Mīmāṃsakas subscribe to the idea that words convey word-meanings, and thus refute the Bhartṛharian holism. The relation between a word as meaningful unit and its meaning is fixed, as it is proved by our common experience of words, and it cannot be denied in favour of a view focusing on the text as a whole and rejecting without compelling reasons our prima facie experience of words as meaningful units.
Given that one can thus establish that words are meaningful, what exactly do they convey?
Mainstream Mīmāṃsā authors claim, against Nyāya ones, that words convey universals, while sentences convey particulars. This is, again, confirmed, by our common experience, in which words figure again and again denoting the same element recurring in several particular items, namely their underlying universal aspect. However, this thesis implies that words would never be able to convey a complex state of affairs on their own accord, and would therefore be almost useless. By contrast, a complex state of affairs (viśiṣṭārtha in the Mīmāṃsā jargon) is conveyed by a sentence. This means that the sentence-meaning is more than the sheer sum of word-meanings. The process of sentence‐signification, leading from word‐meanings to the sentence‐meaning, is distinctly explained by the two main Mīmāṃsā schools, Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsā and Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā. Both schools agree on the basic tenets seen so far, but they differ on the path leading from the words’ signification of universals to the sentence’s signification of a particular state of affairs. According to Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsā authors, words conclude their function in denoting their own universal meanings. These, in turn, get connected into a complex sentence meaning through proximity, semantic fitness and syntactic expectancy. These three criteria correspond to the requirement of being uttered one after the other with no intervening time (unlike in the case of the words “a cow” and “runs” pronounced on two different days), being semantically fit to connect (unlike the words “watering” and “with fire”) and being linkable through syntactic expectancy (as in the case of a verb and its arguments). One might (as did Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā authors) object that in this case the sentence meaning would no longer be conveyed directly by words, but rather by their meanings. Bhāṭṭa authors reply that even the sentence meaning is a function of words, via their meanings. They therefore distinguish a direct denotation (abhidhā) of words, through which universals are denoted, and a secondary signification (lakṣaṇā), through which complex sentence meanings are conveyed.
By contrast, Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā authors, and especially Prabhākara’s main commentator, Śalikanātha, state that words get connected and denote the specified sentence meaning only once connected. This assures that the sentence meaning can be said to be linguistically conveyed, since there is not the intermediary step of word-meanings, something very important for the Mīmāṃsā epistemology of linguistic communication as a distinct instrument of knowledge. However, Prābhākara authors have to explain the fact that the own meanings of single words appear to have a role to play in the process, since there is an invariable concomitance between knowing the words’ individual meanings and knowing the sentence’s one. This tension between the opposing risks of atomism and holism is dealt with differently by various authors, who usually call for the memory of the individual word-meanings to play a role in the process. Words would accordingly cause one to remember their own meanings, get related to one another and then denote the complex sentence-meaning.