In his contribution to a recent symposium (Does Asia think differently? –Symposium zu Ehre Ernst Steinkellners), as well as in many other publications of him (e.g., Langage et Réalité: sur un épisode de la pensée indienne, 1999), Johannes Bronkhorst answered that yes, there is a substantial difference between “our” thought and the Indian one, in so far as the latter does not distinguish between purely linguistic problems and genuine ones.
For instance, Indians argued for centuries, according to Bronkhorst, about the ontological status of a linguistic object which is linguistically present before its actual existence, such as a pot in “the potter makes the pot”. Westerners would have immediately labeled the pot as non-existing until it is realised by the potter and would not have not paused on its ontology, whereas Indians never distinguished between linguistic and external reality.
This is an interesting insight, and in fact there are several elements suggesting (as Karl Potter maintained) that the “linguistic turn” occurred in India much earlier than in Europe (note that I am saying the same thing Bronkhorst said, but looking at it from a more favourable perspective), such as the insistence on the analysis of linguistic data in order to solve epistemological or ontological issues (cf. the insistence on the linguistic use śabdaṃ kṛ- within the debate about the ontological status of śabda).
However, many Buddhist schools seem to aptly distinguish between the two (e.g., insofar as language is vikalpa and only the ultimate particular, which escapes language, is real). The same applies, as far as my knowledge reaches, at least also to Mīmāṃsakas. For instance, Rāmānujācārya speaks of karman (the linguistic object) and kriyāphala (the result of the action, as an ontological reality) as two distinct realities (cf. Tantrarahasya, IV §3.13.2: kriyāphalaśali karma).
What do you think? Which evidences for or against the self-assumed equivalence of language and thought did you encounter?
(Cross-posted, with minor differences, on the Indian Philosophy blog)