Twenty-five centuries before Chomsky, somewhere in India, a man who walked barefoot and wore only a loincloth devised and handed down orally the first and most concise generative-transformational grammar… in fact, although living in prehistorical times, in an isolated, mosquito-infected society, he invented modern linguistics: this man, who went by the name of Panini (right, like the Italian bread rolls, brilliant, bravo!…), described, in an (almost mathematically) logical succession of aphorisms the morphology, syntax and phonetics of Classical Sanskrit. His rules are astonishingly exact, but formulated so concisely, that most of the time they cannot be understood without using a massive body of comments.
The final aphorism is the shortest grammatical rule in history :
We have here twice the letter A, or A – A. In modern phonetics, this would be rendered by:
/a/ –> [ə]
Transposed in “normal” language :
”The sound /a/, that is usually considered to differ from /ā/ only in length, is, in fact, to be realised in Sanskrit as [ə] (that is, for instance, like the Romanian ǎ ).“
All this rendered simply as अ अ!…
His main follower, Patanjali, continued his work, but also wrote, in the same dry, aphoristical manner, the first systematic treaty on Yoga: Yoga Sutra (much studied by Mircea Eliade).
This search for economy was certainly inspired by the needs of oral expression and commitment to memory (Panini‘s whole grammar can be recited in a couple of hours), but it became a quest for linguistic purity in itself, the economy going sometimes to extreme lengths; a commentator wrote that ”the saving of half the length of a short vowel in framing a grammatical rule meant as much to a grammarian as the birth of a son“. (Cf. Michael Coulson, Sanskrit: An Introduction to the Classical Language, H&S 1999)
Or, as Eugène Ionesco resumed it: ”La philologie mène au crime…”
When I playfully entitled this note “Eugène Ionesco as a Yogi” I hadn’t imagined that some people would seriously envisage Ionesco as a kind of disguised sage with unconscious access to an ancestral pool of paranormal wisdom.
Here is what one obviously deranged Jennie Rothenberg from the (don’t laugh !) Maharishi University of Management (Fairfield, Iowa, U.S.A.) put in her dissertation :
“Remembering How to Fly:
An Exploration of Eugene Ionesco’s A Stroll in the Air as Understood through the TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION-SIDHI Program and Yogic Flying”
You can download it from here : www.mum.edu/pdf_msvs/v09/rothenberg.pdf
Try to remain sane, this is powerful stuff.
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