Review of Introduction to Sanskrit, Part 2 by Thomas Egenes

EgenesIntroToSanskritTwoMini80Summary: Thomas Egenes’s Introduction to Sanskrit, Part Two is well suited for the serious self-study student who has already grasped some basic understanding of Sanskrit. Almost as gentle as its sister volume (Part One) that it builds on, and with easy-to-read Devanagari, it proceeds in modest, well structured steps. Highly recommended.

See also: Book Reviews | Sanskrit Grammar | All Articles

THE BOOK

EgenesIntroToSanskritTwoFull300

Introduction to Sanskrit, Part Two, is a 437-page production, 18 cm wide and 24 cm high. It is printed in India on some slightly off-white paper. The hardcover binding is loose enough to make the book open flat when put on a table.

The book starts with a Contents section, which is arranged so that one can see what things are covered in each lesson (p. iii-x). Then comes the “meat” of the book, namely the Lessons, which are 13 in number (Lesson 19-31), covering, all in all, a total of 291 pages (pp. 1-291). After that comes a very substantial section of reference tables (pp. 292-380), followed by a Sanskrit-English vocabulary (pp.. 381-398) and an English-Sanskrit vocabulary (pp. 399-420). Last but not least are the two indexes, both of which have page references: one index of grammatical terms (421-429) and one general index (pp. 430-437).

The Lessons in the “Part Two” volume are numbered in such a way as to continue where Egenes’s Introduction to Sanskrit, Part One left off (which had Lessons 1-18). Each lesson in Part Two is, however, longer, since Egenes now starts each lesson with a verse from the Bhagavad-gita, followed by a word-for-word analysis. Some lessons are also longer than the average ones in Part 1 since there is more grammar discussed in Part 2; another reason is that more and more verbs are (supposed to be) known to the student, which explains the increasing length of the verb/participle tables that are published within some of the lessons when new types of verbs and participles are introduced.

REVIEW

1. The Book

This book is designed in a very similar fashion to its sister volume, Part One. Also the printing is equally good and even, across the whole book. However, the actual paper used is not the same: it is somewhat more yellowish, and a little more matte — a change that I personally like, as it lessens the reflectivity of the paper, and results in a more evenly lit paper surface, which is easier to read.

2. The Bhagavad-gita Verses

In terms of “teaching” and “pedagogy”, many things are done in a very similar (and successful) fashion compared to the way they are done in Part One (please see my review of Introduction to Sanskrit, Part One). But one thing is rather different. For unlike in Part One, Part Two starts every chapter/lesson with a verse from the Bhagavad-gita. This typically occupies two pages or so, since the verse is not only reproduced in Devanagari but also in transliteration, and is accompanied by an English translation, after which a word-for-word word analysis is provided.

Personally, I think this insertion of the Bhagavad-gita verses makes the chapters a little too intimidating. And this is not just because they increase the length of the chapters by another two pages or so, but also because each verse contains many new words. So already in Lesson Nineteen (the first lesson in Part Two), the student is confronted with a Bhagavad-gita word list of 19 entries, which is already more than the mere 15 words in the “regular” Vocabulary list of this Lesson.

The problem, however, is not just one of additional words to memorize, either; it is also about these words being compounds, in combination with the fact that some concepts have not yet been covered (such as the suffix “-tva”, and the “-vant” declension). So the student is not only referred to numerous grammatical discussions in the supposedly already covered Part One volume (3 such references), but also being referred forward, to a discussion not already encountered, by the keyword “see below” (5 occurrences).

The general problem, I think, is that each verse is given too little space. Not even entering into the difficulties surrounding the translation of texts on spiritual/religious subject matters, it is, I think, fair to say that a more suitable approach would have been to actually devote more time and more space to real discussions on these Bhagavad-gita verses (including alternative ways to express the same thing, as for example often in seen in Deshpande’s Samskrta-Subodhini) instead of just providing a glossary with some page references to other parts of his book(s). But to do that nicely would most probably require that each Gita verse would have to get its own chapter — a decision that may not fit very well with the overall aim of the current revision of the book.

Another, perhaps more realistic alternative (especially, perhaps, from the publisher’s point of view), would be not to use full verses, but instead just select, say, half a verse. That way one would also half the transliteration, the translation, and the glossary. And one would thus have a whole page free to discuss the grammar and the translation in a sensible manner, so that its teaching style would better integrate with the otherwise gentle approach that Egenes uses in the “ordinary” text of every lesson.

