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Pini's analysis of noun compounds still forms the basis of modern linguistic theories of compounding in Indian languages. Pini's comprehensive and scientific theory of grammar is conventionally taken to mark the start of Classical Sanskrit. His systematic treatise inspired and made Sanskrit the preeminent Indian language of learning and literature for two millennia.
The name Pini is a patronymic meaning descendant of Pa?ina. His full name was Dak?iputra Pini according to verses 1.75.13 and 3.251.12 of Patanjali's Mah?bhya, with the first part suggesting his mother's name was Dak?i.
Nothing definite is known about when Pini lived, not even in which century he lived. Pini has been dated between the seventh or sixth and fourth century BCE.[note 1] Von Hinüber (1989) based on numismatic arguments and Falk (1993) based on his Indic script studies, place him in mid-fourth century BCE. Others use internal evidence and textual evidence in ancient Indian texts to date him in the sixth or fifth century BCE, while Bod mentions the seventh to fifth century BCE. George Cardona (1997) in his authoritative survey and review of Pini-related studies, states that the available evidence strongly supports a dating no later than between 400 and 350 BCE, while earlier dating depends on interpretations and is not probative.
According to Bod, Pini's grammar defines Classical Sanskrit, so Pini is chronologically placed in the later part of the Vedic period. According to A. B. Keith, the Sanskrit text that most matches the language described by Pini is the Aitareya Br?hma?a (8th-6th c. BCE). According to Scharfe, "his proximity to the Vedic language as found in the Upanisads and Vedic s?tras suggests the 5th or maybe 6th c. B.C."
Based on numismatic findings, Von Hinüber and Falk place Pini in the mid-4th century BCE. Pini's rupya (A 5.2.119, A 5.2.120, A. 5,4.43, A 4.3.153,) mentions a specific gold coin, the ni?ka, in several sutra, which was introduced in India in the 4th-century BCE. According to Houben, "the date of "ca. 350 B.C.E. for Pini is thus based on concrete evidence which till now has not been refuted." According to Bronkhorst, there is no reason to doubt the validity of Von Hinüber's and Falk's argument, setting the terminus post quem[b] for the date of Pini at 350 BCE or the decades thereafter.  According to Bronkhorst,
...thanks to the work carried out by Hinüber (1990:34-35) and Falk (1993: 303-304), we now know that Pini lived, in all probability, far closer in time to the period of A?oka than had hitherto been thought. According to Falk's reasoning, Panini must have lived during the decennia following 350 BCE, i.e. just before (or contemporaneously with?) the invasion of Alexander of Macedonia
Cardona mentions two major pieces of internal evidence for the dating of Pini. The occurrence of the word yavan?n? in 4.1.49, referring to a writing (lipi) c.q. cuneiform writing, or to Greek writing, suggests a date for Pini after Alexander the Great. Cardona rejects this possibility, arguing that yavan?n? may also refer to a Yavana woman; and that Indians had contacts with the Greek world before Alexander's conquests.[note 3] Sutra 2.1.70 of Pini mentions kum?ra?rama?a, derived from ?rama?a, which refers to a female renunciates, c.q. "Buddhist nuns," implying that Pini should be placed after Gautama Buddha. K. B. Pathak (1930) argued that kum?ra?rama?a could also refer to a Jain nun, meaning that Pini is not necessarily to be placed after the Buddha.
It is not certain whether Pini used writing for the composition of his work, though it is generally agreed that he knew of a form of writing, based on references to words such as lipi ("script") and lipikara ("scribe") in section 3.2 of the Adhy?y?. The dating of the introduction of writing in India may therefore give further information on the dating of Pini.[note 4]
Pini cites at least ten grammarians and linguists before himpi?ali, Kyapa, G?rgya, G?lava, C?kravarma?a, Bh?radv?ja, kayana, kalya, Senaka and Sphoyana. According to Kamal K. Misra, Pini also refers to Yaska, "whose writings date back to the middle of the 4th century B.C." Both Brihatkatha and Mañju?r?-m?la-kalpa mention Pini to have been a contemporary with the Nanda king (4th c. BCE).
Nothing certain is known about Pini's personal life. In an inscription of Siladitya VII of Valabhi, he is called ?al?turiya, which means "man from Salatura". This means Panini lived in Salatura of ancient Gandhara (present day north-west Pakistan), which likely was near Lahor, a town at the junction of Indus and Kabul rivers.[d] According to the memoirs of 7th-century Chinese scholar Xuanzang, there was a town called Suoluoduluo on the Indus where Pini was born, and he composed the Qingming-lun (Sanskrit: Vy?kara?a).
