Indian Cambridge PhD student Rishi Rajpopat cracks 2,500-year-old ‘Father of Linguistics’ Panini code (Sanskrit grammar problem) | world news

LONDON: A grammatical problem that won Sanskrit scholars since the 5th century BC was finally resolved by an Indian doctoral student at the University of Cambridge, it emerged when his thesis was published on Thursday. Rishi Rajpopat made the breakthrough by decoding a rule taught by Paniniknown as the father of linguistics, and is now summarized in his thesis entitled “In Panini, We Trust: Discovering the Algorithm for Rule Conflict Resolution in the Astadhyayi.’
According to the university, leading Sanskrit experts called Rajpopat’s discovery “groundbreaking”. The 2,500-year-old algorithm decoded by him allows, for the first time, to use Panini’s so-called “language machine” accurately.

Panini’s grammar, known as Astadhyayi, relied on a system that worked like an algorithm. Feed in the base and suffix of a word and it should turn them into grammatically correct words and phrases through a step-by-step process. However, two or more Panini rules often apply simultaneously, resulting in conflicts. Panini taught a “metarule”, which is traditionally interpreted by scholars to mean “in case of conflict between two rules of equal strength, the rule that comes later in the serial order of the grammar wins”. However, this often led to grammatically incorrect results.
Rajpopat rejected the traditional interpretation of the metarule. Instead, he argued that Panini meant that between the rules applicable respectively to the left and right sides of a word, Panini wanted us to choose the rule applicable to the right side. Using this interpretation, he discovered that Panini’s “language machine” produced grammatically correct words with almost no exceptions. Panini’s system is thought to have been written around 500 BC.
“I had a eureka moment at Cambridge,” Rajpopat recalls. “After nine months of trying to fix this, I was almost ready to quit, I wasn’t going anywhere. So, I closed the books for a month and just enjoyed the summer… Then, reluctantly, I went back to work, and within minutes, as I turned the pages, these patterns started to emerge, and everything started to make sense…” said the 27-year-old researcher. It would take him another two and a half years to reach the finish line.
“My student Rishi has found an extraordinarily elegant solution to a problem that has perplexed scholars for centuries. This discovery will revolutionize the study of Sanskrit at a time when interest in the language is on the rise,” said the Professor Vincenzo. Vergiani, Sanskrit professor and thesis supervisor at Rajpopat. Sanskrit is an ancient and classical Indo-European language. It is spoken in India by around 25,000 people today.


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