of language and of language use:
(Towards the foundations of comparative philosophy
basic and applied from Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research)
(New Delhi 9:3 May-August 1992)
‘Everyone thinks,’ said Goethe, ‘because he can speak,
that he can therefore speak about language.’ But this readiness on the
part of people to speak about language is not matched by the adequacy
their performance! Language is so close to us that this very closeness
may make it difficult for us to answer (or even to ask) the all important
question, what precisely is language?
Like money or tooth-brushes, language is
what it does. What language does for human beings has to do with the
variety of things that pass through the human mind. These mental contents
Observations of reality of varying degrees of
exactitude, such as: it’s raining; it’s pouring; it’s drizzling;
Observations on reality ranging from the delighted
response to the disgruntled response, such as: ah rain!; rain-oh no!;
Wishes and hopes, such as: if only it would rain!;
when the corn is ripe I do hope it won’t rain;
Plain demands, such as: rain, rain, go to Spain; let
me know how many millimeters of rain there was when I was away yesterday.
It is in order to convey these mental contents
to one another and thus keep up a social give-and-take that man invented
and perfected language as a means of communication. At least that is
how the first conception of language could be sent out.
The notion of communication is complex.
Or rather, communication could be conceived of in successively more
complex terms. At its simplest, communication consists is someone acting
in some way or producing something with the intent to convey a certain
mental content to someone. The next step involves a certain mutual
recognition of this communicative intent – the recipient is aware of
the other’s intent and the communicator in turn is aware that the recipient
is so aware and the recipient in turn is aware that the communicator
is so aware, and so forth. Finally, communication, at its most complex
level, goes beyond this mutuality of recognition tot he sharing of the
message-what is being conveyed to the addressee is also being conveyed
to the communicator.
Thus, a child shams distress for the benefit
of the mother. This is no more than a subcommunicative event. But
the experienced mother may see through the intent of the child and the
child in turn may come to recognize that the mother has recognized this
and so forth. However, this is still a subcommunicative event in which
the child plays the distress-shamming game with the mother. (If a child
cries genuinely out of distress, that will not qualify even as a subcommunicative
event, since there is no communicative intent on the part of the child
who is merely evincing a sign of distress.)
Again, a highway policeman may try to stop the car
being driven. He may do so by shooting a bullet into the tyre-this is
not even subcommunicative; nothing is being conveyed to the motorist
who may indeed mistakenly take it to be an accidental flat tyre. The
policeman’s intent is one of controlling the movement of the car. This
event involves not a communicative sign but a controlling move. If
the policeman leaves a large, conspicuous boulder on the road, something
is being intentionally conveyed to the motorist. The policeman is trying
to get the motorist to stop the car. In case the policeman himself
stands in the way, the success of this move depends not so much on the
controlling effect as on the mutuality of recognition of the policeman’s
communicative intent-the policeman is obviously trusting that the motorist
is not a moron or a criminal, who may think nothing of driving the car
into the policeman. Finally, a communicative event properly so called
occurs when the policeman waves his hand at the motorist. All three
conditions are now being satisfied, namely, the presence of a communicative
intent, its mutual recognition, and the sharing of the conveying. The
motorist is no mere recipient of the sign of hand-waving. The recipient
of the communicative intent can now truly qualify as the addressee of
Language events are necessarily communicative
events in the full sense, and not merely subcommunicative. They call
for not only the presence of communicative intent and mutuality in its
recognition, but also a sharing of the message between the addressee
(listener or reader, as the case may be and the communicative intent
and mutuality in its recognition, but also a sharing of the message
between the addressee (listener or reader, as the case may be) and the
communicator (speaker or writer, correspondingly). What one conveys
to another by means of language, one also conveys to oneself.
So much for the first conception of language.
Now let us consider an alternate conception of language.
Language is not merely a means but a medium as well.
It does not merely convey mental contents but also arranges, indeed
even shapes them, as in:
The dog bit the man: The man was bitten
by the dog.
It isn’t raining-it is pouring.
The first half of this last utterance is not so much
a denial proper as an offer to reshape. In the earlier pair of utterances,
the second can be seen to be a rearrangement of the first. Language
is more than a means of communication, it is a medium of understanding.
The notion of understanding is complex.
As we have already seen, mental content may consist in observations
of reality or observations on reality or entertaining designs on reality
(by way of wishes and hopes) or making demands on reality. (And reality
naturally includes fellow human beings-we could observe them, observe
upon them, observe upon them, wish or hope things of or form them, and
call upon them to do things or at least to answer questions.) Whatever
passes through our minds has to do with reality. As living beings,
we not merely cope with the environment but keep trying to understand
it with varying degrees of success.
Our understanding of the environment, of
reality if you will, may move in the direction of abstraction. In the
first phase of abstraction, we detect :-
(a) resemblances and differences
(b) contiguities and distances
(c) foregrounding and backgrounding.
For the present purpose, (1b) comprehends contiguities
and distances in any ‘space’ – inclusive of real time or real space.
In the second phase of abstraction there is a weighing – for instance,
if resemblances outweigh differences, homogeneities come into view and,
if differences outweigh resemblances, heterogeneities come into view.
So we detect:-
(a) homogeneities and heterogeneities
(b) cohesions and transitions
(c) figures and grounds.
In the third phase of abstraction the simplification
is even more drastic in each of the three parameters-
(a) identity and distinction
(b) union and separation
(c) presence and absence
For the present purpose the pole of presence at (3c)
comprehends both actual presence and potential presence. The mode of
abstraction also comprehends the relation of inferability (one quantity
being a function of another, for instance)
Relation of inferability
But abstraction, successively greater abstraction,
is not the only mode of human understanding. There is a second mode,
the mode of concretion. In the first phase of concretion, we are impressed
landscapes and scenarios;
in the second phase, what comes into salience are –
pictures and stories;
and in the third phase by what we read into the foregoing-
powers and mechanisms.
The mode of concretion also comprehends the relation
of participation (one entity partaking of and embodying another)-
of participation: something manifest is a manifestant of something unmanifest
with both participating in the same form or fund of energy but operating
at distinct levels. Thus, an attracting/repelling magnet manifesting
magnetic charge or an aware/agitated organism manifesting organic life
would be examples
Concretions are the stuff of which myths and rites,
scientific discoveries and technical inventions are made.
The two modes of understanding are co-present
in the life-history of a person, of a whole people, indeed of mankind.
