Pearls and Black Pepper (repost)

Thi is a repost, upon request, from my old blog at Harvard, which I have since taken down, since I did not find the ‘OpenScholar’ software easy to use. I have corrected a few mistakes and added some more information.

The most common metaphor for a “good” mixture of language in South Asia is “jewel-coral” (maṇi-pravāla-), which has a very long history. Part of what is “good” about this mixture is that the elements retain their individuality in one sense, but in another form a homogenous whole, as do (red) jewels and (red) coral strung on a (red) necklace. What about “bad” mixtures of language?

Nāgavarman, also known as Kavitāguṇōdaya, included the following verse in his Kāvyāvalōkanam (around 1040). There it stands (v. 55 in Dēvīrappa’s edition) as an example of the substitution of k by g. Probably it was not his own composition. The verse was later quoted by the grammarian Keśava or Keśirāja (1260), where I encountered it. For those who are interested there is a short glossary for this verse at the bottom of the post, which also explains the phonological changes that served as Nāgavarman’s excuse for including this verse in his book.

ಪೞಗನ್ನಡದಂ ಪುದುಂಗೊಳೆ
ಕೊೞೆಸಕ್ಕದಮಂ ತಗುಳ್ಚಿ ಜಾಣ್ಗಿಡೆ ಮುತ್ತಂ
ಮೆೞಸುಂ ಕೋದಂತಿರೆ ಪೇ
ೞ್ವೞಿಗವಿಗಳ ಕವಿತೆ ಬುಧರನೆರ್ದೆಗೊಳಿಸುಗುಮೇ

paḻagannaḍaṁ puduṅgoḷe
koḻesakkadamaṃ taguḷci jāṇgiḍe muttaṃ
meḻasuṁ kōd’ antire pē-
ḻv’ aḻigavigaḷa kavite budharan erdegoḷisugum ē?

The poetry of those horrible poets
who write by putting worn-out Sanskrit
together with old Kannada for want of skill,
as if stringing pearl and black pepper—
are skilled readers really taken in?

I think this is probably a counter-metaphor to maṇipravāla: if “jewel-coral” minimizes the contrasts, then “pearl-pepper” maximizes them, since pearl is white and pepper is black. Nāgavarman’s usage is notable here, since it kind of embodies the qualities he is criticizing: muttaṃ is a Sanskrit word, and would have been recognized as such (although modified slightly from its Sanskrit form muktā), but meḻasu has no Sanskrit cognate. (Although probably the Sanskrit word muktā- was itself borrowed from the Dravidian word *muttu; see Dravidian Etymological Dictionary s.v.)

Glossary and notes

  • paḻagannaḍaṁ = paḻa, an adjectival stem meaning ‘old’ + kannaḍaṁ (n.) ‘the Kannada language.’ Note the lenition of the initial k in the seam of an attributive (adjective-substantive) compound. The word is in the nominative case because it is the subject of the converb puduṅgoḷe.
  • puduṅgoḷe = the ‘absolute converb’ (I will explain this term in a later post) for pudu-ṁ-goḷ, a compound verb meaning literally ‘taking (koḷ) entry (pudu).’ The absolute converb is formed by adding -e directly to the verbal root. Note that -ṁ has been added to the nominal element, and the initial k- of koḷ has been lenited to g. The entire verb phrase means ‘[in such a way that] Old Kannada enters into [it].’
  • koḻesakkadamaṃ = koḻe ‘old, dirty, worn-out’ + sakkadaṁ (n.) ‘the Sanskrit language.’ Another attributive compound. This is in the accusative case because it is the object of the serial converb taguḷci.
  • taguḷci = the past-tense serial converb of taguḷcu ‘having caused to join’ (the transitive version of taguḷ ‘join’). The entire verb phrase means ‘having joined the worn-out Sanskrit language [with it].’
  • jāṇgiḍe = the absolute converb of jāṇ ‘cleverness, skill’ + kiḍu ‘decay, waste.’ If the reading is jāṇgiḍe rather than jāṇ kiḍe, this is another example of the lenition of an initial k- in the seam of a compound. This is an adverbial verb phrase meaning ‘[in such a way that their] cleverness deteriorates.’
  • muttaṁ (n.) ‘pearl.’ In the nominative because it is the co-subject (with meḻasu) of the verb kōdantire.
  • meḻasuṁ = meḻasu (n.) ‘black pepper’ + uṁ conjunctive particle.
  • kōdantire = an ‘absolute converb’ indicating comparison, from kōdu ‘be threaded, be on a string’ + ant’ ire ‘in that way.’ The entire verb phrase means ‘in the same way that pearl[s] and black pepper[-corns] might be threaded [on a string].’
  • pēḻva = a non-past ‘relative participle’ (peyareccam) from pēḻ ‘speak, say, compose,’ modifying (as usual) the constituent to its right, namely, aḻigavigaḷa kavite ‘the poetry of bad poets, which [they] compose…’
  • aḻigavigaḷa = aḻi ‘bad, terrible’ + kavi ‘poet’ (from Sanskrit kavi-). Note again the lenition of initial k- to g- in the seam of an attributive compound. The word is in the genitive plural (pl. ending -gaḷ, gen. ending -a) because it modifies the constituent to its right.
  • kavite ‘poetry’ (from Sanskrit kavitā-). The word is in the nominative because it is the subject of the verb erdegoḷisugum.
  • budharan = budha-r-an, the accusative (-aṁ) of the animate plural (-r) of budha- ‘wise’ (= Sanskrit). It is the object of the verb erdegoḷisugum.
  • erdegoḷisugum = the imperfective non-past form of erde-koḷisu, from erde ‘heart’ + koḷisu ‘cause to take,’ hence ‘enchant, captivate.’ This verb is the causative of koḷ. Note, one last time, the lenition of k- into g- in a compound verb. Its equivalent in Sanskrit would be manō harati.
  • ē an interrogative particle that turns the sentence into a yes-or-no question, with an implied answer of ‘no.’