Pāṇini (Sanskrit: पाणिनि) (pronounced [paːɳɪnɪ], variously dated between fl. 4th century BCE and "6th to 5th century BCE"[web 1][note 1]) was an ancient Sanskrit philologist, grammarian, and a revered scholar in ancient India.
Since the discovery and publication of his work by European scholars in the nineteenth century, Pāṇini has been considered the “first descriptive linguist”, and even labelled as “the father of linguistics”. Pāṇini's grammar was influential on such foundational linguists as Ferdinand de Saussure and Leonard Bloomfield.
Pāṇini is known for his text Aṣṭādhyāyī, a sutra-style treatise on Sanskrit grammar,[web 1] 3,959 "verses" or rules on linguistics, syntax and semantics in "eight chapters" which is the foundational text of the Vyākaraṇa branch of the Vedanga, the auxiliary scholarly disciplines of the Vedic period. His aphoristic text attracted numerous bhashya (commentaries), of which Patanjali's Mahābhāṣya is the most famous in Hindu traditions. His ideas influenced and attracted commentaries from scholars of other Indian religions such as Buddhism.
Pāṇini's analysis of noun compounds still forms the basis of modern linguistic theories of compounding in Indian languages. Pāṇini'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.
Pāṇini's theory of morphological analysis was more advanced than any equivalent Western theory before the 20th century. His treatise is generative and descriptive, uses metalanguage and meta-rules, and has been compared to the Turing machine wherein the logical structure of any computing device has been reduced to its essentials using an idealized mathematical model.[web 1]
The history of linguistics begins not with Plato or Aristotle, but with the Indian grammarian Panini.
The name Pāṇini is a patronymic meaning descendant of Paṇina. His full name was "Dakṣiputra Pāṇini" according to verses 1.75.13 and 3.251.12 of Patanjali's Mahābhāṣya, with the first part suggesting his mother's name was Dakṣi.
Nothing definite is known about when Pāṇini lived, not even in which century he lived. Pāṇini 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,[web 1] while Bod mentions the seventh to fifth century BCE. George Cardona (1997) in his survey and review of Pāṇini-related studies, states that the available evidence strongly supports a dating no later than between 400 to 350 BCE, while earlier dating depends on interpretations and is not probative.
According to Bod, Pāṇini's grammar defines Classical Sanskrit, so Pāṇini 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 Pāṇini is the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa (8th-6th c. BCE). According to Scharfe, "his proximity to the Vedic language as found in the Upanisads and Vedic sutra's suggests the 5th or maybe 6th c. B.C."
Based on numismatic findings, Von Hinüber and Falk place Pāṇini in the mid-4th century BCE. Pāṇini's rupya (A 5.2.120) mentions a specific coin which was introduced in India in the 4th-century BCE. According to Houben, "the date of "ca. 350 B.C.E. for Pāṇini 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, the earliest time the event may have happened, for the date of Pāṇini at 350 BCE or the decennia thereafter.  According to Bronkhorst,
...thanks to the work carried out by Hinüber (1990:34-35) and Falk (1993: 303-304), we now know that Pāṇini 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
Cardona mentions two major pieces of internal evidence for the dating of Pāṇini. The occurrence of the word yavanānī in 4.1.49, referring to a writing (lipi) c.q. cuneiform writing, or to Greek writing, suggests a date for Pāṇini after Alexander the Great. Cardona rejects this possibility, arguing that yavanānī 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 Pāṇini mentions kumāraśramaṇa, derived from śramaṇa, which refers to a female renunciates, c.q. "Buddhist nuns," implying that Pāṇini should be placed after Gautama Buddha. K. B. Pathak (1930) argued that kumāraśramaṇa could also refer to a Jain nun, meaning that Pāṇini is not necessarily to be placed after the Buddha.
It is not certain whether Pāṇini 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 Aṣṭādhyāyī. The dating of the introduction of writing in India may therefore give further information on the dating of Pāṇini.[note 4]
Pāṇini cites at least ten grammarians and linguists before him. According to Sumitra Mangesh Katre, the ten Vedic scholar names he quotes are of Apisali, Kashyapa, Gargya, Galava, Cakravarmana, Bharadvaja, Sakatayana, Sakalya, Senaka and Sphotayana. According to Kamal K. Misra, Pāṇini also refers to Yaska, "whose writings date back to the middle of the 4th century B.C." Both Brihatkatha and Mañjuśrī-mūla-kalpa mention Pāṇini to have been a contemporary with the Nanda king (4th c. BCE).
