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Grammar – Overview

I am finally going to continue and complete my systematic study of the basics of Sanskrit, having been instructed to do so by the extremely learned scholar and elevated devotee of Krishna – Śrīman Satyanārāyaṇa Prabhu, who has kindly offered to answer any questions that may arise for me.

I am studying via the extremely well written and useful guide at Learn Sanskrit. I will post to this blog in the form of study notes.

Grammar Overview

Based on http://learnsanskrit.org/start

Word Order

Sanskrit sentence order is generally SOV (Subject-Object-Verb). Although this is unlike English (which is SVO – Subject-Verb-Object), it’s just like Japanese (whew! I’m busy trying to learn Japanese, too).

Example of word order:

ENGLISH: The elephant eats fruits
SANSKRIT: The elephant, fruits eats
(gajāḥ phalāni khādanti)

That being said, the fact is that the grammar of Sanskrit words allows them to be placed in any order in a sentence – without altering the meaning of the sentence. SOV is merely the general rule, the most common practice.

Example of rearranging the word order:

Fruits eats the elephant
phalāni khādanti gajāḥ

Meaning of the English sentence has become confusing. Is it “attack of the killer tomatoes” and fruits are devouring elephants? Or is it just Yoda trying to say that an elephant is eating some fruits? It’s not clear. But the Sanskrit sentence remains perfectly clear, despite the words being screwed up in the same way as the English sentence. The Sanskrit sentence still very clearly means that an elephant is eating some fruits.

Then, is word order meaningless in Sanskrit?

No. It changes the emphasis. The first word has the emphasis. For example:

gajāḥ phalāni khādanti
This means, “The elephant eats fruits.” Out of many possible animals who could possibly be dining, the emphasis is that it is an elephant who eats the fruits.

 

phalāni khādanti gajāḥ
This means, “The elephant eats
fruits.

 

tvāṁ pṛcchāmi
{you; I ask}
This means, “I ask you.”

 

pṛcchāmi tvāṁ
{I ask; you}
This means “I ask you.”

Inflection

Sanskrit word-order is so flexible because the words themselves carry more specific meaning by their inflection. “Inflection” means the little adjustments made at the end of words. There is a little bit of inflection in English – enough to give you an idea what it’s all about.

Example of inflection in English:

I play
You play
She plays

It doesn’t work to say, “I plays” or “she play.” The ending of the word “play” changes to match the way it’s being used in the sentence. That’s inflection.

The way we put words in past tense, by adding “-ed” (“I played”) is another good example of inflection in English.

Sanskrit very thoroughly inflects words, so single words carry a lot more meaning. For example:

grāma (“villiage”) can be inflected to: grāmābhyām (“from the two villiages”). The single word takes three or four English words to translate.

gam (“go”) can be inflected to: jigamiṣiṣyanti (“they will want to go”).

 

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Putting Words Together (“sandhi”) – Final

We talked about Sanskrit having a set of rules for blending words together to make them flow easily when spoken. If the first word ends with a vowel, there’s no need for any changes. It will always flow naturally and easily into the next word. But if the first word ends in a vowel and the next word starts with a vowel, there are some rules for how to adjust the end of the first word (usually) so that they blend together well when spoken. We already went over those rules in a previous post. Now lets talk about all the rest if the scenarios.

Remember back to the post on how to pronounce consonants that there are two kinds of consonant sounds – those that have a “voice” / tone, and those that are just the “click” or “crush” without the tone. (Voiceless). K and g – for example, are the same sound (the sound from the back of the throat) but g has a little tone or “voice” to it, while k does not, it’s voiceless. So this brings us to our first rule of how to combine words where the first ends in a consonant and the second starts with a consonant:

if the second word has a voiced consonant, the end of the first word has to change to the voiced version.

For example is word one ends with “k” and word two starts with “g”, when you put them together word one has to change its ending to “g”. I’m not going to put the both of us through the rigors of enumerating all the possibilities here. Just the above rule in bold and the table of consonants from the previous post on consonants is enough info for you to figure the whole deal out.

Of course this only applies to letters that are part of TE voiced / unvoiced group. Another type of letter is the nasals: the n’s and m’s. the rule here is that if word two starts with a nasal, the ending of word one becomes a nasal two. I’ll include a picture of a table that will give more details.

Here’s another rule: if word two starts with y, v, r or l – the letter at the end of word one has to become “voiced”

Another rule: If word two stars with some type of s the last letter of word one tends not to change.

Another: if word two starts with a vowel and word one ends with a consonant, that consonant becomes voiced.

Another: I’d word one ends with a dotted h or an r, and word two starts with a voiceless consonant – the end of word one changes of one of the hissing sounds corresponding to the throat position of the consonant starting word two. it might be hard to figure out what I am saying but realize that h is a hiss from the back of the throat, dotted s is a hiss from the roof of the mouth, accented s is a hiss from the teeth etc.

There are some modifications of this last rule if these is an “a” before that final h in word one.

I’m sure all of this sounds ridiculously complicated, but its all just phonetic common sense – it’s just that laying it all out on paper in the form of rules is cumbersome. It’s all just common sense on keeping the tongue in the right position to make the next sound, so your tongue doesn’t get exhausted from flying all over your mouth every syllable. It happens naturally when you speak. But we don’t speak Sanskrit much anymore. Mostly we read it, so you will need to be able to reverse engineer the changes to the letters at the ends of words so you can look them up, etc. anyway, don’t be scared. Work with this and it will make sense.

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