3. Chapter Length

The average chapter length in Part Two is almost twice of that in Part One. While the average number of pages of a chapter in Part One is around 13, the corresponding number in Part Two is 22. Why this, relatively speaking, big jump?

There are many reasons for this increase. But it is important to first point out that the extent (and quality!) of the “regular” text is not very different from that of the first volume. The “regular” text in Part Two may be a little longer, on average, but not so much that it would increase the average chapter length from 13 to 22 pages. No, the differences in chapter size are mainly to be accounted for by other factors.

First of all, an additional two pages or so are added by the Bhagavad-gita verses and their translations and glossaries. Having once decided upon adding these, it is virtually impossible to see how a “slimmer” production could have been accomplished, without resorting to putting the Gita verses in their own chapters, or moving them to some appendix.

Another difference is that the answers to the exercises are now placed last within each chapter, instead of being all placed at the end of the book. This, I think, is an unwise decision, for two reasons. First, because the answers are too close to the exercises themselves. But, more importantly, because it makes each chapter unnecessarily long. So the organization of the first volume is better, with the answers in the back.

Yet another difference is that the in-chapter tables in Part Two occupy much more space than those in Part One, especially those lists which house verbs, participles, and other derivative forms. This is because these tables are accumulative, in that they show, for all verb roots hitherto learned, the corresponding forms. So this results in a growing size as the book proceeds: a two-page list of periphrastic futures in Lesson 24 (pp. 114-115), a three-page list of perfect forms i Lesson 26 (pp. 159-161), and more-than-three-pages lists of causative forms in Lesson 29 (pp. 223-226) and desiderative forms in Lesson 30 (pp. 252-255). These long lists, in my opinion, severely interrupt the flow of the regular text in the chapter. A better editorial decision would have been to minimize these lists to a page or less, and then put any lists longer than that in the back of the book, as an appendix.

4. Excellent exercises and solutions

The exercises and solutions are just as straightforward as those in Part One. There is, in other words, no attempt of Egenes to make these exercises “extra challenging” or “extra difficult”. This is great, because Sanskrit is difficult enough to learn as it is, without the teacher having to make it even harder. So Egenes’s “transparency” in this sense is very appreciated.

5. Amazing Tables

One thing that is even better in Part Two than in Part One is the collection of tables at the end of the book. It is not that the tables were bad in Part One; they were great. It is just that the tables in Part Two contain all the tables from Part One plus the new ones that have been added as part of the new lessons. So the tables in Part Two are many, and a joy to use. I have not found a better collection of such tables anywhere, so nicely designed, and so eminently readable.

6. Conclusion

Although somewhat less user-friendly than its sister volume Part One, there is no doubt that Egenes’s Introduction to Sanskrit, Part Two is a very competent follow-up volume. In my view, there is little competition on the market. With its lucid explanations, relevant examples, and straightforward exercises with answers it is more or less invaluable. Not to speak of the excellent reference tables that the serious student may refer to over and over again. Highly recommended.

See also: Book Reviews | Sanskrit Grammar | All Articles

7A. Summary: The Good

how good the good
+5 the Devanagari is very nicely typeset with big enough font
+5 short and to-the-point explanations of Sanskrit usage
+5 well chosen and very focused examples
+5 there are answers to all exercises
+5 the exercises are not unnecessarily cryptic, but concise and straight-forward
+5 excellent appendixes (sandhi, noun/pronoun declensions, numerals, verb/participle conjugations, etc)
+5 very good index of Sanskrit grammar terms

7B. Summary: The Bad

how bad the bad
-5 exercise answers are not explained
-4 some chapters are too long
-4 the Bhagavad-gita verses are introduced, but not explained very much

Edition Details:

Title (1): Introduction to Sanskrit, Part Two
Title (2): Introduction to Sanskrit, Part 2
Part: Whole
Author: Thomas Egenes
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass
Year: 2000
Edition: First edition
Binding: Hardcover
Pages: 437
ISBN-10-a: 81-208-1693-5
ISBN-10-b: 8120816935
ISBN-13-a: 978-8120816930
ISBN-13-b: 9788120816930

See also: Book Reviews | Sanskrit Grammar | All Articles

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Copyright © 2013 by Govinda Dāsa <sanskritstudio.editor@gmail.com>.
All rights reserved worldwide.

First published: 20 Mar 2013
Last revised: 20 Mar 2013

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