Review of A Sanskrit Manual for High Schools, Part I (1) by Robert Antoine

AntoineSanskritManualPart1Mini80Summary: Though Robert Antoine’s A Sanskrit Manual for High Schools, Part I is one of the most concise and precise accounts of beginning Sanskrit grammar, self-study students may want to use it only as a complement to a more detailed account of Sanskrit grammar, especially since Antoine also does not provide any answers to the exercises.

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THE BOOK

AntoineSanskritManualPart1Full300This is a rather small 166-page paperback, measuring only 14 x 19 cm. This is an original copy from 1978, and it is partly sunned. I am not sure exactly how white its paper was when it was new (I bought it second hand myself), but it is now rather yellow, both outside and inside.

As mentioned in the front matter of the book, its price was 8 Rupees in 1978, the year of this Eighth Edition. Noteworthy is that even though the Preface (which is apparently the same as the one for the Seventh Edition) mentions that “we have incorporated the valuable suggestion of colleagues and well-wishers” into the Seventh Edition, no change is seen in the total number of pages, nor in the pagination of each chapter, even when comparing it with the *Sixth* Edition. Thus, it seems fair to say that the changes are limited to minor details (such as the correction of typos), as opposed to major reorganizations of the book.

The major part of the book comprises 26 Lessons (pp. 1-123). The Contents lists the main topic or topics for the lesson, but does not, on average, list any other keywords or subtopics. So in the Contents we can see, for example, that Lesson 1 is about “The Sanskrit Alphabet” and that Lesson 13 concerns “Personal Pronouns — Passive Voice”; other than that, we have to go the pages in question to learn more about exactly what is taught in the respective chapters.

Each Lesson introduces one or several new grammatical topics, and comes with relevant tables and examples. Each Lesson also typically has a 20-40 word vocabulary, and various declination, conjugation, and translation exercises (without answers).

Right after Lesson 26 is a long table of “Verbal Roots with Their Principal Parts” (pp. 124-135), showing, for each verbal root, its present active, present passive, past passive participle, indeclinable past passive (i.e. gerund), and infinitive forms. There is also a “Sanskrit-English Glossary” (pp. 136-150) with all the words in the lesson vocabularies (pp.), as well as a corresponding “English-Sanskrit Glossary” (pp. 151-163) with look-up terms in English. The “Systematic Index” (pp. 164-166) displays 10 main grammatical headings (“Declension”, “Numerals”, “Participles”, etc.), under which one may find various subgroups and terms, together with their respective page references.

REVIEW

1. The Book

This is not an expensive, high-quality paperback produced in the West; it is an old edition produced in India before digital printing arrived. The printing quality is actually surprisingly good (only one or two pages with way too little ink), although not as good as the average 1970s mass paperbacks produced in the West. The paper quality is not “acid-free”, and the quality of the binding is not perfect. So if you are buying a copy of this book second hand, you should not be surprised to find that the pages are very yellow, or that they partly are loose, or that the glue is dried out. If that is a potential worry for you, then try to get hold of a very recent edition instead.

2. Devanagari and Transliteration

This book is not for people who only want to read Sanskrit in transliteration. For this book does not use any type of transliteration. All examples, tables, vocabularies, as well as all places where particular infixes, affixes, or suffixes of declensions and conjugations are discussed are only represented in Devanagari.

As for the learning of Devanagari, there is not very much help provided in the book. This is especially of concern to the beginning self-study student. But since it is so evident that this book is not primarily designed for self-study students, there is little to complain about. Since it has been written to be used in Indian High Schools, many Indian students already know the Devanagari script (if they already know how to read and write Hindi, they also know the Devanagari alphabet); or, if they do not already know it, it may be separately dealt with by the instructor in class.

Another thing that is of concern is that the Devanagari is typeset in a relatively small size. This fact, in combination with the fact that the print is not always as perfectly black as it is in western-produced books, may lead to that the student sometimes will have problems knowing what letter is printed. It is therefore advisable that the self-study student locates other books that introduces the Sanskrit alphabet more gently and rigorously (for example,  Introduction to Sanskrit, Part One by Thomas Egenes), so that he or she can establish a solid foundation of Devanagari reading skills before actually starting to use Antoine’s book.

3. The Lesson Texts

There are many good things to be said about the lesson texts. One good thing is that Antoine really expresses himself very concisely. One may perhaps even say that this is the shortest possible account of an introductory Sanskrit grammar — the ultimate “minimalistic” version. There may be one or two other grammars that are just as short; but no other grammars are substantially shorter if they also cover the same portions of the grammar as Antoine does.

Apart from Antoine’s ability to write very concisely, he is also precise and simple (even compared to the concise Deshpande in his Samskrta-Subodhini). In this book the sentences are created with a minimal amount of difficult English words in the general explanations of the grammar. Antoine is very careful to not sound pretentious, and it is evident that both he and his editor have carefully seen to that this book is one that should be eminently readable, and as un-cryptic as an introductory Sanskrit textbook possibly could be.