Nothing certain is known about Pāṇini's personal life. According to the Mahābhāṣya of Patanjali, his mother's name was Dākṣī. Patañjali calls Pāṇini Dākṣīputra (meaning son of Dākṣī) at several places in the Mahābhāṣya. Rambhadracharya suggests that the name of his father was Paṇina, from which the name Pāṇini could be grammatically derived.
In an inscription of Siladitya VII of Valabhi, he is called Śalāturiya, which means "man from Salatura". This means Panini lived in Salatura of ancient Gandhara, which likely was near Lahor, a town at the junction of Indus and Kabul rivers, which falls in the Swabi District of modern Pakistan. According to the memoirs of 7th-century Chinese scholar Xuanzang, there was a town called Suoluoduluo on the Indus where Pāṇini was born, and he composed the Qingming-lun (Sanskrit: Vyākaraṇa).
According to Hartmut Scharfe, Pāṇini lived in Gandhara close to the borders of the Achaemenid Empire, and Gandhara was then an Achaemenian satrapy following the Achaemenid conquest of the Indus Valley. He must, therefore, have been technically a Persian subject but his work shows no awareness of the Persian language. In his work the Ashtadhyayi, Pāṇini mentions the Yavanas, thought to be the Greeks. According to Patrick Olivelle, Pāṇini's text and references to him elsewhere suggest that "he was clearly a northerner, probably from the northwestern region".
The Aṣṭādhyāyī is the central part of Pāṇini's grammar, and by far the most complex. The Ashtadhyayi is the oldest linguistic and grammar text of any language and of Sanskrit surviving in its entirety, and Pāṇini refers to older texts and authors such as the Unadisutra, Dhatupatha, and Ganapatha some of which have only survived in part. It complements the Vedic ancillary sciences such as the Niruktas, Nighantus, and Shiksha. Regarded as extremely compact without sacrificing completeness, it would become the model for later specialist technical texts or sutras.
The text takes material from lexical lists (Dhatupatha, Ganapatha) as input and describes algorithms to be applied to them for the generation of well-formed words. It is highly systematised and technical. Inherent in its approach are the concepts of the phoneme, the morpheme and the root. His rules have a reputation for perfection – that is, they tersely describe Sanskrit morphology unambiguously and completely. A consequence of his grammar's focus on brevity is its highly unintuitive structure, reminiscent of modern notations such as the "Backus–Naur form". His sophisticated logical rules and technique have been widely influential in ancient and modern linguistics.
In the Aṣṭādhyāyī, language is observed in a manner that has no parallel among Greek or Latin grammarians. Pāṇini's grammar, according to Renou and Filliozat, defines the linguistic expression and a classic that set the standard for Sanskrit language. Pāṇini made use of a technical metalanguage consisting of a syntax, morphology, and lexicon. This metalanguage is organised according to a series of meta-rules, some of which are explicitly stated while others can be deduced.
The Aṣṭādhyāyī consists of 3,959 sutras or "aphoristic threads" in eight chapters, which are each subdivided into four sections or padas (pādāḥ). This text attracted a famous and one of the most ancient Bhasya (commentary) called the Mahabhasya. The author of Mahabhasya is named Patanjali, who may or may not be the same person as the one who authored Yogasutras. The Mahabhasya, literally "great commentary", is more than a commentary on Ashtadhyayi. It is the earliest known philosophical text of the Hindu Grammarians.[note 5] Non-Hindu texts and traditions on grammar emerged after Patanjali, some of which include the Sanskrit grammar text of Jainendra of Jainism and the Chandra school of Buddhism.
When a sutra defines the technical term, the term defined comes at the end, so the first sutra should have properly been ādaiJ vṛddhir instead of vṛddhir ādaiC. However the orders are reversed to have a good-luck word at the very beginning of the work; vṛddhir happens to mean 'prosperity' in its non-technical use.