Language is the medium of human understanding. It is through language
that man makes himself ‘at home’ in the universal, starry heavens and
If language mediates understanding, is
it wholly man-made? Is it wholly an acquisition or an achievement on
the part of a person, of a people, indeed of mankind? Or does it rather
devolve upon us as an inheritance or an innate gift? Is it as much a
human attribute as it is a human artifact? Is it, in some deeper sense,
nature-made in its essentials? True, language is what language does,
but not like money or tooth brushes (both being artifacts) but rather
is it like an elephant’s trunk or hibernation (both being bi-facts so
Small children come into language simply
as listeners to begin with. Indeed mother will even ‘address’ endearments
to babies, who from an early age respond to speech sounds in a way that
suggests that they recognize them to be quite distinct from other sounds,
including other man-made sounds. (Even as adults we retain this capacity
to spot language, even in a noisy environment and even with short, isolated
snatches of a language we are not familiar with.) Speaking comes to
the child much later. In the interval the child does not merely come
to categorize the sound of speech and speech sound sequences. Even
as it listens, these speech sound sequences, recurring sentences or
phrases or words come to be associated with specific contexts and, what
is more, specific mental contents arising in its mind (whether observations
or responses, wishes and hopes or demands) come in for rearrangement
and reshaping. The ordering of mental contents by way of abstraction
and concretion has been going on even otherwise, but language gives
it a boost. (Even as adults some of us at length the capacity to bypass
language for some time, as artists and musicians, engineers and scientists
will often testify.)
Consider the speed and ease, the perfection
and sweep with which a child acquires the language (or languages in
a bilingual/multilingual environment) between the ages of one and five.
Indeed every child that is not deaf or feeble-minded or deprived of
language exposure (such as having been brought up in seclusion by deaf-mutes
or wolves) comes to acquire nearly adult-like control of language well
before it reaches the age of seven. If, for any reason, this fails
to happen, the person has, so to say, missed the bus and cannot acquire
more than the rudiments of a ‘first language’ past the age of seven
or so. This is all the more remarkable if one considers how, most of
the time, the child simply jumps to conclusions from bits and pieces
of language use by way of clues. Suppose the child comes across the
two following utterances in Hindi (or Urdu) at a short interval:
āyā nahīn , gayā (he-came
āyā, nahīnn gayā (he-came,
The child goes by the rule that words placed together
in speech hang together in sense and words hanging together in sense
get placed together in speech. So the placement of the ‘audible comma’
in the two utterances proves to be of great help to the child in the
correct linking of the negation. It is into as if the child has to
make a wild guess to understand utterances in language any more than
it has to in order to understand non-linguistic happenings and doings,
things and people. A child of even moderate intelligence appears to
have a head start which even an adult of great intelligence in the face
of strange language has not. The child does better even in the recognition
and reproduction of speech sounds and their sequences.
Consider, again, how the form assumed by
mental contents, even when the contents are the same, differs from language
to language. Thus, a dream ‘falls’ to me in Marathi, it ‘comes’ to
me in Hindi-Urdu, and I dream a dream in English. Quite often, however,
these language-imparted notional forms turn out to be similar if not
the same from language to language. Thus, Marathi, Hindi, and English
all permit us to ‘see’ a dream but not, apparently, to ‘hear’ a dream.
And all three languages permit us to ask the question ‘What happened?’
when the expected answer is ‘I saw a dream’. One does not expect to
come across the following exchange :
What did you do? – I saw a dream.
Such an exchange will be as bizarre in English as it
will be in Marathi or Hindi. And these resemblance (uncanny or natural,
depending on one’s expectations) are just what makes translation feasible,
though by no means always easy. (How does one translate ‘He has a sister,
a servant, some property, and plenty of confidence’ in Marathi or Hindi-Urdu?)
This translatability between human languages extends to the oldest recorded
languages and present-day languages of peoples with rudimentary technical
and social ecology. The significance of this translatability between
human languages is realized when one considers how even a working translation
is to possible from Hindustani music to language or from Hindustani
language to music.
Such are the considerations that lead one to the conclusion
that language as a medium of understanding is more than a human acquisition
or achievement and that it is a human endowment or inheritance-whether
our point of reference is the life-history of a person, a people, or
Let us now sum up the two alternate conceptions of
1.(a) What does language do? It is a means of communicating
the contents of the human mind.
(b) To what effect? It thus helps people to understand
one another and understand the community they are getting to the members
of (that is, people as ‘us’). In short, it helps one to gain social
(c) And how does language get to be what it is in
a person, in a community, in mankind? It is a human acquisition and
2.(a) what does language do? It is a medium
of ordering (or imparting a form to) the contents of the human mind
and, if desired, conveying them to other human beings.
(b) to what effect? It thus helps to understand the
world they live in (and the world of course includes people as ‘them’).
In short, it helps one to gain access to the world.
(c) And how does language get to be what it is in a
person, in a community, in mankind? It is a human endowment from nature.
The capacity to acquire language in childhood and the relative homogeneity
of human languages is ensured by genetic endowment.
So stated, the two alternate views are mutually contradictory.
(We shall return to this point more than once in the rest of this paper.)
Language is one’s own language to being with. Other
languages come later and serve introduce one to other peoples-and other
worlds. Later language learning is then quite distinct from early language
acquisition. Any individual differences in language proficiency are
traceable to differences in later language learning-his applies as much
to later phases in the learning of the language(s) acquired in early
childhood as to languages learned later in the first place. If ‘first
language’ is the first language over to which a speaker has been exposed
long enough for him to acquire it, and own language is a language that
the speaker feels completely at home with so that he is never conscious
about the possibility of making errors using it, it is only to be expected
that, as a rule, one’s first language is one’s own language and that,
most of the time, one’s own language is one’s first language.
In general, unreflective man probably thinks
of language, his own language, as transparent medium of human understanding
and thus tends to and more towards the second conception. Two old English
ladies have given classic expression to this second conception:
How senseless can a Frenchman be? Can’t he see that a shoe (chow
in French) is not a cabbage?
How do I know what I want to say till I say it?
They were presumably monolingual.
Awareness of foreign or earlier or local modes of speech
makes even unreflective
man aware of language variation and helps him take
the first step forward from this sort of navïét-and toward the conception of language as a means
of communication. (preoccupation with writings makes man oblivious
of historical or local variation in language. Constant adaptation of
spelling to changes in speech and the ritual prestige of speech prevents
this form happening India.)
Awareness of indirect or displaced or oblique
modes of language use (like metaphor, metonymy, irony, circumlocution)
or of enriched or evocative modes of language use (like polemical or
rhetorical or rhetorical or poetic suggestively makes man acutely aware
that not all language use is equally transparent as a medium of human
It is only to be excepted, therefore, that
even people that are neither language scientists nor philosophers of
language appear to base their language related thinking on one or the
other of these conceptions of language. In other words, these two conceptions,
far from being abstrusely speculative, actually work hard for their
livelihood! Consider some concrete examples of language-related debates:
(1a) Shouldn’t translator be content with
decoding faithfully what is being communicated in the source language?
(1a) Shouldn’t translator rather aspire
to re-encode the source text to as to be faithfully understood in the
(2a) Shouldn’t a second language
teacher aspire to help the learner internalize the second language so
well that he receives and produces as readily as a native speaker does
and without interference form the learner’s own language? Isn’t the
teacher aiming at parallel language control on the learner’s part?
(2b) Shouldn’t a second language
teacher rather be content with building upo the learner’s ready mastery
of the first language and capacity to learn (or even discover) rules
and apply them with some confidence? Isn’t the teacher’s job limited
to instilling composite language control on the learner’s part?
(3a) Couldn’t the medium of
teaching any subject be any language that is known to the learner and
the teacher and that is otherwise expedient?
