We need to build up some vocabulary so we can start working with example sentences. All Sanskrit words come from a library of about 2,000 proto-words. What’s a “proto-word”? It’s the raw material from which words are made. Sanskrit provides the rules for how to shape and craft these verbal raw materials into nearly infinite words.
A proto-word becomes a word by certain rules. There’s ten types of rules. Lets talk about a few here, so we can build up some initial vocabulary and get on to using real Sanskrit examples.
Before going into the specific types, let me tell you about a general bit of info that pertains to all the types. A key part of transforming a proto-word into a real word is “strengthening” it’s vowel. There are three grades of strength and five groups of vowels
It’s not too hard to make sense of this table.
- Proto-words built on a long or short a vowel get strengthened to a, and super-strengthened to ā.
- Those built on a long or short i vowels strengthen to “e” and superstrengthen to “ai”
- “u” based proto-words strengthen to “o” and then to “au”
Take a little time to pronounce these out loud, and you’ll intuit the sense and reason in it. Make sure you’re pronouncing correctly, of course.
There’s an important exception: If the proto-word has a long-vowel (you know, ā, ī, ū, ai, ao, or ṝ) followed by a consonnant, you don’t touch it at all. I’ll show you an example of this in a minute.
Type 1 Proto-Words
These proto-words become real words in 3 steps
- Strengthen the vowel.
- Add an “a” at the end.
- Then add “ti” at the end.
Śuc is a proto word that means grief.
- The “u” strengthens to “o” – so its now śoc.
- Add an “a”, its now śoca.
- Add “ti”, it comes out to be śocati.
Śocati is a real, working Sanskrit word. It means “he cries” or “he mourns” or “he grieves” – something like that.
Congratulations! You created a word from a proto-word!
Vad is another proto-word. It means speech.
- The “a” strengthens, but that means its still an “a” (see the above table)
- Adding an “a” gives vada
- Adding “ti” gives vadati
Vadati is a legit Sanskrit word. It means “he speaks.”
Some proto-words don’t end with a consonant, though. And when vowels touch each other, they always blend and create new sounds.
Ji is an example.It means victory. Step one will strengthen it to je. Step two is to add an “a”, so we get jea. Those two vowels will blend though. The rule is to blend e+a=aya. (There are two more rules, o+a=ava, and ai+a=āya) So step two-and-a-half produces jaya. Then we add the “ti.” The result is jayati – a word that means “he wins”, “he is victorious.”
Here’s a proto-word that has a long vowel followed by a consonant, jīv. So this one will not strengthen at all, you skip step 1, and just add an “a” and “ti” to the end to get jīvati, which means “he lives.”
Here are some Type 1 words:
||2. Vowel Change
||3. With “-ti”
||He is victorious
|gai – sing
||gai (it can’t get any stronger, see table)
|nī – lead, bring
|vas – dwell
Of course there are always irregularities, but you can learn them case by case. Here is one I’d like to show you right now. The proto-word is gam, and for some reason in step two we change the “m” to “cch” so the actual word produced is gacchati, “he goes.”
Type 4 Proto-Words
I’m skipping to the next type that’s kind of simple and similar to Type 1. This set of words, really, is even simpler than Type 1. There is no step 1, no strengthening. Step 2 is to add “ya” and Step 3 is to add “ti”.
Nṛt, for example, first becomes nṛtya, and then nṛtyati – a real word that means “he dances.” Sometimes, though, you’ll see the vowel strengthened even in Type 4 roots. Mad is a good example. It becomes mād, then mādya, and finally mādyati – meaning “he celebrates.”
How Much Do We Really Use Proto-Words
It’s not really that important. The only reason I introduced the concept now is because (a) I think its so cool, (b) I wanted to get started learning essential vocabulary, and this is a good time to talk about where vocabulary words actually come from, their proto-word roots.
Proto-words are important when you are researching the true, deep meaning of a word. If you can reverse engineer the proto-word from a word you want to understand, you can look up the proto-word and really get your finger on the pulse of the deep meaning of the word, not just its conventional use or common translations.
I want to end this post by recapping the vocabulary words we learned so far, and tacking a few more on the list.
||He is victorious
||He goes in