic of Parts of Speech. And to explain the concept of अव्यय, the eightfold Parts of Speech in English grammar are more useful. Out of the eight, the adverbs, conjunctions and interjections do not change by any changes in the verbs, prepositions, nouns, pronouns and adjectives. These five parts of speech – verbs, prepositions, nouns, pronouns and adjectives have some interdependency among them. Change in one will cause other(s) to suffer change. But adverbs, conjunctions and interjections are independent and do not suffer change. They are अव्यय-s. In the sentence अश्वः वेगेन धावति, even if अश्वः and धावति were to become plural, (अश्वाः धावन्ति) there is no change required in वेगेन. The words  अश्वः and धावति have an interdependency. If one becomes plural, the other also has to become plural. But the word वेगेन remains independent.

The word वेगेन has been obtained by declining the प्रातिपदिक वेग. That is why “indeclinables = अव्यय-s” does not appeal to me to be correct. To explain this better, let me take the sentence अश्वः वेगेन धावति as अश्वः सवेगं धावति. Here the word सवेगं is adverbial. This word सवेगं is obtained by declining a प्रातिपदिक सवेग. One can decline this प्रातिपदिक to be an adjective for अश्वः and one can have a sentence सवेगः अश्वः धावति. Now if one were to transform this sentence to plural it would have to be सवेगाः अश्वाः धावन्ति Yet if the given sentence is अश्वः सवेगं धावति, plural of that will be अश्वाः सवेगं धावन्ति. So it is not correct to say “indeclinables” अव्यय-s as a type or class of words. The प्रातिपदिक itself is declinable. Consideration should be the role intended for the word in the sentence. If in the intended role, it is independent, it is अव्यय.

Actually words with अदृष्ट-प्रत्यय-s or लोपमान-प्रत्यय-s are inherently and permanently indeclinable. So, the term “indeclinable” is aptly applicable to them. But the Sanskrit term अव्यय takes the broader perspective of the role of words in a sentence. So, all those words in a sentence are अव्यय-s, which are independent. By that, the term अव्यय covers adverbs, conjunctions and interjections. So, it is inclusive philosophy again.


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