(3b) Shouldn’t one rather insist
on teaching a subject through a language that will ensure its assimilation
on the part of the learner-especially when it comes to insights and
attitudes as distinct from mere facts and skills? (Presumably the learner’s
When a message is being produced be in full control of the linguistic
means and its impact on the addressee?
(4a) Shouldn’t the communicator
be in full control of the linguistic means and its impact on the addressee?
(4b) Shouldn’t communicator
rather allow for the variable impact of the linguistic medium on the
Literary art works through a medium that is created out of language
material and mental content material.
(5a) Isn’t the medium of literature transitive
in that it points away from itself as
a means to some poetic end? Isn’t the language vehicle
so worked over and designed as to affect the addressee in a certain
heightened manner? Isn’t the experimental content so selected and organized
as to invite the addressee into a certain poetic world? Isn’t the literary
art best seen as certain devices adding up to a technique?
(5b) Isn’t the medium of literature transitive in
that the language material and the
experimental material penetrate each other so as to
fuse into the autonomous medium in which the literary work has its being?
Isn’t the literary art best seen as the evocation of certain qualities
integrated into a style?
As one might except, these debates concerning
language-related activities have been conducted in relative isolation
from each other historically. And yet, significantly enough, certain
themes recur. Broadly speaking, alternative (a) in each case will be
favoured by those who look upon language as no more than a means of
communication, while alternative (b) in each case will be favoured by
those who look upon language as nothing less than a medium of human
understanding. Practical exigency and the call for experimental authenticity,
however, often reveal that the two conceptions are not all that mutually
In the more theoretical activity of the
scientific analysis of language or of working out a certain philosophy
of language the two have more overtly have acted as rival conceptions,
is one might expect. (We shall continue to mark the resulting alternative
positions in a debate as (a) and (b) corresponding respectively to the
‘means’ conception of language and the ‘medium’ conception of language.)
Language as the system to be analysed abuts upon reality at two
instead of one. Let the two ends be called the language
vehicle and the message.
(6a) Shouldn’t linguistic analysis be primarily
concerned with the language vehicle end (speech or writing as the case
may be) rather than the message end? After all it is the vehicle end
that is the more accessible for study and that differentiates language
from other message-conveying systems as a means of human communication.
(6b) Shouldn’t linguistic analysis
be primarily concerned with message and rather than the language vehicle
end? After all is the message end that language is all about and that
shows up how language mediates human understanding.
The philosophical ramifications of the
two conceptions of language can now be seen in a better perspective.
I hope that it will be appreciated that this apparent delay taking up
has been to the philosopher’s advantage.
The obvious point of entry to the philosophy
of language would be its traditional triad:
Language: Thought : Reality
The triad is best seen as a cyclical set
of three dyads.
Language: Thought (the problem of meaning)
Thought: Reality (the problem of knowledge)
Reality: Language (the problem of reference)
The problem of reference will be seen to
subsume at once the problem of validation (or truth if you like) and
the problem of fulfillment (or realization if you like). (Appropriate
Sanskrit terms could be yathārthatā and cartirtāhatā.)
Validation relates to linguistic message conveying observations of reality,
facts/insights and responses/attitudes. (Let us call such messages
‘statements’.) Fulfillment relates to linguistic messages conveying
wishes or hopes and plain demands. (Let us call such messages ‘mands’;
questions are a variety of mands.)
Many of the debates in the philosophy of
language will be seen to fall under one or the other of the three rubrics.
Under Language and Thought
(7-11) (a) Isn’t the whole message to be seen as made
up of part messages? (khana-pakṣa)
(b) Or rather aren’t part messages to be seen as mere
intersections of whole messages? (akhaṇḍa-pakṣa)
(a) Isn’t phrase no more than a marginalized sentence?
(b) Or rather isn’t a sentence no more than an enlarged
(7-13) (a) Isn’t an operator (such as negation, implication,
identity, or existence) nothing less than a logical device?
(b) Or rather isn’t an operator no more than a predicate
like any other? And as such merely reflecting differences in thought?
(7-1) Summing up for the problem of meaning-
(a) Language can be
trusted to be revelatory of thought.
(b) Language cannot be trusted
to be revelatory of thought.
Note: The question is wherever the meaning embodied
in language is or isn’t a trustworthy guide to the meaning sought to
be conveyed as the message.
Under Thought and Reality
(a) Isn’t the universal (jāti) to be understood as
an intersection of individuals (vyakti)?
(b) Or rather isn’t the individual to be understood
as a bundle of universals?
(7-22) (a) Isn’t the attribute (guṇa) to be understood
as an abstraction from the substance (dravya) ?
(b) Or rather isn’t the substance to
be understood as a mere place-and-time-holder for the attributes?
(7-23) (a) Isn’t the relation (saṁbandha)
to be understood as a juxtaposition of the relata (saṁbandhin)?
Aren’t relations essentially external? (kārya-saṁbandha,
(c) Or rather isn’t
the retalum to be understood as a fulfiller of the relation? Aren’t
relations essentially internal? (nitya-saṁbandha,
(7-2) Summing up for the problem of knowledge
(a) Thought can be
trusted to be revelatory of reality.
(b) Thought cannot be trusted
to be revelatory of reality.
Note: Broadly speaking, abstractions like universals,
attributes, relations are held to embody thought and corrections like
individuals, substances, relata are held to embody reality.
Under Reality and Language
(7-31) (a) Isn’t any middle ground between positive
and negative to be totally excluded?
(b) Or rather aren’t the positive and the negative
poles to be both excluded by the ‘vacuous’? And thus leaving room for
(7-32) (a) Isn’t any middle
ground between necessary and contingent to be totally excluded?
(b) Or rather isn’t there a middle ground between
necessary and contingent consisting in what is contingently necessary?
And thus leaving room for the ‘meaning postulate’ and the ‘synthetic
a priori’ and the ‘categorical predication’?
Summing up for the problem of reference-
(a) Language cannot be trusted to tailor its system
(b) Language can be trusted to tailor its system to
Note: The question is whether the ‘formal’
component of the message needs to be or needn’t be maximally absence
and rigorously separated from the ‘material’ component of the message.
It is reassuring to find that most
of these debates together with their alignment to the two conceptions
of language turn up in Western theorizing about language as well in
Indian theorizing about language. The debates, therefore, are presumably
not merely local squabbles. It will certainly be rewarding to show
the historical connection in each case between the position in the debate
and the relevant conception of language.
But then it is not so reassuring to
find that these debates tend to remain inconclusive not for want of
evidence but for want of a willingness to recognize that the other side
may have a point. Thinkers tend to make up their minds in advance and
this is rather unfortunate if only one realized that the two underlying
conceptions are not all that mutually opposed. We have already noted
this in relation to the relatively more practical and so more experience
around debates concerning translation, second language teaching, teaching
through a language, rhetoric and popular literature, and literary art.
It is possible to restate the two
conceptions of language so as to open up the possibility of their being
mutually complementary rather than opposed. The difference between
them can be one of emphasis.
(1) Language is nothing less than
means of human communication.
(2) Language is nothing less than
a medium of human understanding.
It is about time we moved from conceptions
of language to conceptions of language use.
