Quantitative Templates in Classical Sanskrit Meters
Ashwini Deo, Stanford University


In generative metrics, a meter is taken to be an abstract periodic
template with a set of constraints mapping linguistic material onto it.
Such templates, constrained by periodicity and line length, are usually
limited in number. The repertoire of Classical Sanskrit verse meters
is characterized by three features which contradict each of the
above properties.

a) templates constituted by arbitrary syllable sequences without any
overtly discernible periodic repetition: aperiodicity
b) absolute faithfulness of linguistic material to a given metrical
template: invariance
c) A vast number of templates, ranging between 500-700: rich repertoire

Sanskrit meters present a formidable puzzle to generative metrics. How can
a meter consisting of a fully defined but random sequence of heavy and
light syllables be reconciled with a view of metrical templates as
iteration of smaller prosodic constituents? What forces rigid adherence to
a given metrical template, disallowing the slightest deviation of the
surface material from abstract form? Moreover, does the property of
invariance obviate the need for assuming two levels of metrical
structure: abstract form vs. its surface realization?

In my talk, I will claim that in spite of apparent incommensurability,
Sanskrit meters are based on the same principles of temporal organization
as other versification traditions, and can be accounted for without
significant alterations to existing assumptions about metrical structure.
I will demonstrate that a majority of aperiodic meters are, in fact,
surface instantiations of a small set of underlying quantity-based
periodic templates and that aperiodicity emerges from the complex mappings
of linguistic material to these templates. Further, I will argue that the
appearance of a rich repertoire is an effect of nomenclatural choices
and poetic convention and not variation at the level of underlying
structure. While this seems to be a fairly straightforward proposal, it is
novel because neither in the Sanskrit tradition of metrical analysis nor
in the available generative literature, which follows traditional metrical
descriptions (Fabb & Halle, ms; Fabb 2003), have these meters been
analyzed as derivable from simpler abstract patterns.

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