From word meanings to sentence meaning: A workshop in Cambridge

From Word Meanings to Sentence Meaning:

Different Perspectives in Indian Philosophy of Language

The reflection on language and its structures was a major component of the Sanskritic intellectual horizon, intimately connected with the broader epistemological and soteriological concerns of different schools. This led to the emergence of various conflicting philosophical views on the nature of the cognition obtained from language (śābdabodha). In this respect, a pivotal issue is how padārthas (the meanings/referents of words) relate to vākyārtha (the meaning/referent of the sentence). During this one-day colloquium, the focus will especially be on the views set forth by the Pūrva-Mīmāṃsā philosophers (Bhāṭṭa and Prābhākara), the Buddhists, the Grammarians, and the theoreticians of Alaṃkāraśāstra, and on the reconstruction of the debate as it developed in the course of the first millennium CE.


Date: November 11, 2016

Time: 9:30 am – 6:00 pm

Commenting on a great scholar of Indian philosophy (M. Biardeau)

Who influenced you more in Indian philosophy? Whose methodology do you follow, perhaps without even being aware of it?

Before you answer, let us try to focus on women before we think at the many other men who might have been influential.
I, for one, cannot stop admiring Madeleine Biardeau‘ s work.

Kumārila on sentence-meaning: Mahābhāṣya opponents?

At the beginning of his chapter on sentence meaning, Kumārila sets the problem of what is the meaning-bearer in the case of a sentence (see this post). Later in the chapter, he will discuss sphoṭa, apoha and then present his abhihitānvayavāda, but first he discusses in general the possibility of a sentence-meaning. There can be no sentence-meaning out of the sum of the word-meanings, since those are instantaneous and cannot connect (kā 6–8). The same applies to their cognitions (kā 9). Further, neither words (pada) nor the concepts evoked by them (tadbuddhi) can really connect, so that a sentence-meaning is stricto sensu impossible.

A possible narrative on the history of linguistics in India

In classical Indian philosophy, linguistics and philosophy of language are of central importance and inform further fields, such as epistemology and poetics. Thus, looking at the debates on linguistics and philosophy of language offers one a snapshot on the lively philosophical arena of classical India.

pada-vākya-pramāṇa… Since when?

If you have read post-Classical śāstra, you will have certainly encountered the formulation above, describing the three foundational disciplines as focusing on
words (pada), i.e., grammatical analysis in Vyākaraṇa
sentences (vākya), i.e., textual linguistics in Mīmāṃsā
means of knowledge (pramāṇa), i.e., epistemology in Nyāya

Linguistic Communication as an Instrument of Knowledge: A panel

I came back last week from Athens, were I had organised together with Malcolm Keating a panel on Linguistic Communication as an instrument of knowledge. I ended up framing the problem according to four basic questions, namely 1) What do we know? , 2) How (through which instrument of knowledge) do we know it?, 3) What is the role of language as a medium?, 4) What is the role of the social context?

Mīmāṃsā and Grammar

Did Mīmāṃsā influence Indian Grammar? Or did they both develop out of a shared prehistory?

Long-time readers might remember that this is one of my pet topics (see this book). Probably due to the complex technicalities involved, apart from Jim Benson, not many people have been working on this topic, but in the last few days I had the pleasure to get in touch with Sharon Ben-Dor (who worked on paribhāṣās, more on his articles in a future topic) and then to receive the following invitation:

Doing things another way: Bhartṛhari on “substitutes” (pratinidhi)
Time: Friday, 17. October 2014, Beginn: 15:00 c.t.
Place: Institut für Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens, Seminarraum 1, Apostelgasse 23, 1030 Wien
Speakers: Vincenzo Vergiani and Hugo David (Cambridge)

Enough with the “eternality of sound” in Mimamsa!

F.X. D’Sa Sabdapramanyam in Sabara and Kumarila (Vienna 1980) is one of the very first books on Mimamsa I read and I am thus very grateful to its author. Further, it is a fascinating book, one that —I thought— shows intriguing hypotheses (e.g., that Sabara meant “Significance” by dharma) which cannot be confounded with a scholarly philological enquire in the texts themselves.

How exactly does one seize the meaning of a word? K. Yoshimizu 2011 (and Kataoka forthc.) on Dignāga and Kumārila UPDATED

We all know that for Dignāga the meaning of a word is apoha ‘exclusion’. But how does one seize it and avoid the infinite regress of excluding non-cows because one has understood what “cow” means? Kataoka at the last IABS maintained (if I understood him correctly) that Dignāga did not directly face the problem of how could one seize the absence of non-cows. He also explained that the thesis he attributes to Hattori and Yoshimizu, which makes the apoha depend on the seizing of something positive (e.g., one seizes the exclusion of non-cows because one seizes the exclusion of dewlap, etc.) contradicts the negative nature of apoha, since it indirectly posits positive entities, such as dewlaps. But this leaves the question of how apoha can take place in the worldly experience open.

What is the difference between nouns and verbs (according to Mīmāṃsā authors)? Diaconescu vs. Clooney

What do nouns mean? And what is the difference between nouns and verbs? Pūrva Mīmāṃsā authors are rightly known as having conceived the first textual linguistics in South Asia. In this sense, their theory differs from the Vyākaraṇa one, as it does not start with basic forms having already underwent an analysis (vyākaraṇa), but rather with complex textual units, the sacrificial prescriptions of the Brāhmaṇas.