According to the university, leading Sanskrit experts have described Rajpopat’s discovery as “revolutionary”. The 2,500-year-old algorithm decoded by him makes it possible for the first time to accurately use Panini’s so-called “language machine”.
“I had a eureka moment at Cambridge!” The world’s biggest grammar puzzle that had defeated scholars for hundreds of… https://t.co/0s0DW5DJBN
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Panini’s grammar, known as the Astadhyayi, relied on a system that functioned as an algorithm. Feed in the root and suffix of a word and it will turn them into grammatically correct words and sentences through a step-by-step process. However, two or more of Panini’s rules often apply simultaneously, resulting in conflicts. Panini taught a “meta-rule”, which is traditionally interpreted by scholars as “in the event of a conflict between two rules of equal strength, the rule that comes later in the serial order of grammar wins”. However, this often led to grammatically incorrect results.
Rajpopat rejected the traditional interpretation of the meta rule. Instead, he argued that Panini believed that between rules that apply to the left and right sides of a word, Panini wanted us to choose the rule that applied to the right side. Using this interpretation, he found that Panini’s “language machine” produced grammatically correct words almost without exception. Panini’s system is believed to have been written around 500 BC.
“I had a eureka moment at Cambridge,” recalls Rajpopat. “After nine months of trying to solve this problem, I was almost ready to quit, I was getting nowhere. So I closed the books for a month and just enjoyed the summer… Then I reluctantly went back to work, and , during of minutes, as I flipped through, these patterns started to emerge and it all started to make sense…” said the 27-year-old scholar.It would take him another two and a half years to reach his goal.
“My student Rishi has cracked it – he has found an extraordinarily elegant solution to a problem that has puzzled scientists for centuries. This discovery will revolutionize the study of Sanskrit at a time when interest in the language is growing,” said Professor Vincenzo Vergiani, Professor of Sanskrit and Rajpopat’s PhD supervisor. Sanskrit is an ancient and classical Indo-European language. It is spoken in India by an estimated 25,000 people today.