Except for a passing reference or
two, we have so far confined our attention to the language system
rather than language use. The transition from language to language
use is a passage along two axes—a passage from language generally and
globally to language specifically and locally and at the same time a
passage from the potentiality of language to language in actuality on
a particular occasion. The passage from the generic-potential end to
the specific-actual end could be set out in some such terms:
(1) man’s capacity for language
(2) the community’s language system
(3) the individual’s language competence
(4) language use on a particular occasion
‘Language’ for us is (1-2), and ‘language use’ will
and parole correspond roughly to (2) and (4); his faculté de language corresponds to (1).
Chomsky’s competence’ and language performance’ corresponds to (3) and
to the earlier linguists ‘ideal language speaker-listener’.
Ancient Indians distinguished between šabda-šakti
‘signifying power of speech (also called šabda-vṛtti
when the power is seen as directed) and śabda prayoga exercise of this power’
(also called šabda-vyāprā by literary
theorists rather than grammarians). The power and its exercise are
directed to artha. The pair śabda and aŕtha correspond roughly to our earlier
language vehicle’ and ‘message’ respectively. The pari śakti/vṛitti and prayoga/vyāpāra
corresponds roughly to the passage from potential to actual. The passage
from global-general to local-specific is assimilated to the passage
between what is inward and what is outward. So ancient Indians separated
‘inner speech’ (pašyanti), ‘middle speech’ (madhyamā),
and ‘outer speech’ (vaikari); this is the well-known speech triad
The speaker starts from inner speech, our understanding as a specific
visualization; this is enduringly abstract (nitya). The first
transition takes him to middle speech, our shaping of that piece of
understanding into a particular language; this is enduringly abstract
but at the same time is becomes segmented (khaṇḍita)
and sequential (karmika). The second transition takes him to
outer speech, our giving utterance to that understanding as shaped into
a particular language; this is no longer enduringly abstract, continues
to be segmented and sequential, and becomes accessible to oneself and
others (sva-para-vedya). The listener starts from outer speech,
moves to middle speech, and finally recovers inner speech.
So much for the historical excursus
on the distinction between language and language use. Before we take
up conceptions language use in some detail, let us take an overview
of the general lie of the land. Earlier we spoke of the traditional
triad, namely, Language: Thought: Reality in conjunction with Language,
that is, language system. Recall also the observation that, as living
beings, human beings not merely cope with the environment but keep trying
to understand environment with varying degrees of success. Thought
is only an aspect of this attempt at understanding and the environment
is only an aspect of reality. Reality is environment sub specie
aeternitatis. We now need to speak of a second triad in conjunction
with Language Use and the two triads can then be juxtaposed.
Language-- Coping ---Life
Understanding has an aspect of reason (thought
is rational understanding and an aspect of imagination (there is no
handy name for imaginative understanding—perhaps the ancient Greeks’
distinction between logos and muthos, literally speech
and story respectively, corresponds roughly to the distinction between
the two aspects of understanding). Rational understanding favours the
mode of abstraction and inferability. Imaginative understanding favours
the mode of concretion and participation. Coping, likewise, has an
aspect of reason—that is what work and production are all about; and
also an aspect of imagination—that is what play and creativity are all
about. (‘Work’ and ‘play’ are of course to be understood here in the
large sense.) Work and production typically take the shape of ‘routines’—unless
we are thinking of open-ended, exploratory, innovative work or production.
Play and creativity typically take the shape of ‘games’—unless we are
thinking of open-ended, casual, exploratory play or creativity. Language
and language Use embrace both reason and imagination. Reality transcends
the distinction between reason and imagination; and so does Life. The
distinction between reason and imagination could perhaps be thought
of as one between delayed and on-the-spot processing of ‘information’.
Reality in relation to a message is the topic of that message.
The distinction between topic and
context is important. To revert to some of our earlier examples,
The dog bit the man.
The man has bitten by the dog.
When the corn is ripe, I do hope it
Rain, rain, to go Spain!
How many millimeter of rain was there
when I was away yesterday?
The following are the relevant matters
in hand (but not necessarily at hand), in short, the Topic (prakaraṇa) respectively:
The observation of the biting by the dog of the man
The observation of the biting of the man by the dog
The hope for the absence of rain at the time of the
corn being ripe
The demand that the rain stop
The demand (or the wish, as the case may be) from the
addressee for supplying the information about the quantity of rain on
the previous day
And the following in turn are the sort of situation
at hand in which such an utterance might have figured, in short,
the Context (prasṅga) respectively:
The wish to know what the dog did
The wish to know what happened to the man
The worry about the danger of ultimately rain for the
The child, John, Brown, wants to play
The communicator’s need to ascertain the amount of
rain that cell during his/her absence
In the early stages of language acquisition the child
draws upon the Context and manages to grasp the Topic in hand if it
also happens to be, along with the Context, at hand. The child may
not even see the Topic as distinct from the Context. But an important
step forward in early language acquisition is for the child to realize
that, while the Context is necessarily present or at hand (prāpta),
the Topic is merely in hand or presented (prastuta) but not necessarily
at hand or present—the rain whose amount is to be ascertained is no
longer at hand. Once this momentous step is taken, there is no more
excuse for the failure to distinguish between the Topic (and Topic-relevance)
and the Context (and Context-relevance). (Some discourses about language
inexcusably fail to do so.) Reality is simply Topic writ large and Life
is simply Context writ large. (Parenthetically, one may wonder whether
this step forward in the life-history of a child is but a recapitulation
of a comparable step forward in the life-history of mankind, namely,
getting to the point at which what is out of sight is not eo ipso
out of mind.)
Let us now go back to the hexad, which could be seen
either as a double triad or a triple dyad. Language Use is the exercise
of Language and Language continually shapes itself in the course of
Language Use. Coping is the exercise of Understanding and Understanding
continually shapes itself in the course of Coping. (For Marx, thought
continually shapes itself in the course of Coping.) Life is embedded
in Reality and Reality is continually re-under-stood in the course of
Life. (For Writtgenstein, thought too is embedded in forms of life
and any form of life is but an aspect of Coping. If Marx appears to
have highlighted labour to the neglect of language at the centrestage,
there is an interesting disquisition in the šāntiparavan
of Mahābhārata (at 12.173.11ff) on the tongue and the
hand as the twin equipment of Man. If the eye is taken to be the universal
emblem for understanding, one could say that the eye understands and
the hand copes—both being assisted by the tongue speaking.)
The stage is now set for introducing the two alternate
conceptions of Language Use and these two are certainly not to be confused
with the two alternate conceptions of Language. Indeed, in actual Language
Use, the complementary of the two alternate conceptions of language
really comes home to us. Language Use is the tritium quid in which
the two alternate conceptions of Language meet.
As we have just seen, man’s coping with life can be
either in the nature of doing something—whether in the shape of work
of play-or in the nature of making something—whether in the shape of
production or creativity. Doing something is, so to say, intransitive,
in that it is simply a part and parcel of man’s interaction with reality
and tends to bring about a certain restructuring of man himself and
thus promote a smoother, harmonious interaction.
