Ollett A. Language of the Snakes: Prakrit, Sanskrit, and the Language Order of Premodern India. MESAAS [Internet]. 2015. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Language of the Snakes is a biography of Prakrit, one of premodern India’s most important and most neglected literary languages. Prakrit was the language of a literary tradition that flourished from roughly the 1st to the 12th century CE. During this period, it served as a counterpart to Sanskrit, the preeminent language of literature and learning in India. Together, Sanskrit and Prakrit were the foundation for an enduring “language order” that governed the way that people thought of and used language. Language of the Snakes traces the history of this language order through the historical articulations of Prakrit, which are set out here for the first time: its invention and cultivation among the royal courts of central India around the 1st century CE, its representation in classical Sanskrit and Prakrit texts, the ways it is made into an object of systematic knowledge, and ultimately its displacement from the language practices of literature. Prakrit is shown to have played a critical role in the establishment of the cultural-political formation now called the “Sanskrit cosmopolis,” as shown through a genealogy of its two key practices, courtly literature (kāvya-) and royal eulogy (praśasti-). It played a similarly critical role in the emergence of vernacular textuality, as it provided a model for language practices that diverged from Sanskrit but nevertheless possessed an identity and regularity of their own. Language of the Snakes thus offers a cultural history of Prakrit in contrast to the natural-history framework of previous studies of the language. It uses Prakrit to formulate a theory of literary language as embedded in an ordered set of cultural practices rather than by contrast to spoken language.

Ollett A. Ritual Texts and Literary Texts in Abhinavagupta’s Aesthetics: Notes on the Beginning of the ‘Critical Reconstruction’. Journal of Indian Philosophy [Internet]. 2015. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In a recent paper in this Journal Hugo David discussed the possible sources for the comparison that Abhinavagupta draws between ritual and literary discourse at the beginning of his “critical reconstruction” of the theory of rasa in the sixth chapter of his New Dramatic Art. The question of Abhinavagupta’s sources raises more general questions about Abhinavagupta’s use of the concepts and analytical procedures of Mīmāṃsā in his literary-theoretical works. What, if anything, does Mīmāṃsā really have to do with the analysis of literary texts? How, if at all, can we construct parallels between ritual and literary texts such that the hermeneutics of one can illuminate the hermeneutics of the other? And more specifically, what are the examples that might convince us that there are such parallels? With these questions I attempt, modestly, to reach a somewhat better understanding of the beginning of Abhinavagupta’s “critical reconstruction,” which has already received a disproportionate amount of scholarly attention. I also hope, however, that this passage might serve as an example for how to think of the “borrowing” of concepts typically associated with Mīmāṃsā into the realm of literary theory.

Ollett A. Ghosts from the Past: India’s Undead Languages. Indian Economic and Social History Review [Internet]. 2014;51 (4) :405–456. Publisher's VersionAbstract

What is Paiśācī and how does it fit into a larger history of language and literature in pre-modern India? A re-examination of the sources suggests three points: first, that when people first started talking about Paiśācī in the mid-first millennium CE, it was not thought to be a language in the same sense that Sanskrit and Prakrit were languages; second, that Paiśācī was integrated into Indian classifications of language at a later stage (ninth–tenth centuries), through the related influences of theatrical knowledge (nāṭyaśāstra) and Prakrit grammar; third, that the Bṛhatkathā—which has always been imagined to be ground zero for Paiśācī—was ‘lost’ not just in the weak sense (of a text that is no longer available at a certain time and place) but in a stronger sense (of a text that is fundamentally incompatible with the principles of textuality operative at a certain time and place). I conclude that the term Paiśācī is a playful reinterpretation of bhūtabhāṣā, ‘the language of the past’, and that the language is a relic of a textual culture that itself became a ‘ghost’ with the advent of the Sanskrit cosmopolis around the second century CE.

Ollett A. Thieves in the Storehouse of Sarasvatī: Metaliterary Aspects of the Caurapañcāśika. Asian Literature and Translation [Internet]. 2014;2 (4) :1–15. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The Caurapañcāśikā is a short Sanskrit poem about remembered love. It can,
however, be read as a poem about poetry: its ascription to the poet Bilhaṇa, the
stories about its composition, and the choice of metaphors in the text invite us to
think of the beloved as an embodiment of literature (kāvya), and the poet’s
constant return to her in memory as a model of the kind of relationship that
participants in a literary culture (sahṛdayas, rasikas) have to literature. The main
implications of this reading are the attribution to literature of the qualities of the
beloved—and vice versa—and the characterization of literature as an inalienable
possession in the “storehouse of Sarasvatī in the heart,” which memory keeps
safe from the dangers of political life to which it is constantly exposed.

Ollett A. The gaṇacchandas in the Indian Metrical Tradition. In: Mirnig N, Szánto P-D, Williams M Puṣpikā: Tracing Ancient India through Texts and Traditions. Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxbow Books ; 2013. pp. 331–364.Abstract

I look at the definition of the āryā/gāthā and related meters in Sanskrit and Prakrit texts on metrics and try to relate these treatments to historical developments in the repertoire of verse-forms in Indian literature. (This was written before "Moraic Feet in Prakrit Metrics," which makes a few corrections.)

Ollett A. What is Bhāvanā?. Journal of Indian Philosophy [Internet]. 2013;41 (3) :221–262. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Bhāvanā, “bringing into being,” is one of Mīmāṃsā's hallmark concepts. It connects text and action in a single structure of meaning. This conjunction was crucially important to Mīmāṃsā’s own interpretive enterprise, and functioned—controversially but influentially—in a broader theory of language. The goal of this paper is to outline bhāvanā’s major contours as it is developed by Kumārilabhaṭṭa and some his followers (Maṇḍanamiśra, Pārthasārathimiśra, Someśvarabhaṭṭa,  Khaṇḍaadeva, and Āpadeva) and to examine some of the arguments they marshaled in support of it. Bhāvanā is shown to open up, for these Mīmāṃsakas, an understanding of the “deep structure” of Vedic injunctions and the vocabulary for systematically representing it; it accounts for both what people do when they perform an action that is enjoined (ārthī bhāvanā) and what the injunction itself does when it motivates people to performance (śābdī bhāvanā). Bhāvanā has resonances with, and relevance to, contemporary discussions of the nexus of language, understanding, and action, and its value as a carefully-elaborated concept of hermeneutical significance should not be overlooked.

Ollett A. Moraic Feet in Prakrit Metrics: A Constraint-Based Approach. Transactions of the Philological Society [Internet]. 2012;110 (12) :241–282. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The traditional description of the gaṇacchandas family of metres of Sanskrit and Prakrit literature, of which the āryā metre is the best known, refers to gaṇas or ‘groups’ of mātrās. Mātrās correspond to the ‘moras’ of modern phonology. In this paper the āryā is given a detailed analysis on the basis of the traditional description and the empirical data provided by its use in an early Prakrit anthology, the Sattasaī. Several new metrical phenomena are identified, and the incidence of syllabic patterns, rhythmic structures, word boundaries, and stress are considered. The prosodic foot is shown to play an important role in the regulation of the āryā’s categorical and gradient patterns. This analysis uses Optimality Theory to account for both kinds of patterns and supports recent research that holds partially ranked constraints responsible for gradient patterns in metrical corpora. Other theories, which derive metrical structure by bottom-up rules, fail to account for the āryā’s characteristic patterns.