Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

Indian student at Cambridge decodes Panini’s Language Machine


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Panini, Language Machine

Mains level: Not Much


A grammatical problem by Panini that has defeated Sanskrit scholars since the 5th Century BC has finally been solved by an Indian Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge.

Who was Panini?

  • Panini was a Sanskrit philologist, grammarian, and revered scholar in ancient India, variously dated between the 6th and 4th century BCE.
  • Since the discovery and publication of his work by European scholars in the nineteenth century, Panini has been considered the “first descriptive linguist” and even labelled as “the father of linguistics”.
  • Panini’s grammar was influential on such foundational linguists as Ferdinand de Saussure and Leonard Bloomfield.

Major literary works

  • Panini is known for his texts- Astadhyayi, a sutra-style treatise on Sanskrit grammar, verses or rules on linguistics, syntax and semantics in “eight chapters” which is the foundational text of the Vyakarna branch of the Vedanga.
  • His text attracted numerous bhashya (commentaries), of which Patanjali’s Mahabhashya is the most famous.
  • His ideas influenced and attracted commentaries from scholars of other Indian religions such as Buddhism.

What is the recent breakthrough?

  • Panini had an extraordinary mind and he built a language machine unrivaled in human history.
  • The 2,500-year-old algorithm decoded by him makes it possible, for the first time, to accurately use Panini’s so-called “language machine”.
  • This discovery makes it possible to “derive” any Sanskrit word, to construct millions of grammatically correct words, using Panini’s language machine.
  • This is widely considered to be one of the greatest intellectual achievements in history.

How does this language machine works?

  • Panini’s system – 4,000 rules detailed in his renowned work, the Astadhyayi, which is thought to have been written around 500 BC – is meant to work like a machine.
  • Feed in the base and suffix of a word and it should turn them into grammatically correct words and sentences through a step-by-step process.

Significance of this development

  • A major implication of the recent discovery is that now there is an algorithm that runs Panini’s grammar.
  • We can potentially teach this grammar to computers.
  • Computer scientists working on Natural Language Processing (NLP) gave up on rule-based approaches over 50 years ago.
  • NLP is a branch of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning.
  • So teaching computers how to combine the speaker’s intention with Panini’s rule-based grammar to produce human speech would be a major milestone in the history of human interaction with machines.


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1 year ago

It’s great to hear about an Indian student decoding Panini’s language machine at Cambridge! Panini was an ancient Indian scholar who is considered the father of linguistics and grammar. He developed a comprehensive system of grammar for Sanskrit, which is known as Ashtadhyayi. Panigrahi’s work involved creating a computer program that could analyze the text of the Ashtadhyayi and identify the underlying grammar rules and also visit site there. By using this program, he was able to map out the complex structure of the grammar and gain a deeper understanding of the language.

Last edited 1 year ago by Aadil Mclean


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