Earlier, we asked ourselves a question about language—Is
Language a man-made artifact or rather is it man’s natural endowment?
Now, we cannot ask ourselves an analogous question about Language Use.
Language Use is palpably man-made. The question to ask then is rather—Is
language use in the nature of making something or doing something?
Is Language Use the making of an artifact or the performing of an act?
In proposing these two alternate conceptions of Language Use, we are
not thinking of the vehicle of speech and writing so much as of the
message. If we were thinking of the vehicle, the answer would be rather
simple—speaking is the performing of an act and writing is the making
of an artifact. Rather, we are thinking of the message in proposing
a conception of Language Use.
If we think of language use as the making of an artifact,
the artifact in question is the Language Text that the speaker (or the
writer as the case may be) makes or an Interpretation that the listener
(or the reader) makes out from the text. Any performing of an act is
going to make a difference to Life. The Language Act is of course
an act of a special kind—not the physical act of speech or writing
but an act concerning the message as such.
The conceptors of Language Use that gets accepted has
a bearing on the way Language Use is seen to be placed in the immediate
context. While the text as an artifact can be reused in varying contexts
and so remains somewhat loosely connected with any given context, the
act is more closely embedded in the context and so needs to be seen
as a fresh act in a new context.
The two alternate conceptions of language use can now
be set out in some such terms:
(1) (a) Language Use is basically the making of an
(b)The speaker (or the writer, as the case may be)
makes a Language Text and the listener (or the reader) makes out what
it is and offers an Interpretation of that text.
(c) The making of a
text and its interpretation may either be methodical and productive
in character or be imaginative and creative in character.
(d) The making of an artifact
to what effect? The making of the language text or its interpretation
makes a difference to Reality as understood by the language user concerned
(that is, the speaker/writer or the listener/ reader). Its relation
to the context of use remains somewhat loose.
(2) (a) Language Use is basically the performing of
(b) The speaker (or the writer) performs as Language
Act and the listener (or the reader) offers an active Response to that
(c) The performing of an act and the offering
of a response to it may be undertaken either in the spirit of work (if
not as routine work) or in the spirit of play ((if not as a game).
(e) The performing
of an act to what effect? The performing of a language act or the offering
of a response to it makes a difference to Life as lived by the language
user concerned in the course of coping-with. Its relation to the context
of use remains fairly close.
Language is what language does. So Language Use, whether
one thinks of it as an artifact one thins of language as remain of human
communication or as a medium of human understanding. Of course any
human artifact or any human act can be put to non-standard uses. Thus,
a hammer could be used not for driving nails but, say, as a paperweight.
When the servant pounds coffee beans in a mortar, the Arab master may
look not only for good coffee but also for the pleasing sound of rhythmic
strokes. Like wise with Language Use. Ready examples are metaphors,
rhetorical questions, innuendos—by way of displaced or enriched modes
of Language Use.
Now, what bearing do these two alternate
conceptions of Language Use have on the language-related practical activities,
more specifically on the debates concerning translation, second language
teaching, teaching through a language, rhetoric and popular literature,
and literary art? That position in each debate that is expected to
be favoured by the Text conception of language use is marked (a). And
the position in the debate that is expected to be favoured by the Act
conception of Language Use is marked (b).
(1a) Shouldn’t the translator aspire to be faithful
to the source Text even in its grammatical and spoken/written form?
(Thus, a phrase by phrase translation will be more faithful than a sentence
by sentence translation.)
(b) Rather, shouldn’t the translator aspire to
ensure that the translation is viable in the target language? (Thus,
a translation that doesn’t even sound like a translation will be more
viable in the target language than a translation that declares itself
to be a translation.)
(2a) Shouldn’t second language teacher make a teaching
text-centred and ensure repetitive, imitative practice based on the
(b) Rather, shouldn’t second language teacher make
the teaching situation-centred and ensure in the learner the ability
to improvise and cope with ‘unseen’ material?
(3a) Shouldn’t the medium of teaching any subject
be a language selected as suitable for the texts relating to the subject?
(b) Rather, shouldn’t the medium of teaching any
subject be a language selected as suitable for the learner concerned?
(4) When a message is being produced for being rhetorically
(or poetically) effective with many people:
(b) Shouldn’t the communicator be in control of the
content in the interests of the addressee?
(5a) Isn’t a work of literature a text transitively
pointing away from itself and offering itself for our interpretation?
And doesn’t this ‘room with a view’ make a difference to reality as
understood by us? But remain relatively detached from the context at
(b) Rather, isn’t a work of literature an autonomous
gesture inviting us this vision? And doesn’t this enclosed ‘hall of
mirrors’ make a difference to the life as lived us? And so remain relatively
embed in the context at hand?
What we have said earlier about the two rival conceptions
of language in relation to
such relatively practical concerns also applies to the two rival conceptions,
of language use, namely, that practical exigency and the call for experimental
authenticity often reveal that the two conceptions are not all that
Turning to the more theoretical
activity of linguistic analysis, we similarly find an similar alignment
with conceptions of Language Use.
(6) Language is susceptible not only to the polarity
of language vehicle (speech or writing as the case may be) and the message,
but also to the polarity of topic and context aspects of the message
and to the polarity of form and substance. Substance corresponds to
the first phase of abstraction in linguistic analysis (‘raw’ speech/writing
or ‘raw’ topic/context as the case may be) and form corresponds the
second and third phases of abstraction in linguistic analysis (‘processed’
speech/writing or ‘processed’ topic/context as the case may be).
(a) Shouldn’t linguistic analysis of the vehicle
or the message be primarily concerned with their form aspect rather
than their substance aspect? And shouldn’t linguistic analysis of the
message be primarily concerned with its topic aspect rather than its
(b) shouldn’t linguistic analysis of the vehicle
or the message be primarily concerned with their substance aspect rather
than with their form aspect? And shouldn’t linguistic analysis of the
message be primarily concerned with its context aspect rather than its
When it comes to a certain philosophy
of language use, we need to turn to the second triad, namely, Language
Use : Coping: Life, seen as a cyclical set of three dyads.
Language : Coping (the
problem of directionality)
Coping : Life (the problem of power)
Life : Language Use (the problem of worthwhileness)
Many of the debates concerning
Language Use will be seen to fall under one or the
other of the three rubrics. The alignment with the
two conceptions of Language Use
continues to be marked
(a) and (b) as before.
Under Language Use
(7-11) (a) Isn’t the Context implicit in the Topic?
Doesn’t the Topic call out some appropriate Context?
(b) Or rather doesn’t the Topic arise out of the Context?
Doesn’t the context yield the Topic?
(7-12) (a) Isn’t any Mand, thought of as open
to fulfillment, reducible to a Statement concerning the wish or he demand?
(b) Or rather isn’t any
Statement, thought of as open to validation, reducible to a Mand calling
Note: Roughly speaking, with (a) ‘Let this be the case’ is seen as ‘I want this
to be the case’; but with (b) ‘Such is the case’ is seen as ‘Let this
be seen to be the case’.
