Date and context[ edit ] Father of linguistics The history of linguistics begins not with Plato or Aristotle, but with the Indian grammarian Panini. This means Panini lived in Salatura of ancient Gandhara , which likely was near Lahor , a town at the junction of Indus and Kabul rivers,  which falls in the Swabi District of modern Pakistan. He must, therefore, have been technically a Persian subject but his work shows no awareness of the Persian language. It complements the Vedic ancillary sciences such as the Niruktas , Nighantus , and Shiksha.
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Introduction As you might have realized, Panini is difficult. His work is not something you can understand by reading it through from beginning to end. We must understand, however, that the Ashtadhyayi was originally taught orally; students learned the work by heart and could recall any individual rule at will.
So, what do we do? A summary in words The Ashtadhyayi is a list of rules. But these rules, too, are lists: of verbs, of suffixes, and so on. These lists have different headings, and these headings describe the behavior of the items they contain. But the Ashtadhyayi is more complicated than this: ideas in one rule can carry over to the next, or to the next twenty; basic words have specialized meanings; and rules in one chapter may control rules in another.
In this way, Panini created a brief and immensely dense work. Thus, we have a large arrangement of different rules that we must try to understand. Throughout this series of lessons, I will use the Sanskrit terms. It can describe such things as word formation, the application of sandhi, and so on. Most rules are like this. Essentially, it contains an exception to an earlier rule.
This is useful because the Ashtadhyayi contains complex rules that act on very specific terms. Such a rule sometimes specifies how far it extends, but usually its extension is clear from context. Such a rule tells us how we should read and understand the other rules in the Ashtadhyayi.
This example is not perfect, but it should help you see how these rules interact and relate to each other. As you read the list below, try to classify each rule with one of the terms above.
Now we talk about food. Unless otherwise stated, assume that everything that comes from a plant is food. A fruit contains seeds, and a vegetable does not. These are fruits: peaches and tomatoes, but not turnips. Tomatoes are treated like vegetables.
This rule tells us that all of the rules that follow are talking about food. So, a fruit is food, and a vegetable is food as well. This rule tells us how we should classify the things that come from plants. It specifically states an intuitive concept that we should apply to other objects from plants.
This rule defines the term "fruit" as a food that contains seeds. This rule defines the term "vegetable" as a food that does not contain seeds. An ordinary rule. An exception to a previous rule. We add the property of "vegetable" to the tomato. Thus, a tomato is treated "like" a vegetable. This example also brings up an important point about the structure of the Ashtadhyayi. If you considered rule 4 by itself, you would have no idea what it was trying to say; and a vegetable does not only has a sensible meaning when considered alongside the rule that comes before it.
Likewise, but not turnips is meaningless without a proper context. In the same way, some rules in the Ashtadhyayi are meaningless if separated from the rules above them. One such rule is one syllable long: ot. By itself, this rule means nothing. But when considered with the rules above it, we learn that it represents a vowel with a special property. The examples in the next lesson are more complex. This is a good place to stop for now.
If you came to this lesson from Starting Out, you can click here to return to the review page and continue through the grammar guide.