The most important of Pini's works, the Adhy?y? is a grammar that essentially defines the Sanskrit language. Modelled on the dialect and register of elite speakers in his time, the text also accounts for some features of the older Vedic language.
The A?t?dhy?y? is a prescriptive and generative grammar with algebraic rules governing every aspect of the language. It is supplemented by three ancillary texts: ak?arasam?mn?ya, dh?tupha[A] and ga?apha.[B]
Growing out of a centuries-long effort to preserve the language of the Vedic hymns from "corruption", the A?t?dhy?y? is the high point of a vigorous, sophisticated grammatical tradition devised to arrest language change. The A?t?dhy?y?'s preeminence is underlined by the fact that it eclipsed all similar works that came before: while not the first, it is the oldest such text surviving in its entirety.
The Adhy?y? consists of 3,959 s?tras[C] in eight chapters, which are each subdivided into four sections or p?das. The text takes material from lexical lists (dh?tupha, ga?ap?tha) as input and describes algorithms to be applied to them for the generation of well-formed words.
The Adhy?y?, composed in an era when oral composition and transmission was the norm, is staunchly embedded in that oral tradition. In order to ensure wide dissemination, Pini is said to have preferred brevity over clarity - it can be recited end-to-end in two hours. This has led to the emergence of a great number of commentaries[?] of his work over the centuries, which for the most part adhere to the foundations laid by Pini's work.
The learning of Indian curriculum in late classical times had at its heart a system of grammatical study and linguistic analysis. The core text for this study was the Adhy?y? of Pini, the sine qua non of learning. This grammar of Pini had been the object of intense study for the ten centuries prior to the composition of the Bhaik?vya. It was plainly Bhai's purpose to provide a study aid to Pini's text by using the examples already provided in the existing grammatical commentaries in the context of the gripping and morally improving story of the R?m?ya?a. To the dry bones of this grammar Bhai has given juicy flesh in his poem. The intention of the author was to teach this advanced science through a relatively easy and pleasant medium. In his own words:
This composition is like a lamp to those who perceive the meaning of words and like a hand mirror for a blind man to those without grammar.
This poem, which is to be understood by means of a commentary, is a joy to those sufficiently learned: through my fondness for the scholar I have here slighted the dullard.
Pini's work became known in 19th-century Europe, where it influenced modern linguistics initially through Franz Bopp, who mainly looked at Pini. Subsequently, a wider body of work influenced Sanskrit scholars such as Ferdinand de Saussure, Leonard Bloomfield, and Roman Jakobson. Frits Staal (1930-2012) discussed the impact of Indian ideas on language in Europe. After outlining the various aspects of the contact, Staal notes that the idea of formal rules in language - proposed by Ferdinand de Saussure in 1894 and developed by Noam Chomsky in 1957 - has origins in the European exposure to the formal rules of Pinian grammar. In particular, de Saussure, who lectured on Sanskrit for three decades, may have been influenced by Pini and Bhartrihari; his idea of the unity of signifier-signified in the sign somewhat resembles the notion of Spho?a. More importantly, the very idea that formal rules can be applied to areas outside of logic or mathematics may itself have been catalysed by Europe's contact with the work of Sanskrit grammarians.
Pini, and the later Indian linguist Bhartrihari, had a significant influence on many of the foundational ideas proposed by Ferdinand de Saussure, professor of Sanskrit, who is widely considered the father of modern structural linguistics and with Charles S. Peirce on the other side, to semiotics, although the concept Saussure used was semiology. Saussure himself cited Indian grammar as an influence on some of his ideas. In his Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européennes (Memoir on the Original System of Vowels in the Indo-European Languages) published in 1879, he mentions Indian grammar as an influence on his idea that "reduplicated aorists represent imperfects of a verbal class." In his De l'emploi du génitif absolu en sanscrit (On the Use of the Genitive Absolute in Sanskrit) published in 1881, he specifically mentions Pini as an influence on the work.
Prem Singh, in his foreword to the reprint edition of the German translation of Pini's Grammar in 1998, concluded that the "effect Panini's work had on Indo-European linguistics shows itself in various studies" and that a "number of seminal works come to mind," including Saussure's works and the analysis that "gave rise to the laryngeal theory," further stating: "This type of structural analysis suggests influence from Panini's analytical teaching." George Cardona, however, warns against overestimating the influence of Pini on modern linguistics: "Although Saussure also refers to predecessors who had taken this Paninian rule into account, it is reasonable to conclude that he had a direct acquaintance with Panini's work. As far as I am able to discern upon rereading Saussure's Mémoire, however, it shows no direct influence of Paninian grammar. Indeed, on occasion, Saussure follows a path that is contrary to Paninian procedure."