(7-13) A Sentence, whether a Statement or a Mand,
is made of phrases. A phrase has both a definition and a range. A
phrase is either a Name or Term. A Name is Statement-like in that any
definition offered has to be validated by the range given. A term is
Mand-like in that any range offered has to fulfill the definition given.
Names and terms are rational symbols in the mode of concretion.
Isn’t any Term reducible
to a Name for whatever fulfils the definition?
Or rather isn’t any Name
reducible to a Term for whatever the range validates?
(7-14) A language Text that is open to being considered
as conveying a piece of imaginative understanding embeds imaginative
symbols in the mode of concretion. Such a symbol is either Recreative
or Creative. A Recreative imaginative-symbol is Term-like in that it
lends itself readily to paraphrase and translation. A Creative imaginative-symbol
is Name-like in that it resists paraphrase and translation.
(a) Isn’t any Creative imaginative-symbol finally
reducible to a Recreative imaginative-symbol with title or no residue?
(b) Or rather doesn’t any Recreative imaginative-symbol
have a residue that isn’t reducible to rational-symbol paraphrase?
(7-1) Summing up for the problem of directionality-
Reference controls Meaning.
Meaning controls Reference.
Under Coping and Life
(7-21) A Statement is descriptive if validation dominates
if not controls suasion. A statement is ascriptive if suasion dominates
if not controls validation.
(a) Isn’t any ascriptive Statement finally reducible
to a descriptive Statement?
(b) Or rather isn’t any descriptive Statement finally
reducible to an ascriptive Statement?
Likewise for descriptive
and ascriptive terms.
(7-22) A Mand is prescriptive if fulfillment dominates
if not controls suasion–and as such conveys nothing less than a demand.
A Mand is inscriptive if suasion dominates if not controls fulfillment—and
as such conveys nothing more than a wish.
(a) Isn’t any inscriptive
Mand finally reducible to a prescriptive Mand?
(b) Isn’t any prescriptive
Mand finally reducible to a inscriptive Mand?
Likewise for prescriptive and inscriptive names.
(7-2) Summing up for the problem of power--
(a) Reference controls
(b) Suasion controls reference.
Under Coping and Life
(7-31) Any piece of language use has a genesis in life.
It is motivated and as such relatable back to some arkhē
(a) A Language Text codifies some arkhē
and as such subserves Coping.
(b) A Language Act Justifies some arkhē
and as much legitimates Coping.
(7-32) Any piece of language use has a design on life.
It is intentional and as such relatable forward to some telos
(a) A Language Text codifies some telos and
as such subserves Coping.
(b) A Language Act justifies some telos and
as such legitimates Coping.
(7-3) Summing up for eh problem of worthwileness
(a) A piece of language use finally codifies Coping
in relation to Life.
(b) A piece of language use finally justifies Coping
in relation to Life.
It will be rewarding to track down the
debates together with their alignment to the two conceptions of Language
Use as Text and as Act respectively in Indian and Western theorizing
about language among linguistics and philosophers in the course of history.
It will also be worthwhile to assess how far thinkers have succeeded
in approaching if not reaching any conclusions, and in uncovering any
motivations underlying the positions adopted.
We have maintained that the two central questions,
or central debates if you will, namely, ‘What is language?’ and ‘What
is language use?’ are contiguous and yet distinct.
Since the questions are distinct, one
would expect no positive (or negative) correlation between someone adopting
the ‘means of communication’ position or the ‘medium of understanding’
position in respect of the first central question and his adopting the
‘language text’ position or the language act’ position in respect of
the second central question.
Consequently, one could reasonably expect
all the four combinations to turn up in the course of human history-even
if one were to limit oneself to if one were to limit one self to the
course of Western history or of Indian history, one should say that
considering that these two civilizations have constantly deliberated
over language and its use.
And yet the two questions are contiguous.
So one could not expect each of the four positions in the debates to
readily appear to be a composite of positions in two distinct debates
so much as one of four positions in a complex debate concerning translation
or language analysis or whatever.
A rapid survey of the areas of debates—whether
practical or theoretical—should bear this out in broad terms. (The
specific assignment of a school or a thinker to one of the four logically
available positions may be debatable and as such even open to a setting
straight of the historical record. But that of course is not the point
at issue.) The four combinations will be marked as follows:
(A) Language is a means of human communication and
its use is the making of a text.
(B) Language is a means of human communication and
its use is the doing of an act.
(C) Language is a medium of human understanding and
its use is the making of a text
(D) Language is a medium of human understanding and
its use is the doing of an act
Let us take up the relatively more practical debates
(1) Translation: The Indian civilization has not been
too active in and concerned about this language-related activity. So
the examples will some more readily from the West.
(A) Translators of canonical and statutory texts.
(B) Translators of technical and discursive texts.
(C) Translators of poetry and other literary texts.
(D) Translators of utilitarian, persuasive, or factual
Note: The cleavage (A-C) versus (B-D)
appears to be salient. No wonder then that the term ‘faithful’ and
‘free’, loosely used, are often unilluminating if not misleading.
(2) Second Language Teaching
(A) The mimicry-memorization-pattern-practice method,
the method of the traditional school for teaching Sanskrit to the young
(B) The direct method.
(C) Literary selection and grammar method (the traditional
method in the West for teaching classical languages, also adopted in
nineteenth-century India. Whether for teaching Sanskrit or for English,
(D) The translation method.
Note: The cleavage (A-B) versus (C-D)
appears to be salient. No wonder then that (A,B) are often clubbed
together as the Modern Method and that (C, D) as the Traditional
or Grammar-Translation method.
(3) Teaching through a language
(A) The practical-minded choice of the more widely
available language among the subject texts.
(B) The practical-minded choice of the more widely
available language in the body of learners.
(C) The committed choice of the textually authentic
language—as in the giving of prominence to Sanskrit and Pali in propagating
(D) The committed choice of the learner’s own language-as
in Buddha’s own policy, among Protestant proselytizers from the West.
Note: The cleavage (A-B) versus (C-D)
(4) Persuasive and popular literature (inclusive of
(A) Producers and receivers of didactic texts, say,
of moral conformity or moral saire, political conformity or subversion
(utopian or satirical as the case may be)
(B) Producers and receivers of indulgent texts, say,
of wish-fulfillment or sentiment or titillation
(C) Producers and receivers of exhortative texts,
say, of ideological persuasion or clinical diagnosis-and-therapy
(D) Producers and receivers of ‘thought-provoking’
texts, or texts of high comedy or tragedy.
Note: The cleavage (A-C) and (B-D) appears to be
salient. No wonder then that strategies of (A, C) are often clubbed
together as the rhetoric of ‘hard sell’ and that strategies of (B, D)
as the rhetoric of ‘soft sell’.
(5) Literary art
(A) The proponents
and adherents of Instruction, vyutpatti and Technique, alaṁkaraṇa as
(B) The proponents
and adherents of Delight, prītti and Technique, alaṁkaraṇa as
(C) The proponents
and adherents of Maturity (of rasa-dhvani) and Style, rīti
(D) The proponents
and adherents of Form and Style. rīti as central.
