Study Abroad: An ancient problem has been resolved by an Indian student at Cambridge University

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An ancient problem has been resolved by an Indian student at Cambridge University
Credit: Social Media
This Indian student at the University of Cambridge has found a solution to a grammatical conundrum that has puzzled academics since the fifth century BC.

Rishi Rajpopat, a 27-year-old PhD candidate from India, studying at the University of Cambridge, deciphered a rule that Panini, a two-and-a-half-thousand-year-old master of the Sanskrit language, prescribed. Interestingly, out of a population of over one billion, just about 25,000 people in India speak Sanskrit. In order to transform a word’s base and suffix into grammatically proper words and sentences, Panini’s grammar, also known as the Astadhyayi, relied on a system that worked like an algorithm.

However, Panini’s rules frequently apply simultaneously, which causes rule conflicts. In the case of a disagreement between two rules of equal power, the “metarule” that Panini historically proclaimed is translated as “the rule that emerges later in the serial order of the language wins.”

The results, though, were frequently grammatically incorrect. Rishi Rajpopat argued that Panini meant for us to choose the rule that applies to the right side of a word from those that apply to the left and right sides of a word, respectively. He disagreed with the traditional interpretation of the metarule. Rishi Rajpopat discovered through this that nearly without exception, Panini’s “language machine” generated grammatically accurate words. 

Rishi, who had always wanted to study abroad, finally found the solution to the issue after persistently trying it for nine months. Professor of Sanskrit Vincenzo Vergiani, who is Rishi’s supervisor at Cambridge, said that Rishi has discovered an incredibly elegant solution to an issue that has confounded scholars for generations.

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