Doctorial thesis in progress: “Extended Sanskrit Grammar and the first indigenous description of Bengali”

Upasika Ghosh, PhD candidate at HTL, is currently preparing a thesis entitled “Extended Sanskrit Grammar and the first indigenous description of Bengali” under the supervision of Émilie Aussant (CNRS; HTL) & Thibaut d’Hubert (University of Chicago).

Here is a short presentation of her dissertation:

Elements of the Bengala language
S. 2895; MSS Ben. B.2
Location: The British Library

The thesis “Extended Sanskrit Grammar and the first indigenous description of Bengali” aims towards contributing significantly to the influence of Sanskrit descriptive models on the description of other languages for it aims at studying the first grammar of Bengali written in Bengali by a Bengali scholar (during the early years of the 19th century), a grammar which is based on Sanskrit descriptive models.

Bengali, the Indo-Aryan language which is currently the most widely spoken language of Bangladesh and West Bengal, India, was firstly described by European missionaries: Manoel Da Assumpção (Vocabulario emi idioma Bengalla e portuguez dividio em duas partes, 1743), Nathaniel Brassey Halhed (A grammar of the Bengal language, 1778), William Carey (A grammar of the Bengalee language, 1801) and Herasim Lebedeff (A grammar of the pure and mixed East Indian dialects, 1801) provided the first grammars of Bengali, mainly based on the model of Latin grammars. Mrityunjay Vidyalankar’s (probable author of the text) Baṅgālā bhāṣāra byākaraṇa, assumed to be written in 1807-11, provides the first indigenous description of Bengali. It deals with the following topics: sound system, sandhis, classification of nouns, nominal endings, gender, declensions, adjectives, pronouns, verbs, moods, indeclinables. Though it follows Sanskrit descriptive models, it points out Bengali features on many occasions.

The aim of the research project is to describe precisely the aspects of ESG in the Baṅgabhāṣār Vyākaraṇ, within the four following fields:
— metalinguistic: what are the metarules and/or the metalinguistic terms borrowed from the Sanskrit model(s)? Are they adapted? How?
— conceptual: is there any notion, idea or reasoning coming from the Sanskrit models? Why? How are they introduced, if they are indeed?
— methodological: is it a generative system like the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini? Is it a transfer grammar like Prakrit grammars? Is there any description of linguistic variation?
— content organisation: what are the sections or chapters of the grammar? How rules are organised inside the sections? Are there appendices to the grammar (lists of sound units, of verbal roots, etc.)?

The detailed study of these four fields should allow us to identify the Sanskrit descriptive model(s) used as possible sources (which can be combined) and then, to trace the transfer route.

I am laying particular stress on three aspects while studying the grammar:
— Direct use of Sanskrit rules
— Adaptation of Sanskrit models to explain the Bengali language
— Introduction of unique Bengali notions

The work, thus, provide a study of the period which gave way to the rise of the indigenous grammar in the history of Bengali literary tradition.

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