Lesson 32: Compounds (Overview)
Before turning to the Sanskrit categorization of compounds, it’s useful to recall the variety of compounds in English and the creativity with which we produce them. Of course, English cannot truly compete with Sanskrit in this regard, but it’s also not as if English-speakers are compound-illiterate or imagination-impaired when it comes to compound-construction. We express ourselves in compounds all the time (even when we don’t realize it, in unhyphenated forms such as “noun phrase”) and though paragraph-length compounds are unnatural, consider:
- “It’s one of those why-in-the-world-did-I-get-up-this-morning kind of mornings.”
That said, it is true that long compounds are much more natural in Sanskrit than they are in English because the order of words in Sanskrit is basically the same, whether within a compound or outside of it. Compounds in English, on the other hand, reverse English syntax, requiring us to understand them backwards, working from the end to the beginning (e.g., book-case = a case for books). This is why long compounds in English tend only to be whole phrases or sentences (as above), which can be read from left-to-right in natural English word order.
Two overarching distinctions are made regarding the form and analysis of compounds: stem-form compounds vs. their opposite and obligatory vs. non-obligatory compounds.
- Words either take their stem form in compound, losing (लुक्) their case ending (the norm), or don’t lose (अलुक्) that ending (less common). A few examples in English would be: book-case, which stands for “case for books,” where the plural ending (in “books”) is dropped from the term in compound; and brothers-in-law (where the plural form is retained within the compound) and forget-me-nots (where the pronoun’s accusative / oblique case is retained within the compound). Note that the stem-form taken in Sanskrit is specifically the m. (weak) form: e.g., महन्नदी (महत्-नदी) = महती नदी, “a vast river.” (The personal pronouns, however, differ: the 3rd person pronoun stem is neuter [तद्], and the 1st and 2nd person pronoun stems are in the 5th case, which uniquely shows number: e.g., मत्-पुस्तकम् = मम पुस्तकम् “my book,” युष्मद्-अश्वाः = युष्माकम् अश्वाः, “your (pl) horses”). A few Sanskrit examples:
- लुक् — तत्-पुरुषः (for तस्य पुरुषः) his servant = ‘he-servant’
- अलुक् — युधि-ष्ठिरः (for युधि स्थिरः) firm in battle = ‘firm-in-battle’
- Compounding is often just a matter of dropping the case-ending of the first member and speaking or writing it together with the second member as a new word. These are called “non-obligatory” compounds (अनित्य-समास) in Sanskrit because the same terms can be used uncompounded to convey the same sense. “Obligatory” compounds (नित्य-समास), on the other hand, cannot be dissolved into their terms without the help of a word outside the compound or without fundamentally changing the nature of one of its terms if the same meaning is to be conveyed. Book-case would be a non-obligatory compound because we would use the same terms uncompounded to express the same idea: “a case for books” (syntax-markers like the preposition, “for,” don’t count as full-fledged extraneous words). Chimney-sweep, on the other hand, is obligatory as its head-word, sweep, is a noun referring to a person whereas in its paraphrase, “one who sweeps chimneys,” the nominal “sweep” is transformed into a verb (because it is a “bound form”: sweep cannot be used outside of compounds as a noun). Here there is no way to express the same idea outside of a compound without fundamentally changing the nature of the compound’s terms, so the compound is “obligatory.” A few Sanskrit examples:
- अनित्य — तत्-पुरुषः (तस्य पुरुषः) his servant = ‘he-servant’
- नित्य — शास्त्र-ज्ञः (शास्त्रं जानाति इति शास्त्रज्ञः) he knows the sciences = ‘science-knower’
The 4 Major Types
It is easy to miss the forest of the basic kinds of compound for the trees of their many subtypes. You should begin by immediately internalizing the big picture—the 4 major categories of compounds—and only worry about their subtypes later. It’s much more important to see the deep differences between these major types than to parse their varieties in the beginning.
Deshpande follows the tradition in analyzing compound-types on the basis of which term in the compound is primary. He helpfully represents the primary term with a capital letter for any given x-y compound: so, in X-y the first term is primary. Primacy is important because it tells us how to read any given compound: we make sense of compounds by reading them beginning with their primary term. So for X-y, we read the compound from left-to-right, beginning with X; and for x-Y we read the compound from right-to-left, beginning with Y. The 4 major types are:
- XY - द्वन्द्वः (“pair”) a list of nouns: “X and Y” (or “Y and X”), e.g.:
- रामलक्ष्मणौ = रामः च लक्ष्मणः च । Rāma-Lakṣmaṇa = both Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa (note that Y is declined according to its own gender and the number of items referred to by the compound as a whole. So if there were two Rāmas, the compound would be plural: रामलक्ष्मणाः)
- Xy - अव्ययीभावः (“becoming indeclinable”) X is an indeclinable governing y, which becomes an indeclinable (in the n.s.acc.): “X y,” e.g.:
- यथाशक्ति = शक्तिम् अनतिक्रम्य । As-ability = in accordance with one’s ability (note that the feminine noun शक्ति here appears in the n.s.acc. as an ind.; अन्-अति-क्रम्य is a gerund, lit., “not having gone beyond”)
- xY - तत्पुरुषः (“he-servant”) determinative, where x qualifies or specifies Y: “the Y _ x” (e.g., “the Y that is x,” “Y of x,” “the one who Y-s x,” etc.), e.g.:
- तत्पुरुषः = तस्य पुरुषः । He-servant = the servant of him (his servant) (this is the most diverse compound-type, and it consists of nouns, adjectives, bound forms (like ज्ञ in शास्त्रज्ञ above), etc.)
- xy (Z) - बहुव्रीहिः (“much-riced”) exocentric, where noun y has been turned into an adjective in being made to qualify noun Z outside the compound: “Z _ which the y _ x” (e.g., “Z of which y is x,” “Z of which y is in x”), e.g.:
- बहुव्रीहिः = बहवः व्रीहयः यस्य सः । Much-riced = he whose rice is much. (Remember that व्रीहि, though otherwise a m. noun, here must agree in gender/case/# with the noun it’s qualifying as an adjective. So if we wanted to refer to our n. मित्रम् who has much rice, व्रीहि would be declined in the neuter: बहुव्रीहि मित्रम्, बहुव्रीहीणि मित्राणि)
- Y and X (द्वन्द्व)
- a Y that is x (same case relation), Y to/by/for/from/of/in x (acc.-loc. relations), one who Y-s x, etc. (तत्पुरुष)
- Z of which/in which/because of which, etc. y is x / y is of x / y is in x / y is like x (when y agrees with Z in gender/case/# — बहुव्रीहि)
Please see the handout below for a more detailed overview of compound types.