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February 13, 2013 / A

णमुल् and Sanskrit pleonasm

The previous post mentioned the Sanskrit affix णमुल्, which forms uninflected words with various meanings. So far, the meanings I’ve seen have mostly coincided with the gerund suffix त्वा (क्त्वा), but णमुल् and its variants are starting to become more interesting. Rules 3.4.34 to 3.4.46 of the Ashtadhyayi continue that trend by describing a new use case for णमुल्. But it’s an odd one.

Consider the sentence below:

पाणिना गजं हन्ति
He strikes the elephant with his hand.

The word पाणि is used with the verb हन्. पाणि plays the role of करण “instrument,” which is expressed here in case 3. But by using णमुल्, we can express this idea in an interesting way:

पाणिघातं गजं हन्ति
He strikes the elephant with his hand.

This second sentence has the same meaning as the first. But although पाणि was in case 3 before, it is now compounded with णमुल् to form a verbal indeclinable. And what’s strangest of all is that the णमुल् root is the same as the main root of the sentence. The root is used redundantly. In a linguistic context, this sort of redundant usage is called pleonasm.

रूक्षपेषं पिनष्टि
He pulverizes something coarse.
करवर्तं वर्तयति
He turns it with his hand.
पितृपोषं पुष्णाति
He thrives on account of his father.

One of the things I like about this usage of णमुल् is that it creates sentences that are easy to parse incorrectly. Most Sanskrit readers will likely split पाणिघातम् as पाणि-घात in case 2. But the “real” construction (in Paninian terms, at least) is something else. Having written this, though, I now think that णमुल् is probably just a device for encoding the sorts of adverbial accusative constructions seen so often in Greek, Latin, and some other parts of Sanskrit.


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