Nevertheless, because of its minimalistic nature, there are many places in which the (self-study) student might find himself or herself in need of a longer, more detailed text. For the student taking a class this may be solved rather easily in class, where focused questions may be put to the teacher; but the self-study student does not have that option; so it is therefore not a bad idea for the self-study student to use Antoine’s book only as a complement textbook rather than to regard it as the main text.

4. Examples, Tables, and Presentation

There has gone in a lot of effort into producing this volume. This is not only evident in the well-edited text, but also in other aspects of the book. For example, the declension and conjugation tables really look like tables, and do not disintegrate into something that is half-table, half body copy. And the vocabulary lists are also just as minimalistic and simple, and eminently readable (in contast to, for example, Goldman and Goldman’s glossaries, which curiously isolates the Devanagari terms on their own lines).

In terms of the lesson texts this is visible in how the text has been carefully typeset. Although a little small, the Devanagari has been very nicely integrated with the explanatory English text. So this text is much better “inline” typeset than, say, the lesson texts in Maurer’s The Sanskrit Language.

Another aspect of the better typesetting is that, unlike Maurer’s text (and some other Western productions), there is a variety in the typography that makes the text “alive”. So there are frequent indents (and a new line) when the author needs to present a list of concepts or words; and he also uses italic and bold typefaces to “modulate” the text and to stress certain ideas, concepts, and keywords.

It is also important here to point out that the previously mentioned typographical variety is a well-formed one, and one following the standard of professionally crafted books. Thus, Antoine’s book is not one in which the text is just “whimsically” varied, but it looks very good and “together”, with the variety applied in a sensible and aesthetically pleasing manner. In this case, then, it is quite different from Goldman and Goldman’s Devavanipravesika, which attempts to provide typographical “variety” but doesn’t succeed in producing a nice, easily-readable text. So while Antoine’s typography is elegant, Goldman and Goldman’s is clumsy.

5. Exercises but no solutions

There are lots of exercises in the lessons, but no solutions. This is of course not a mistake on the part of the author, for this book is intended, as its title suggest, to be used in high schools; so the exercises presumably are thought to be solved as homework and then handed in to the instructor for grading.

However, if one is a self-study student, then one may very well proceed with the exercises even without the answers (especially if already has done similar exercises in other books where there are answers). One reason for this is that some “exercises” do not even involve any translations, “only” memorization (the vocabulary is the first “exercise” of each lesson); of course, the beginning student may want to write them down anyway, not only to consolidate his or her Devanagari writing skills, but also to learn the words themselves.

Another reason for the self-study student to approach these exercises is simply one of repetition and usage: even without producing perfectly correct translations of the exercise sentences, one still has to recognize and use the words from the vocabulary, as well as integrate trying to integrate the rules of the grammar. In this process one will nevertheless build a vocabulary, even if one doesn’t succeed with the sandhi or the declension or the conjugation, etc.

6. Conclusion

This is a valuable volume for most Sanskrit students (as is its sister volume, Part II). However, one should note that this book does not feature exhaustive explanations of the grammar; rather, it is more appropriate to regard it as an “Outline of Sanskrit Grammar” because of its very systematic, minimalistic, “bare-bones” approach. Self-study students should therefore probably not regard this Antoine volume as their “main” textbook, but use it as a complementary text to their “main” Sanskrit textbook. 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
+5 very short and to-the-point explanations of Sanskrit usage
+5 short and well-designed example sentences go well with the grammar text
+5 exercises are not cryptic, but straight-forward
+4 there is a stress on Sanskrit composition in the exercises
+3 good appendixes
+3 the systematic index is nice

7B. Summary: The Bad

how bad the bad
-5 there are no answers to the exercises
-4 the Devanagari is very nicely typeset, but a somewhat too small font is used
-4 there could have been more reference tables at the end
-4 a general index would have been good, in addition to the systematic index

Edition Details:

Title (1): Sanskrit Manual for High Schools, Part I
Title (2): Sanskrit Manual for High Schools, Part One
Title (3): Sanskrit Manual for High Schools, Part 1
Part: Whole
Author: Robert Antoine
Publisher (1): St. Xavier’s College (School Stationery), Calcutta
Publisher (2): Xavier Publication, Calcutta
Year: 1978
Edition: Eighth edition
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 166 pp. (+ 6 pages front matter).
ISBN-10-a: —
ISBN-10-b: —
ISBN-13-a: —
ISBN-13-b: —

See also: Book Reviews | Sanskrit Grammar | All Articles

——————————

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

First published: 23 Mar 2013
Last revised: 11 Jan 2014

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5 thoughts on “Review of A Sanskrit Manual for High Schools, Part I (1) by Robert Antoine

  1. This is a useful review. It not only discusses the format of the text and its different editions, it also includes the content of the text and its usefulness to the self-study student. It also creatively compares Antoine’s manual with other Sanskrit text books written by scholars and notes its merits over them. The review covers the good and bad points of the manual.
    John Arun Kumar

  2. Pingback: Reviews of Introduction to Sanskrit, Part One | Tom's Blog

  3. Thank you for all your very useful reviews.

    It seems that a “Key to Antoine’s Sanskrit Manual (Parts I &II)” (Chennai 2012) is recently published in India.

    Best wishes !

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