Optionality and the Art of Pali Buddhist Prose
Pali, the language of the Theravāda Tipiṭaka, is generally considered a Middle Indic dialect pertaining to the sphere of “vernacular languages”, perhaps the language that the Buddha himself spoke to the people. However, it is also admitted that the Pali language is to a great extent an “artificial” literary language. A major evidence for that is the pervasive presence of multiple forms for the same word. The present study explores the nature of options in Pali and their significance in our understanding of what ancient Buddhist texts in Pali are. It addresses questions such as: Why is variation in Pali important? Are all variations similar? Is variation a grammatical/linguistic phenomenon or a literary/artistic one? Is a grammar of variation possible?
The study begins with an introduction framing the question of “correctness” (sādhutva) in Patañjali’s Mahābhāṣya and its discourse on the single correct form vis à vis plurality of incorrect forms in “degenerate” (apabhraṃśa) dialects (Pali included). The first chapter examines the complex discourse of classical Pali grammarians on optionality, explaining option markers work and throwing light on the nature of variation in ancient Pali prose and verse. The second chapter deals with optionality and formulaic composition, showing that the choice of certain options or variants in prose obeys rhythmical principles. In the third chapter the concept of “Pali prose” is re-examined critically, along with associated ideas of mnemonic techniques of composition, orality, performance, writing, etc. In the fourth chapter the varied morphology of the past tense (“aorist”) is examined. This chapter shows how classical and modern approaches to Pali grammar produce remarkably different results on the basis of the same data due to their theoretical assumptions about what Pali texts are. In the concluding chapter, a general theory of optionality in Pali is proposed through a classification of types of variations in Pali texts.
Studia Indologica Universitatis Halensis | Volume 29
(not yet published)