The founding father of American structuralism, Leonard Bloomfield, wrote a 1927 paper titled "On some rules of Pini".
Comparison with modern formal systems
Pini's grammar is the world's first formal system, developed well before the 19th century innovations of Gottlob Frege and the subsequent development of mathematical logic. In designing his grammar, Pini used the method of "auxiliary symbols", in which new affixes are designated to mark syntactic categories and the control of grammatical derivations. This technique, rediscovered by the logician Emil Post, became a standard method in the design of computer programming languages. Sanskritists now accept that Pini's linguistic apparatus is well-described as an "applied" Post system. Considerable evidence shows ancient mastery of context-sensitive grammars, and a general ability to solve many complex problems. Frits Staal has written that "Panini is the Indian Euclid."
Two literary works are attributed to Pini, though they are now lost.
J?mbavati Vijaya is a lost work cited by Rajashekhara in Jalhana's Sukti Mukt?val?. A fragment is to be found in Ramayukta's commentary on Namalinganushasana. From the title it may be inferred that the work dealt with Krishna's winning of Jambavati in the underworld as his bride. Rajashekhara in Jahlana's Sukti Mukt?val?:
nama? pinaye tasmai yasm?d?virabh?diha?
?dau vy?kara?a? k?vyamanu j?mbavat?jayam?
Ascribed to Pini, P?t?la Vijaya is a lost work cited by Namisadhu in his commentary on Kavyalankara of Rudrata.
There are many mathematical works related to Pini's works. Pini came up with a plethora of ideas to organize the known grammatical forms of his day in a systematic way. Like any mathematician who models a known phenomenon in mathematical language, Pini created a metalanguage and it is very close to the modern-day ideas of algebra. See "Mathematical Structures of Panini's Ashtaadhyayi" by Bhaskar Kompella.
Johannes Bronkhorst (2019): "Pini's Adhy?y? has been the target of much guesswork as to its date. Only recently have more serious proposals been made. Oskar von Hinüber (1990: 34) arrives, on the basis of a comparison of Pini's text with numismatic findings, at a date that can hardly be much earlier than 350 BCE; Harry Falk (1993: 304; 1994: 327 n. 45) refines these reflections and moves the date forward to the decennia following 350 BCE. If Hinüber and Falk are right, and there seems no reason to doubt this, we have here for Pini a terminus post quem.
Vincenzo Vergiani (2017): "For a survey of scholarship about Panini's date see George Cardona, Panini: A Survey of Research (Delhi: Motilall Banarsidass, 1980), p.260-262. Oskar von Hinüber, Der Beginn der Schrift und fruhe Schriftlichkeit in Indien (Wiesbaden: Steiner Verlag, 1989), p.34 presents evidence that suggests dating Panini to the 4th century."
Johannes Bronkhorst (2016)"...thanks to the work carried out by Hinüber (1990:34-35) and Falk (1993: 303-304), we now know that Pini lived, in all probability, far closer in time to the period of Asoka than had hitherto been thought. According to Falk's reasoning, Panini must have lived during the decennia following 350 BCE, i.e. just before (or contemporaneously with?) the invasion of Alexander of Macedonia."
Jan E.M Houben (2009): "Pini's rupya (A 5.2.120) refers to a type of coin which appeared in the Indian subcontinent only from the 4th century B.C.E. onwards: cf. von Hinüber 1989: p.34 and Falk 1993: 304. The date of "ca. 350 B.C.E. for Pini is thus based on concrete evidence which till now has not been refuted."
Kamal K. Misra (2000): "But Pini himself has acknowledged at least ten great Indian grammatrians before him, and one of them was Yaska, whose writings date back to the middle of the 4th century B.C."
Cardona: "The evidence for dating Panini, Katyayana and Patanjali is not absolutely probative and depends on interpretation. However, I think there is one certainty, namely that the evidence available hardly allows one to date Panini later than the early to mid fourth century B. C."
Harry Falk (1993), Schrift im alten Indien: ein Forschungsbericht mit Anmerkungen, Gunter Narr Verlag
Frits Staal (1996): "the Sanskrit grammar of Panini (6th or 5th century b.c.e.)"
Hartmut Scharfe (1977): "Panini's date can be fixed only approximately; he must be older than Katyayana (c. 250 B.C.) who in his comments on Panini's work refers to other [stni] earlier scholars dealing with Panini's grammar; his proximity to the Vedic language as found in the Upanisads and Vedic sutra's suggests the 5th or maybe 6th c. B.C." Scharfe refers to: "F. Kielhoek, GGN 1885.186f.; B. Liebich, BB 10.205-234; 11.273-315 and his book, Panini (Leipzig, 1891), p. 38-50; 0. Wecker, BB 30. 1-61+177-207; P. Thieme, Panini and the Veda (Allahabad, 1935), p. 75-81."
