Ancient grammatical puzzle solved after 2,500 years
A page from an 18th-century copy of the Dhātupāṭha of Pāṇini (MS Add.2351) held by Cambridge University Library. Credit: Cambridge University Library

Since the 5th century BC, Sanskrit scholars have been defeated by a grammatical problem. The breakthrough was made by Rishi Rajpopat.

It is possible to "derive" any Sanskrit word, using Pini's "language machine," which is considered to be one of the great intellectual achievements in history.

Rajpopat's discovery could mean that Pini's grammar can be taught to computers for the first time, according to leading Sanskrit experts.

For the first time, Pini's "language machine" can be used accurately thanks to Dr. Rajpopat's PhD thesis.

The Adhyy, Pini's greatest work, contains 4,000 rules and is said to have been written around 500 BC

There has been a problem for a long time. Two or more of Pini's rules can be applied at the same time, leaving scholars to agonize over which one to choose.

There are millions of Sanskrit words that are affected by rule conflicts. For the last 2,500 years, scholars have misinterpreted Pini's metarule, meaning that they often end up with a wrong result.

Many scholars laboriously developed hundreds of other meta rules, but Dr. Rajpopat shows that they all produced too many exceptions and were completely unnecessary. Pini's language machine is self-sufficient, according to Rajpopat.

Rajpopat said that Pini built a machine that was unlike anything before. He didn't think we would change his rules. The more we fiddle with Pini's language, the harder it is to understand.

Pini's metarule is thought to mean that in the event of a conflict between two rules of equal strength, the rule that comes later is the winner.

Rajpopat argues that Pini wanted us to choose the rule applicable to the right side over the left side rule. Rajpopat used this interpretation to find that Pini's language machine could produce correct words.

"Mantra" and "guru" are examples. The Gods are pleased by the mantras in the sentence "Prasann by the mantrai" "Mantra + bhis" is the start of the derivation. One rule applies to the left and right parts of the building. The correct form, "mantrai," is given by the rule applicable to the right part.

Rule conflict occurs when we say "Jna dyate guru" "guru + " is the start of the derivation. One rule applies to the left and right parts. We need to pick the rule applicable to the right part, "," which will give us the correct form, "guru."

It's a wonderful moment.

Vincenzo Vergiani, Professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge, told Rajpopat six months before his discovery that he was probably wrong.

Rajpopat said that he had an eureka moment. I was almost done trying to solve the problem after 9 months. I just enjoyed the summer and closed the books for a month. I went back to work and within minutes, the patterns started to emerge, and it all made sense. There was more work to be done, but I found the biggest part of the puzzle.

I spent hours in the library in the middle of the night to check out what I'd found and solve related problems after I was so excited. It took two and half years to complete that work.

There is significance.

Professor Vincenzo Vergiani said that his student has solved a problem that has puzzled scholars for centuries. At a time when interest in the language is on the rise, this discovery will change the way Sanskrit is studied.

Sanskrit is one of the oldest and most classical languages in the world. Much of India's greatest science, philosophy, poetry and other secular literature have been written in the sacred language of Hinduism. Sanskrit is only spoken in India by an estimated 25,000 people, but it has an influence on many other languages and cultures.

Rajpopat said that some of the most ancient wisdom of India has been produced in Sanskrit. We've been led to believe that we don't bring enough to the table. I hope that this discovery will encourage students in India to achieve great things.

A major implication of Dr. Rajpopat's discovery is that we can teach the Pini's grammar to computers.

Over 50 years ago, computer scientists working on natural language processing gave up on rule based approaches. It would be a major milestone in the history of human interaction with machines if computers were taught how to combine the speaker's intention with Pini's rule-based grammar to produce human speech.

The journal Apollo is a repository for research.

There is more information about In Pini We Trust. There is a book titled "107863/CAM.80099."