Review of Devavanipravesika by Robert P. Goldman

GoldmanDevavanipravesikaMini80Summary: Devavāṇīpraveśikā by Robert P. Goldman and Sally J. Sutherland Goldman is a typical university-style textbook for Sanskrit. Though not well suited for self-study (unless complemented with other books), or very professionally typeset, it is a competent introductory Sanskrit grammar that also may serve as a reference book.

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In this third edition from 2002, Goldman and Goldman’s Devavāṇīpraveśikā is a 539-page thick paperback, measuring 6 x 9 inch (15 x 23 cm). It is printed on slightly off-white paper and is typeset using Devanagari and Times Nagari fonts (designed by Richard Lasseigne).

Its “core” contents, Lesson 1-22, take up most of the book (pp. 1-428). This is followed by a Sanskrit-English “Glossary of Grammatical Terms” (pp. 429-433), where Panini-type grammatical terms are given English equivalents and/or explanations. After that comes a Sanskrit-English “Glossary”, with all the words from the lessons (pp. 435-495), after which follows a corresponding “English-Sanskrit Glossary” (pp.497-524). Last is a general index (pp. 525-539) that does not just contain English and Sanskrit grammar terms, but also lists some important Sanskrit words that are involved in discussions on usage.

As for the beginning of the book, there is first a “Preface to the Third Edition” (p. vii) that tells the reader something about why this third edition was decided upon, after which comes a “Preface to the First Edition” (pp. viii-xvi) in which Goldman talks about how to teach Sanskrit, including aspects such as pronunciation, script, sandhi, grammatical terminology, vocabulary, etc. The sections called “Acknowledgments” (pp. xvii-xviii) and “Acknowledgments to the Second Editon” contain acknowledgments and some descriptions of the circumstances around the production. Then comes the “Table of Contents” (pp. xxi-xxxiii).


1. Physical Stuff

In terms of physical dimensions, Goldman and Goldman’s book is almost like a copy of Deshpande’s Samskrita-Subodhini. But unlike Deshpande’s textbook, its binding is not as good; thus, there is a very high probability that the pages will gradually fall out (especially if you actually start using it), just like they will do with some copies of, for example, Coulson’s Sanskrit (Teach Yourself) paperback.

2. Not A Self-Study Book

Although Richard Salomon’s review (in The Journal of Asian Studies) of the second edition of Devavāṇīpraveśikā had many valid points, that review may have given some of its readers the impression that Devavāṇīpraveśikā is a self-study book. For Salomon said, for instance, that (Solomon 1988, p. 919):

it assumes no previous knowledge of classical European languages and is designed to be accessible to students with minimal previous experience in language study

But even if this were a fair description of the book (which I am not sure it is, unless one were to assume that it must be used while studying at the university, with a helpful professor at hand), it still would not lead one to conclude that it could be used as a self-study book. In other words, unless you have other Sanskrit books at your side, or/and a teacher/professor to help you on a continuous basis, you will most probably not be able to learn Sanskrit with this book.

One reason why this book is not suited to be a self-study book is this. Although this book has a number of exercises, there are no answers to the exercises; the idea is presumably that the exercises are to be done as homework in the student’s supposed university Sanskrit class, and that the students should have to wait for their teacher’s grading and comments of their submitted answers.

Another reason why this book is not really a self-study book is because the chapters are too long and tedious, containing too much information at the time. Already Chapter 3, which introduces sandhi, consists of 61 paragraphs, packed with sandhi rules. If this chapter doesn’t stop the self-study student (or the university student!), then the 27-page Chapter 4 might, which has 47 paragraphs filled with rules, principles, paradigms, etc. in the typical university textbook style, which is meant to intimidate anyone but those who have perfect memory and “cramming” capabilities.

A third reason why this book is not really a self-study book is that its formatting is far from ideal. Its font size is not big enough for beginners, making it hard to read. And its layout is not good enough: the baseline of the devanagari is set to coincide with the Roman characters, which makes it look unprofessional; and the inability to clearly separate various parts of the text from each other makes much of text just appear as one big chunk of text, although it logically is divided into paragraphs (see for example p. 162, where the seven paragraphs of that page have no extra space in between them at all, and where each paragraph is just numbered (e.g. “9.12”), without having any subtitle to tell the reader what it is about.

A fourth reason why this book is not really a self-study book is because there are no useful appendixes, other than the two “lesson words” glossaries (English-Sanskrit, Sanskrit-English) and the “Sanskrit grammar terms” glossary. I would have liked to see summary tables for vowel and consonant sandhi, such as those which are found in Coulson (pp. 34-35), Egenes, and Bucknell. I also would have liked to get an overview of all the 10 classes (ganas) of the verbs and their paradigms (see Egenes). I would also have liked to see a list all the different forms of nouns that mentioned in the book, ending in -a, -in, -an, -u, -mat, -vant, etc. in their masculine, feminine, and neuter forms (as in Egenes), as well as paradigms for all the pronouns, etc. (as in Egenes).

