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Sumitra Mangesh Katre

Dr Sumitra Mangesh Katre (1906-1998) was a lexicographer (lexicography being the study and research on compilation of dictionaries), and a scholar involved in researching Indo-Aryan linguistics. He was born to an upwardly mobile and well off Saraswat family of Honnavar (Uttara Kannada).

One of his early works, The Formation of Konkani (first published in 1942, reprinted in 1966) is a tribute to his mother tongue. Using historical data and tools of comparative linguistics, he identified 6 typical Konkani dialects to show the formation and roots of Konkani to be distinct from that of Marathi. In his own words “In my Comparative Glossary of Konkani (Calcutta Oriental Journal, vol.2 No.1) I have attempted a study of nearly 20 dialects, materials for which are available in a varying degree. In the present work, however, I shall limit myself to the following dialects which, besides being representative, provide rich material in form of grammars, dictionaries, glossaries and contemporary literature. These dialects are: Konkani spoken by the Kanara or Chitrapur Sarasvats; Konkani spoken by the Gauda Sarasvats; Konkani of the Goa Hindus, represented particularly in the writings of Mr.Valavlikar and in the Quarterly Journal “Nave Goy” published by the Gomantak Press in Bombay; Konkani of the Christians of Mangalore and South Kanara; Konkani of the Christians of North Kanara and Konkani of the Christians of Goa”.

In his work, Dr Katre examines the development of Konkani language under the broad rubric of Phonology, Morphology, and the Syntax. Tracing its development over the ages, he says that “we may safely assume that Konkani was not the language of a single homogenous community, its heterogeneity embraced Brahmins and non Brahmins.” Thus, he notes, “the classification of Konkani goes hand in hand with the social and community stratification of society, or guild as instanced by the language of the Sonars (goldsmiths) of Goa or the Gavdis, a wandering tribe in the Kanaras and the area of Cochin, who deal with and specialize in herbs. It was their cooperation that gave botanists like Van Reede the specimens of herbs found in Malabar, along with their local names, while writing the compendium Hortus Indicus Malabaricus.”

Dr. Katre further notes that his present study of Konkani took all of 6 years to compile. The objective of it has been, he says, “to stimulate interest in the speakers of these dialects in the study of their mother tongues, and to show the methods that could be applied to that study from a modern and scientific point of view.” He admits there are many gaps in this study, particularly for less known dialects from fast disappearing communities. This predicates the need, he says, for the study of descriptive grammars of all such dialects, together with study of their phonetics; retention/record of folk songs and proverbs in each dialect for posterity.

After obtaining a degree in Mathematics, Katre travelled to UK hoping to continue studies there, but changed course to join the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at London, completing his doctorate in 1931. He was interested in Sanskrit and in particular, Panini*. On his return, he worked successively with the Asiatic Society of Bombay and Wadia College before joining Deccan College, Pune. By 1939-40, Deccan College had taken shape as a Post- graduate And Research Institute, where he served as Professor of Indo- European Philology. At Deccan College, the Centre of Advanced Study in Linguistics is the oldest department in this genre in India, and was founded by Dr.Katre in 1939. He was later promoted as Director of this Institute. During his tenure, he oversaw expansion of Deccan College into a two-campus university, with two museums for Maratha History and Archaeological Studies. His bibliography includes Prakrit Languages and their Contribution to Indian Culture (1964) and Formation of Konkani Language (1966). His life`s work however was on Panini. He translated the cryptic Panini grammar sutras into English, and published a dictionary to assist the reading of Panini.

Among his outstanding contributions was also the initiative of creating an “An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Sanskrit according to Historical Principles” (1947), a long term research activity, that relied on a text base of over 1500 scriptures and documents. He directed research on this, and his persistence with the project ensured that the College/Institute continued to be engaged with this academic exercise. The Katre Collection of books, manuscripts and works on Linguistics was set up in his name at the Research Institute, where it rubs shoulders with Collections in the names of famed scholars such as the noted sociologist/anthropologist Iravati Karve; the first curator of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Instt., Dr. P.K. Gode; the well known Indologist and Sanskrit scholar Mahamahopadhyaya P.V. Kane, among others.
*Sanskrit grammarian (6th century BCE) who laid out a systematic theory of phonetics and phonology. He is credited as author of ‘Ashtadhyayi’ (Eight chapters), a treatise on Sanskrit grammar with verses/rules on syntax and semantics, forming the discipline of Vyakarana.

============= thanks Shri Anand Savur and Smt Padma Savur for their cooperation and support in producing this digital publication. We also thank Smt Mamta Savkur without whom this eBook may never have been.

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