Note: The cleavage (A-C) and (B-D) appears
to be salient in the West and the cleavage (A-B) and (C-D)
appears to be salient in ancient India. ‘Maturity’ and ‘rasa-dhvani’
are theoretical language-related pursuits.
(6) Linguistic analysis
(A) Bloomfield, pāṇini
, the šiṣkā
(B) Saussure, the Prague
School, Halliday, the Kātantra school, the prātišākhya
(C) Chomsky, Nageša.
(D) Sapir, the rebels against
Note: The cleavage (A-C) and (B-D) appears
to be salient in the contemporary West and ancient India.
(7) Philosophy of language
(A) Locke, prācya
(B) Ideal language philosophy,
(C) Descarets, Frege, navya
(D) Kant, later Writtgenstein,
Ordinary language philosophy, Humboldt, Bhatṛhari.
Note: The cleavage (A-C) and (B-D) appears
to be salient.
We have suggested a positive correlation
between positions concerning the two central questions and positions
concerning various language-related practical and theoretical activities.
At the same time, we have suggested a certain complementarity between
opposite positions. Specifically, in case the cleavage (A-C)
and (B-D) is salient, then this is indicative of the complementarity
and consequent recumbency of the opposition between ‘language text’
and ‘language act’ conceptions of language use. And in case the cleavage
(A-D) and (C-D) is salient, then this is indicative of
the complementarity and consequent recumbency of the opposition between
‘means of communication’ and ‘medium of understanding’ conceptions of
language. It will be seen that the complementarity is relative to the
specific area of language-related activity. Since the philosophers
in ancient India tend to take up not ‘problems’ so much as ‘stances’
to set them going.) a thinker operating in more fields than one does
not always adopt analogous positions.
Of course, there is more to philosophizing
than the philosophy of language. We could additionally think of two
areas of philosophizing: first, the philosophy of Understanding and
Reality and, secondly, the philosophy of Coping and Life. (In the modern
West the philosophy of Understanding and Reality tends to go under the
rubics, espistemology, aesthetics, ontology, and even cognitive science,
while the philosophy of Coping and Life turns up as moral and political,
philosophy of man, and even management science? Finding correspondences
in ancient India is more problematic, since the philosophers in ancient
India tend to take up note ‘problems’ so much as ‘stances’ to set them
going.) Frankly incomplete and creating a system that is complete but
frankly not wholly consistent, style I tens to go for the first alternative
and Style II for the second alternative.
Style I: At best we can aspire to an understanding
of understanding. Any understanding of reality needs to flow from it.
Style II: Any understanding of reality comes first.
Any understanding of understanding will flow from it.
The other pivotal question is—What does philosophizing
do for us? And to what effect? Again, two alternative Missions have
turned up for philosophical understanding. (Again two alternatives?
Mirabile dictu, I can hear you saying under your breath. I don’t blame
you! But that’s the way it appears to be.)
Mission I: philosophizing yields to us nothing less
than a Speculum. It holds a mirror to whatever is about.
Mission II: philosophizing yields to us nothing more
than an Organum. It fashions for us a handy set of tools for understanding
whatever it is about.
Together we have four combinations. To resume our
rapid survey, again with the appropriate disclaimer about the assignments.
(A) Style I and Mission I: Locke, early Writtgenstein,
Descartes fall here with their schemata.
(B) Style I and Mission II: Hume, Kant (after waking
up form his ‘dog matic slumber’), later Writtgenstein fall here with
(C) Style II and Mission I: Hegel falls here with
(D) Style II and Mission II: Nietzshe, Marx fall
here with their manifestors.
The absence of ancient Indian names could be made good
by more competent hands. It will be interesting if not rewarding to
compare these combinations in the philosophy of Understanding and Reality
with those under the philosophy of Language and Language Use.
Turning to the philosophy of Coping and
Life, what are the pivotal questions? There appear to be two distinct,
if not somewhat opposed, styles of coping recommended in philosophical
Style I: Let rational doing and making
(work and actions, production and routines) be the mainstay of Coping.
Any Imaginative doing and making may follow suit or occupy ancestries.
Style II: Let imaginative doing and making
(play and moves, creativity and games) set the tune for rational doing
But then a radical spiritual doubt may assail us at
the outset concerning the very mission of the philosophy of Coping and
Life. Optimism and pessimism may go far beyond a simple matter of temperament
and style of functioning. So the other pivotal question is—Is a Coping
with life given to man at all? Doesn’t coping rather amount to coping
with coping? To a bracing of one self against what life has to offer
to us? Life after all presupposes the emergence of a working relationship,
a modicum of harmony between human beings and the environment they have
to cope with. Failing this, suicide and murder are round the corner.
Mission I: Let the restructuring of the environment
be the mainstay of coping with life, so that we can wrest good from
evil, violence, and suffering.
Mission II: Let the restructuring of ourselves be the
mainstay of coping with life, so that we can salvage some dignity from
what life has to offer to us.
If we were to continue with our rapid survey, which
we do not propose to do, we shall have to cast our net very wide indeed-beyond
professional philosophizing to moralities and polities, ideologies and
religious, life-styles and programmes. Obviously we have moved even
further away from the philosophy of Language and Language Use. But
even here it will be of some interest to make cross-comparisons of the
positions involved. Consider, for examples, the implications of silence
as a gap in or around the Language Text and as a Language Act taking
over from or yielding to the Language Text; or of communication as a
super communicative event in which mere communicative intent gives place
to the urge for one’s ‘participation’ in the beloved or godhead or whatever.
NOTES TO SECTIONS
Sections I. What Goethe said is as follows:
‘En jeder, weil er spricht, gloubt auch über die
Sprache sprechen zu können’ this probably comes from his Maximan
For the notion of communication, see Kelkar
1980a: chapter I, section D and the references therein-including Zipf
1967 from whom the policeman was borrowed.
Section II. The insights into the mode of abstraction
and inferability come variously from Plato and Aristotle, British empiricists
and associationists, Leibniz and Quine (identity of indiscernibles and
indiscernibility of identicals), Renaissance pictorial artists and Gestalt
psychologists (figure, foreground, background), the Gelican, insight
about differences of degree graduating into differences of kind, and
the mathematical notion of ‘function’.
The insights into the mode of concretion
and ‘participation’ come variously from the German idealists and Coleridge
and the nineteenth-century reconstruction of ‘primitive’ mentality by
certain students of antiquity and contemporary ‘primitive’ peoples.
The notion of ‘participation’ of course goes back to plato. Comparable
are ancient Indian notions of the vyakti and bhakti.
The ‘starry heavens’ is, of course, much
exercised over the question-Can human u understanding hypes bypass language?
Can we think without language?
Descartes’ ‘innate ideas’ and Kant’s ‘categories
of understanding’ introduce the notion that the furniture of man’s understanding
was given to him as natural and therefore universal endowment. Chomsky
transferred the argument from categories of thought to categories of
language being natural and universal. There was a quite difference
line of thinking which thought of categories of understanding being
inferable form language and so language-specific: Humboldt, Sapir, Whor
are the important names associated with it. The impossibility of translation
without residue impressed not only poets and their translators but also
a hard-headed thinker like Quine (1960: chapter 2). Finally, students
of human speech were impressed by the early learning of sentence tone
and emphasis and pauses and their widely shared patterns.