Encyclopedia Britannica: "Ashtadhyayi, Sanskrit Adhy?y? ("Eight Chapters"), Sanskrit treatise on grammar written in the 6th to 5th century BCE by the Indian grammarian Panini."
7th to 5th century BCE date
Rens Bod (2013): "All we know is that he was born in Ghandara, in former India (currently Afghanistan), and that it must have been between the seventh and fifth centuries BCE." Bod refers to "S. Shukla, 'Panini', Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics, 2nd edition, Elsevier, 2006. See also Paul Kiparsky, 'Paninian Linguistics', Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 1st edition, Elsevier, 1993."
^According to George Cardonna, the tradition believes that Pini came from Salatura in northwest part of the Indian subcontinent. This is likely to be ancient Gandhara.
^In 1862 Max Müller argued that yavana may have meant "Greek"[c] during Pinis time, but may also refer to Semitic or dark-skinned Indian people.
^Pini's use of the term lipi has been a source of scholarly disagreements. Harry Falk in his 1993 overview states that ancient Indians neither knew nor used writing script, and Pini's mention is likely a reference to Semitic and Greek scripts. In his 1995 review, Salomon questions Falk's arguments and writes it is "speculative at best and hardly constitutes firm grounds for a late date for Kharoh?. The stronger argument for this position is that we have no specimen of the script before the time of A?oka, nor any direct evidence of intermediate stages in its development; but of course this does not mean that such earlier forms did not exist, only that, if they did exist, they have not survived, presumably because they were not employed for monumental purposes before A?oka". According to Hartmut Scharfe, Lipi of Pini may be borrowed from the Old Persian Dipi, in turn derived from Sumerian Dup. Scharfe adds that the best evidence, at the time of his review, is that no script was used in India, aside from the Northwest Indian subcontinent, before around 300 BCE because Indian tradition "at every occasion stresses the orality of the cultural and literary heritage." Kenneth Norman states writing scripts in ancient India evolved over the long period of time like other cultures, that it is unlikely that ancient Indians developed a single complete writing system at one and the same time in the Maurya era. It is even less likely, states Norman, that a writing script was invented during Ashoka's rule, starting from nothing, for the specific purpose of writing his inscriptions and then it was understood all over South Asia where the A?oka pillars are found. Jack Goody states that ancient India likely had a "very old culture of writing" along with its oral tradition of composing and transmitting knowledge, because the Vedic literature is too vast, consistent and complex to have been entirely created, memorized, accurately preserved and spread without a written system. Falk disagrees with Goody, and suggests that it is a Western presumption and inability to imagine that remarkably early scientific achievements such as Pini's grammar (5th to 4th century BCE), and the creation, preservation and wide distribution of the large corpus of the Brahmanic Vedic literature and the Buddhist canonical literature, without any writing scripts. Johannes Bronkhorst disagrees with Falk, and states, "Falk goes too far. It is fair to expect that we believe that Vedic memorisation -- though without parallel in any other human society -- has been able to preserve very long texts for many centuries without losing a syllable. (...) However, the oral composition of a work as complex as Pini's grammar is not only without parallel in other human cultures, it is without parallel in India itself. (...) It just will not do to state that our difficulty in conceiving any such thing is our problem".
^George Cardona (1997). Pini: a survey of research. The verse reads si?ho vy?kara?asya kartur aharat prn priy?n pine? "a lion took the dear life of Panini, author of the grammatical treatise". The context is a list of scholars killed by animals, si?ho vy?kara?asya kartur aharat prn priy?n pine? / m?ms?k?tam unmam?tha sahas? hast? muni? jaiminim // chandojn?nanidhim jagh?na makaro vel?ta?e pi?galam / ajñ?n?v?tacetas?m atiru ko'rthas tira?c?m gu?ai? // Translation: "A lion killed Pini; an elephant madly crushed the sage Jaimini, Mimamsa's author; Pingala, treasury of knowledge of poetic meter, was killed by a crocodile at the water's edge. What do senseless beasts, overcome with fury, care for intellectual virtues?" (Pañcatantra II.28, sometimes ascribed to Vallabhadeva)
Ingerman, Peter Zilahy (March 1967). ""Pini-Backus Form" Suggested". Communications of the ACM. 10 (3): 137. doi:10.1145/363162.363165. S2CID52817672. Ingerman suggests that the then-called Backus normal form be renamed to the Pini-Backus form, to give due credit to Pini as the earliest independent inventor.