Thus the two sūtras consist of a list of phonemes, followed by a technical term; the final interpretation of the two sūtras above is thus:
At this point, one can see they are definitions of terminology: guṇa and vṛ́ddhi are the terms for the full and the lengthened Indo-European ablaut grades, respectively.
its or anubandhas are defined in P. 1.3.2 through P. 1.3.8. These definitions refer only to items taught in the grammar or its ancillary texts such at the dhātupāţha; this fact is made clear in P. 1.3.2 by the word upadeśe, which is then continued in the following six rules by anuvṛtti, Ellipsis. As these anubandhas are metalinguistic markers and not pronounced in the final derived form, pada (word), they are elided by P. 1.3.9 tasya lopaḥ – 'There is elision of that (i.e. any of the preceding items which have been defined as an it).' Accordingly, Pāṇini defines the anubandhas as follows:
The Shiva Sutras describe a phonemic notational system in the fourteen initial lines preceding the Ashtadhyayi. The notational system introduces different clusters of phonemes that serve special roles in the morphology of Sanskrit, and are referred to throughout the text. Each cluster, called a pratyāhara ends with a dummy sound called an anubandha (the so-called IT index), which acts as a symbolic referent for the list. Within the main text, these clusters, referred through the anubandhas, are related to various grammatical functions.
The Dhatupatha is a lexicon of Sanskrit verbal roots subservient to the Ashtadhyayi. It is organised by the ten present classes of Sanskrit, i.e. the roots are grouped by the form of their stem in the present tense.
The small number of class 8 verbs are a secondary group derived from class 5 roots, and class 10 is a special case, in that any verb can form class 10 presents, then assuming causative meaning. The roots specifically listed as belonging to class 10 are those for which any other form has fallen out of use (causative deponents, so to speak).
The Ganapatha (gaṇapāṭha) is a list of groups of primitive nominal stems used by the Ashtadhyayi.
After Pāṇini, the Mahābhāṣya ("great commentary") of Patañjali on the Ashtadhyayi is one of the three most famous works in Sanskrit grammar. It was with Patañjali that Indian linguistic science reached its definite form. The system thus established is extremely detailed as to shiksha (phonology, including accent) and vyakarana (morphology). Syntax is scarcely touched, but nirukta (etymology) is discussed, and these etymologies naturally lead to semantic explanations. People interpret his work to be a defence of Pāṇini, whose Sūtras are elaborated meaningfully. He also attacks Katyayana rather severely. But the main contributions of Patañjali lies in the treatment of the principles of grammar enunciated by him.
Pāṇini's work has been one of the important sources of cultural, religious, and geographical information about ancient India, with he himself being referred to as a Hindu scholar of grammar and linguistics. His work, for example, illustrates the word Vasudeva (4.3.98) as a proper noun in an honorific sense, that can equally mean a divine or an ordinary person. This has been interpreted by scholars as attesting the significance of god Vasudeva (Krishna) or the opposite. The concept of dharma is attested in his sutra 4.4.41 as, dharmam carati or "he observes dharma (duty, righteousness)" (cf. Taittiriya Upanishad 1.11). Much social, geographical and historical information has been thus inferred from a close reading of Pāṇini's grammar.
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 Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini, the sine qua non of learning. This grammar of Pāṇini had been the object of intense study for the ten centuries prior to the composition of the Bhaṭṭikāvya. It was plainly Bhaṭṭi's purpose to provide a study aid to Pāṇini'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 Rāmāyaṇa. To the dry bones of this grammar Bhaṭṭi 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.
Pāṇini's work became known in 19th-century Europe, where it influenced modern linguistics initially through Franz Bopp, who mainly looked at Pāṇini. 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 Pāṇinian grammar. In particular, de Saussure, who lectured on Sanskrit for three decades, may have been influenced by Pāṇini and Bhartrihari; his idea of the unity of signifier-signified in the sign somewhat resembles the notion of Sphoṭa. 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.
Pāṇini, 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 (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 Pāṇini as an influence on the work.Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européennes
Prem Singh, in his foreword to the reprint edition of the German translation of Pāṇini'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 Pāṇini 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."
Pāṇini'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, Pāṇini 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 Pāṇini'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 Pāṇini, though they are now lost.