The History of the Bengali Language/Appendix 1

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Appendix I

A study of some Onomatopoetic Deśī Words

(Reprinted from J.R.A.S. 1905.)

There can be no doubt, that onomatopœia and interjectional cries played a great part in the formation of our languages. It is true that the 'Bow-wow' theory alone is insufficient to trace the origin of all words; and it is not true, what Professor Noirê would have us believe, that all roots can be traced to some interjectional cries of primitive men. But it is true that a carefully instituted philological analysis can disclose the influence of onomatopœia and interjectional cries in the formation of a very large number of Vedic and Laukika roots.

When by strict, rigid, and thorough-going rules of grammar, an artificial check was placed upon the growth of the Sanskrit language, new words could not be coined except by the fixed rules of grammar, from the definitely established list of roots. How jealously the purity of the literary language was being guarded in the second century B.C., can be known from the Mahābhāṣya of Patañjali. It has been declared sinful in that book, to use words, other than what are strictly Vedic and Laukika.

In the Sanskrit works which have been, with considerable certainty, fixed to a time previous to the second century B.C., no other words than Vedic and Laukika (in the strictest Pāṇini sense) can be met with. Since the Mahābhārata abounds in words not strictly Laukika, may we not venture to say that this is evidence, so far as it goes, that the building up of the poem did not commence till at least a century later than the time of the Mahābhāṣya? Such an orthodox work as the Mahābhārata came eventually to be, could not have departed from the much respected orthodox rules, if time had not then made the rules almost obsolete. What is true of the Mahābhārata, is true also in respect of the Rāmāyaṇa, as we now have it. To my humble thinking, the latter shows signs of lateness to a great extent.

Of words formed by imitating natural sounds and underivable from the fixed stock of Sanskrit roots, kolāhala, kilikilā and the like are only found in the eighteen lengthy Parvas of the Mahābhārata. Halahalā, Gadgada and Humbhā (lowing of the cow) are found used in the Rāmāyaṇa; in the 23rd Chapter of the Araṇyakāṇḍa, we find exact sounds of birds used as Sanskrit words. "Chīchīkūchītī vāśyanto babhūbustatra sārikā," would have defiled the purity of language in the second century B.C. This very "chīchīkū" we find also in the Harivamśa. These words, as well as the words Khaṭ-khaṭ, Ṭhan-Ṭhan, Jhan-Jhan, and Raṇaraṇaka of still later literature, have been called Deśī words (words of Provincial origin) by Hemchandra. It is known to all that Hemchandra's Deśī Nāmamāla contains such words as were considered not to have been derived from Sanskrit roots. It is true that Hemchandra has declared such a few words to be Deśī, as are really apabhranśa words, but I must also note that some ingenious attempts have been made at a forced affiliation of many real Deśī words to some recognised roots; I do not however consider it worth while to offer any criticism on this point.

When literature grew, the writers felt the want of words, and were forced to borrow many words from the Prākṛtas. To commence with, it was only sparingly done but when once it was tolerated and approved, the writers introduced the Prākṛta words very largely. This inference receives full corroboration, from the languages of the old inscriptions which have now been chronologically arranged in many books.

The Deśī words of onomatopoetie origin, such as Jhaṅkāra, maḍmaḍa, Paṭ-paṭ, and the like, are nowhere found in the works of Kālidāsa and Bhāravi.[1] It might be plausibly argued, that the use of such words in dignified Kāvyas was studiously avoided by the poets. But it is worthy of note, that Kālidāsa has not used these words even in the Prākṛta dialogues in his drama, while Mṛcchakaṭika and Ratnāvalī abound with such expressions. It is also not true, that the use of "Gharghara" for Nirghoṣa and 'Jhaṅkāra' for Aliruta lessen the dignity of the language. These words have been profitably used, to heighten the effect of grand descriptions, by Bhavabhūti in his Uttara-carita and Mālatīmādhava.

The poet Subandhu flourished towards the end of the sixth century, say about a century after the death of Kālidāsa. We find the use of a small number of onomatopoetic words in his Vāsavadattā as nouns only. Three or four such words of this class as are found in Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa are also found used as nouns, as I have already shown. This is the sort of use made of them (though very sparsely) in the Pañcatantra. Kolāhala is the only word I have met with in the existing Pañcatantra, even though this is not exactly the book which was written in the fifth century.

In the writings of Bāṇabhaṭṭa, Bhavabhūti, and Sūdraka, these words have been very freely and largely used. Verbs also were made of them, and expressions like Khaṭ-khaṭāyate, Phurphurāyati, and Maḍmaḍāisma are found frequently. The use of these words as verbs commenced only in the seventh century, so far I have been able to ascertain. From the seventh century onward, there is scarcely any Sanskrit composition, wherein these Deśī words of onomatopoetic origin are not found.

I should like what I have asserted to be tested by reference to the books, the dates of which have been fairly established. If the use of this particular class of Deśī words grew in the manner indicated in this paper, the words will have a special value in determining the chronology of some old books.

  1. It should be noted that the word Marmara (and not Maḍmaḍa) is derived from the root Mṛ, and as such cannot be treated as a word of onomatopoetic origin.