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Linguistic speculation and investigation, insofar as is known, has gone on in only a small number of societies. To the extent that Mesopotamian, Chinese, and Arabic learning dealt with grammar, their treatments were so enmeshed in the particularities of those languages and so little known to the European world until recently that they have had virtually no impact on Western linguistic tradition. Chinese linguistic and philological scholarship stretches back for more than two millennia, but the interest of those scholars was concentrated largely on phonetics, writing, and lexicography; their consideration of grammatical problems was bound up closely with the study of logic.

Certainly the most interesting non-Western grammatical tradition—and the most original and independent—is that of India, which dates back at least two and one-half millennia and which culminates with the grammar of Panini, of the 5th century BC. There are three major ways in which the Sanskrit tradition has had an impact on modern linguistic scholarship. As soon as Sanskrit became known to the Western learned world the unravelling of comparative Indo-European grammar ensued and the foundations were laid for the whole 19th-century edifice of comparative philology and historical linguistics. But, for this, Sanskrit was simply a part of the data; Indian grammatical learning played almost no direct part. Nineteenth-century workers, however, recognized that the native tradition of phonetics in ancient India was vastly superior to Western knowledge; and this had important consequences for the growth of the science of phonetics in the West. Thirdly, there is in the rules or definitions (sutras) of Panini a remarkably subtle and penetrating account of Sanskrit grammar. The construction of sentences, compound nouns, and the like is explained through ordered rules operating on underlying structures in a manner strikingly similar in part to modes of contemporary theory. As might be imagined, this perceptive Indian grammatical work has held great fascination for 20th-century theoretical linguists. A study of Indian logic in relation to Paninian grammar alongside Aristotelian and Western logic in relation to Greek grammar and its successors could bring illuminating insights.

Whereas in ancient Chinese learning a separate field of study that might be called grammar scarcely took root, in ancient India a sophisticated version of this discipline developed early alongside the other sciences. Even though the study of Sanskrit grammar may originally have had the practical aim of keeping the sacred Vedic texts and their commentaries pure and intact, the study of grammar in India in the 1st millennium BC had already become an intellectual end in itself