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The Grammar of the Elements — did the Sanskrit alphabet influence Mendeleev’s periodic table?

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Drammensveien 78, 0271 Oslo

General reference: Ghosh, A.; Kiparsky, P. The grammar of the elements: "Did the Sanskrit alphabet influence the construction of Mendeleev’s periodic table?" American Scientist, 2019, 107, 350-355.

https://www.americanscientist.org/article/the-grammar-of-the-elements

 

Foredrag ved professor i kjemi ved Universitetet i Tromsø - Norges arktiske universitet, Abhik Ghosh

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Sammendrag
Among the many originators of the periodic table, Mendeleev was unique in recognizing the existence of unknown elements, for which he left empty spots in the periodic table. Extraordinarily, he marked this supreme insight by giving partially Sanskrit names to those elements. Why Sanskrit?

Before answering the ‘why’, I will address the question ‘what is Sanskrit?’. Sanskrit is one of the classical languages of ancient India (the other being Tamil) and the source of all major northern Indian languages such as Hindi-Urdu and Bengali, but it’s also much more. It has a central position in linguistics. Not only did the Sanskrit scholar Pāṇini (~500 BCE) give us the first analytical study of language, a comparative study of Sanskrit and European languages in the nineteenth century led to the hypothesis that they had all ‘sprung from some common source’, which we today call proto-Indo-European. Thus, Sanskrit and European languages not only share innumerable cognates (morphologically similar words with a common origin), but also common myths (such as creation myths in the Rigveda and the Icelandic poetic eddas) and poetic meters. Archeological evidence across Eurasia has long supported the common origin of these languages, indicating the Pontic-Caspian steppes as the most plausible homeland of the proto-Indo-Europeans. Today, ancient DNA studies are affording unprecedented detail on the paths and chronology of Indo-European migrations – indeed on ‘who we are and where we came from’ (to use David Reich’s phrase).

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Illustrasjonsbilde 3. februar 2022
Medieval birch bark copy of a page of Panini’s grammar

Not long ago, the Stanford linguist Paul Kiparsky suggested that an elementary awareness of Sanskrit grammar may have played a role in inspiring Mendeleev to formulate the periodic table, a debt that he apparently acknowledged through the Sanskrit names. As potentially the world’s only practicing chemist and fluent Sanskrit speaker, I have examined this proposal critically and will conclude by articulating why I find it plausible.

Om Abhik Ghosh
Abhik Ghosh skrev i forbindelse med 150-årsjubileet for det periodiske system i 2019 en artikkel i American Scientist “The Grammar of the Elements — did the Sanskrit alphabet influence Mendeleev’s periodic table?”.

Hans medforfatter, Paul Kiparsky, er lingvist fra Stanford.  Artikkelen ble kåret til “Most Popular Article” i 2019 i American Scientist.  

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Foredragsholder 3. februar
Abhik Ghosh

Abhik Ghosh er professor i uorganisk og materialkjemi ved UiT – Norges arktiske universitet. Han vokste opp i India og fikk sin PhD fra University of Minnesota i 1992 under veiledning av Paul G. Gassman og i et nært samarbeid med tidligere professor ved UiO Jan Almlöf. Ghosh er kjent for sitt utstrakte arbeid innenfor biouorganisk kjemi som i 2022 har gitt han anerkjennelse i form av Hans Fischer Career Award for livstidsprestasjoner i porfyrinvitenskap. Han er også en dedikert underviser og har skrevet flere tekstbøker og populærvitenskapelig tekster, inkludert Arrow Pushing in Inorganic Chemistry som vant PROSE award for Best Textbook in Mathematics and Physical Sciences i 2015. Ghosh er også en forkjemper for mangfold og inkludering og har nylig skrevet en biografi om Martin Gouterman, en av de første åpne homofile blant ledende kjemikere i moderne tid (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/anie.202012840).