Etymologies. cognates, and translations

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Etymologies. cognates, and translations

Postby robby » Tue May 14, 2013 11:57 pm

This is a topic that fascinates me. I am not sure where to start. First, a caveat. From what I can gather, the Buddha did not have the Suttas and Vinaya committed to writing; even though Brahmani(?) script was available. If I understand correctly, he also instructed his disciples to preach in the Prakrit, not the Vedic / Sanskrit. This suggests to me that the Buddha wanted the common people to hear the spoken word preached in every day language.

That said, I think looking at etymologies can be helpful in translating Buddhist terms from Pali and Sanskrit. Indic languages share some things in common with English and other Indo-European languages languages. There are lots of cognates. The construction of nouns and adjectives from verbal roots, using prefixes and suffixes, is similar. It's not the only thing to look at. We need to consider context. Also, the way Sanskrit words were translated into Chinese can help. And, In the end, I think it's about what the concepts mean to us in terms of our direct experience. A tentative grasp of the concepts expressed by Buddhist technical terms can help one sort things out.

If I am trying to understand a Pali term. I'll find the Sanskrit equivalent. I'll see how various sources translate and define the term(s). Then, I might attempt break the Sanskrit down into prefixes, verbal roots, and suffixes. Then I might look at any English cognates and try to trace those back, sometimes through Germanic words, to the Latin and maybe the Greek. I'll ponder the various nuances. Then I might look at Chinese translations. I consciously try to avoid drawing any definitive conclusions from any of my linguistic ruminations and musings. That does not mean I do not glean anything useful. I just try to stay rather tentative; to maintain non-attachment to opinions. Often, I hit a dead end, and I'll mark the spot in the back of my mind.

Oh, and I hope nobody minds if I do not use the diacritical marks. I sort of understand them, but they do not always cut and paste correctly and it can get complicated for general readers. Also, I am not going to italicize non-English words. If it's all right, I'll occasionally copy and paste Devanagari script and Kanji (sino-japanese script).

This is a bit too long already, but I shall give one example:

sankhata (Pali) samskrita संस्कृत (sanskrit). Kanji: 爲 or 行. Common English translations: conditioned, compounded. Others: fabricated, constructed, put together (past tense), made


*Prefix sam- सं, cognate of sim-, similar in function to the English com-/ con- . co-, Senses: with, together, together with.

*Verbal Root skr स्कृ, veriant of kr कृ Cognate of create? Kanji rendering: 造, Make, build, to put, to place.

*Suffix -ta त, Appears to function much like -ed in English. Forms a passive past participle; which can be used an adjective, possibly sometimes as an adjective noun with the modified noun implied, or even as a noun to express an abstract concept.

The opposite would be asankhata (Pali) asamskrita असंस्कृत (sanskrit) Kanji: 無爲 or 無行 or 不作行. Common English translations; unconditioned, uncompounded. Others: unfabricated, unconstructed, unmade. Formed by adding the negative prefix a- अ, similar to the Greek a-/an, commonly seen English medical terms. English: un- (m-w sense 1) (in- / im-, non-) Latin in-. Sense: Not. A simple negation. Kanji renderings: 不 or 無

On English translations, compounded and constructed have quite similar etymologies to samskrita संस्कृत. Both start with the prefix com-; which has the same function / meaning as sam- सं. Both compounded and constructed are past participles of verbs. They are sometimes used as adjective nouns with the modified noun implied, or possibly even as nouns to express abstract concept. 'To compound' as a verb is an anglicized old borrowed term from French. The Latin root verb is componere, from com- = together + ponere = to put -- put together. 'The root verb of construct is the Latin construere, from com- + struere: to heap up or build. We see struere in the English verb strew and the noun form structure.

Of those two, I prefer compounded with the stipulation that "pound" in that word is a verb derived from ponere = to put; it has nothing to do with either "to pound" or the noun(s) spelled pound in English. Constructed might imply too much of a sense of something planned and consciously carried out.

Meanwhile, conditioned is problematic in English. It is actually from a borrowed word that was the noun form of a verb. It was apparently re-verbed and then re-nouned, so it effectively has a double suffix (-ion and -ed). Condition was originally a noun, a borrowed word that was a noun form of a verb meaning to agree. It's from condicion, meaning agreement, which is a noun form of condicere; from is con- = together + dicere = to speak. The English verb form should be something like condict or condice. Instead, the noun got verbed. :crying:

Note that adding the suffix -ion makes nouns out of verbs. It can indicate 'the process of' or 'the state of'. In the latter sense, it is similar to noun and/or adjective suffixes like -ia, -ium, ius, ios, -dom, -y, -ity. The common Sanskrit suffix -ya य or या ?? might do something somewhat similar -- as in vidya विद्य or विद्या. I hit a dead end on य versus या ...

Anyway, condition, used as a noun, often means something far different than the original sense of stipulations or agreed upon terms. It can carry the sense of a state of being. The verbed form, 'to condition', can mean to bring about states of being, in some contexts, by training or habituation. This might be more applicable to the related word sankhara / samskara संस्कार 行 -- especially in the sense of the 4th skandha 行蘊.
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