For the serious self-study student, I recommend Egenes, while having the Goldman volume at the side, to use now and then, when looking for additional examples or complementary ways of explaining the grammar, etc.

3. As a university text book

There is no doubt that the Goldmans know their Sanskrit very well. But, as I have said above, the presentation is not ideal, far from it. However, since university text books in general are not very user-friendly (partly because extremely few professors have themselves ever studied pedagogy or teaching in any university course), one might say that this text book is quite good, relatively speaking.

Goldman’s Sanskrit text book is well tuned to the “pseudo-scientific” way Sanskrit (and other classical Indoeuropean languages) is taught at universities in the western world. By this I mean its preoccupation with morphology, and in particular with its “manual” computational linguistic ideas in regard to the formation of infixes, suffixes, and sandhis, etc. These often long-winded “explanations” do not always help the student; on the contrary, they may make things too overwhelming. And because of the enormous amount of infixes, suffixes, guna/vriddhi combinations, alternate roots, and many exceptions to the (synthetic) rules, the student will in many cases still have to memorize many particular forms of each verb. So why learn all those computational linguistics rules?

Another point that has to be mentioned is the way the readings are presented. Although one might expect the readings to be discussed in class, there are too many potential nuances and details in these readings for them all to be discussed in the classroom. Although the Goldmans sometimes provide a note or two to accompany each reading (e.g. p. 221: one note; p. 251: one note; p. 269: one note; etc.), this does not provide any real discussion on alternative forms or alternative constructions, etc. This is in stark contrast to the much more helpful “in-context” discussions that are provided in the form of a very substantial number of detailed notes to all the readings that is found in Walter Harding Maurer’s well-written and well-structured textbook The Sanskrit Language.

4. Conclusion: For a University Course, or as a Reference

This is a serious Sanskrit grammar that can be used for a university college Sanskrit program, or be used as a type of reference grammar, because of its extensive indexes. The presentation is far from ideal, but that may be compensated for by a competent teacher and an angel-like patience on the part of the student.

For the self-study student, the Goldman volume may be a good buy only if the student can afford other, more pedagogical books, such as Egenes’s Introduction to Sanskrit, Part One and Deshpande’s Samskrta-subodhini. In that case, the Goldman volume might work well as a reference volume, which the student can consult when he or she wants to see some additional examples, or is in need of getting a new angle on some aspect of the grammar.

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5A. Summary: The Good

how good the good
+5 comes with very solid grammar points
+5 uses many examples
+5 arranges the declension and conjugation tables “the traditional Indian way”
+5 uses traditional Sanskrit grammar terminology
+5 has a very detailed index, with descriptive subcategories
+5 has a very nice glossary of Sanskrit grammatical terms

5B. Summary: The Bad

how bad the bad
-5 too small and too thin Devanagari font makes it hard to read
-5 the inline Devanagari characters are not vertically centered around the English words, which makes the combined text feel “jumpy” and unprofessional
-5 the overall layout feels too compact in many places, and needs more vertical space
-5 most examples are not translated very literal, in terms of word order
-5 Sanskrit grammar words are represented in Devanagari, making the text harder to read
-5 much too long chapters
-5 too many words in each chapter’s vocabulary (typically 40-60)
-5 too much focus on morphology (and less on sentence/clause structure, syntax, and usage)
-5 fails in many cases to provide a clear, concise exposition of the central grammatical idea, and gets lost in all the details
-5 there are no reference tables as appendixes
-5 there are no nice tables summarizing all the sandhi rules, as in Coulson or Bucknell

Edition Details:

Title (1): Devavanipravesika: An Introduction to the Sanskrit Language
Title (2): Devavāṇīpraveśikā: An Introduction to the Sanskrit Language
Part: Whole
Author (1): Robert P. Goldman
Author (2): Sally J. Sutherland Goldman
Publisher: Berkeley: Center for South Asia Studies, University of California
Year: 2002
Edition: Third
Binding: Paperback
ISBN: 0-944613-40-3
ISBN: 0944613403


Richard Salomon (1988) Review of Devavāṇīpraveśikā: An Introduction to the Sanskrit Language by Robert P. Goldman and Sally J. Sutherland in The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 47, No. 4 (Nov., 1988), pp. 919-920.

See also: Book Reviews | Sanskrit Grammar | All Articles

Copyright © 2012 by Govinda Dāsa <>.
All rights reserved worldwide.

First published: 13 Nov 2012
Last revised: 28 Mar 2013


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