Who did it? An Indian doctoral student at Cambridge University. It was a long-standing grammatical problem. But thanks to him, a thousand-year-old Sanskrit manuscript was deciphered. Sanskrit is the sacred language of Hinduism. But today it is barely spoken by 25,000 people.
Risi Rajpopat deciphered a 2,500-year-old algorithm. It makes it possible, for the first time, to accurately use the Panini “language machine.” Panini’s system was written around 500 BC. It is intended to function as a machine. It inputs the base and suffix of a word and converts it into grammatically correct words and phrases.
However, some of its rules were misunderstood for centuries. How to solve this problem? Rajpopat did. And he proved that Panini’s “language machine” is self-sufficient. He stated in a statementPanini had an extraordinary mind. He built a machine unparalleled in the history of mankind.”
Scholars interpreted a Panini meta-rule wrongly. In case of conflict between two rules of equal strength, the one that comes next in the serial order of grammar wins. But Rajpopat discovered otherwise. Between the rules applicable to the left and right sides of a word respectively, Panini wanted us to choose the rule applicable to the right side. Thus Panini’s linguistic machine produces grammatically correct words every time.
Sanskrit is an ancient and classical Indo-European language of South Asia. It is the sacred language of Hinduism. Also the medium through which much of Hindu science and thought was transmitted. “We still don’t fully understand what our ancestors achieved. We have been led to believe that we are not important, that we have not contributed enough. But this disproves that idea.”
Language and computation
Now that a millennia-old Sanskrit manuscript has been deciphered, some doors are opening. We could teach this grammar to computers. “Let’s teach computers to combine speaker intent with Panini’s rule-based grammar. It can be used to produce human speech. It would be an important milestone in the history of human interaction with machines. And also in the intellectual history of India.”
The research is published in the journal Apollo-University of Cambridge Repository.