Section III. We have preferred the value-neutral
terms ‘first language’ and ‘own language’ to the omnibus tongue’. (A
mother tongue is of course not necessarily one’s mother’s tongue but
one that, like one’s motherland, a person expects to draw emotional
Man’s initial conception of language as
an innate medium of understanding has been enshrined in myths of understanding
being God’s gift. (The myth of the Tower of Babel is of course of a
quite different colour.) The conception of language as a means of communication
became common wisdom in the West from the time of the Enlightenment—motivated
by the impulse to desacralize and demystify language by showing it up
as only a practical tool.
Indians have been acutely aware of language
variation—consider the Hindi saying (which has equivalents in other
Indians languages): Kos Kos par pānī badale, bārah
kos par bānt, i.e. ‘(underground) water differs every
kosa, speech differs every twelve kosas’ (kroša in Sanskrit
is a little over three kilometers).
Ancient Indians distinguished between direct
and displaced modes of speech (vācyārtha-vṛtti and
and again between bare and enriched modes of speech (abhidhā-vṛtti and
In connection with the debates concerning
language-related practical activities (sections III, V, VI), see Kelkar
1985 (on translation); 1969 (on second language teaching); 1982 (on
the medium of teaching); 1984 (rhetoric and popular literature); 1983
and 1984b (literary and interpretation/response).
It was the linguist Jobs (1950: p. 701)
who reminds us that language is ‘peculiar among mathematical systems
in that is abuts upon reality in two places instead of one.’
The triad Language: Thought: Reality of
contemporary Western philosophy is comparable to Bhartṛhaṛi’s traid:
šabda: jñāna: arha (šabda is
speech, jñāna is understanding, and artha
is message to which speech is directed).
The excluded middle of course alludes to
the third Law of Thought in Aristotelian logic.
Section IV. When the ancient Indians considered the
‘signifying power of speech’ (šabda- šakti/vṛtti)
from the speaker’s point of view, then they also called it ukti
‘speech-selecting power of artha’. In connection with the substitution
of understanding for thought as the second member of the Language traid,
consider the following: For the ancient Indians jñāna (understanding)
was of two kinds: smṛti (recalled
experience, memory) and anubhava (on-going experience). The
latter in turn was of two kinds: yathārtha, pram (valid
understanding, knowledge) and ayathārtha, pramā
(invalid understanding, error). Further, ancient Indians with the doctrine
of prathibhā (Bhartṛhari,
Abhinavagupta, and others). In the West it came with the Romantics.
(‘Divine madness in Plato’s Cratylus is a very poor approximation indeed.)
In connection with the distinction between
Topic and Context, especially in relation to language and its use, consider
the following: The distinction between prakarṇa and
has been traditional in India. The Western thinkers to emphasize it
initially were Pierce and the later Writtgenstein. The confusion, however,
has not been wholly removed and shows up, for example, in which drawing
the border between semantics and pragmatics. When applying Piere’s triad.
Section V. The choice of the term ‘speech act’ (Searle
1962) for what we have called language act is rather unfortunate in
that Bühler had earlier more appropriately used it
for the act of speaking (at the level of the vehicle).
The distinction between Interpretation
and Response followed in the wake of the one between Topic and Context.
The anthropologists remind us that human
artifacts and acts are open to non-standard use as illustrated by the
hammer and the coffee pounding examples are of course comparable to
and vyañjanā (see
Note to Section III), displacement and enrichment. The French Struralists
emphasized and generalized the notion of the Text.
For the distinction between names and terms
in language and the distinction between šāstra-pratyakṣa (what
is presented in a technical discipline) and kāvya-pratyakṣa (what
is presented in a technical discipline) and kāvya-pratyakṣa (what
is presented in a literary work) on the one hand and loka-vārtta
(what is reported by people in the ordinary course) on the other hand.
The distinction proposed here between descriptive
statements and ascriptive statements is an anthropologically slanted
reformulation of the distinction between facts and interpretations and
between value-neutral and evaluative-persuasive statements. Ascriptive
statements convey insights rather than facts; they convey responses
or attitudes rather than merely report on their presence.
While Kant argued that judgements of taste
(one kind of ascriptive statements) cannot be reduced to conceptual
descriptions (one kind of descriptive statements), Moore extended the
argument to the domain of morality. For Kant moral judgements were
essentially prescriptive rather than inscriptive or ascriptive.
For Freud, any piece of language use had
a genesis in life: it was either a concealed codification of interests
(false consciousness) or a justification of interests (legitimating
Section VI. For an earlier look at the two styles
of the philosophy of understanding and reality, see Kelkar 1980b (where
I associated these with certain debates in the philosophy of language).
Falling modicum of harmony between man and the condition humaine, suicide
and murder are round the corner. This alludes to Albert Camus’ observation
that the central question of ethics is suicide and the central question
of politics is murder. (I should be grateful if any reader could place
it for me.)
Human motivation gets crucially threaded
into the maintenance of this harmony by way of the presupposition of
our trust (or mistrust) in other people’s understanding or coping or
for that matter in our own, in the transparency and efficacy of language,
and in the friendliness of life and reality. Our childhood matters.
I cannot resist here the temptation to
correlate the Style and Missions of the Philosophy of Coping and Life
with the standards in the complex tapestry of Hinduism.
Style I: those who depend on karma,
Style II: those who depend on, l īlā
Mission I: mission of the sāmsārika;
Mission II: mission of the mumuksu:
Thus, bhakti could be seen as a
combination of Style II and Mission II, Yajña as a combination of Style I and Mission
I, and so forth.
Martin Joos, ‘Description of language desing’ in Journal
of the Acoustical Society of America, 1950, 22:6:701-8.
Ashok R. Kelkar, ‘Language teaching’: a perspective’
in Conference on the Methodology of Teaching Indian languages as
Second Languages in Secondary Schools, Proceedings, Ministry of
Education, Government of India, New Delhi 1969, pp. 91-103.
-----Prolegomena to an understanding of semiosis
and culture, Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, 1980a
(earlier version in 1975).
-----Review of Languages in foucs . . . in memeory
of Yehoshua Bar-Hillel, Asa Kasher (ed.,) 1977, Indain Philosophical
Quarterly, new series, 1980b 13:342-5.
-----‘What English can (and cannot) do for our young,
in The Literary Criterion, 17:1:46-55, Mysore; reprinted in New
Quest, no. 40, Pune, 1982, 221-7.
-----‘The meaning of a poem and the meaning of poetry’,
unpublished typescript, Marathi version in Saundaryavicāra,
Bombay 1983; Hindi version in Pūrvagraha no. 56-57,
-----‘Art as education’, in New Quest 1984a,
no. 43, Pune, 31-6; Marathi version in Alocana 22:11, Bombay, 1984 2-13;
Hindi version in Pūravagraha 12:6, Bhopal, 1986, 78-84.
-----‘The semiotics of technical names and terms’,
Recherches Smiotiques/Semiotic Inquiry, 4:3, Toronto, 1984b,
-----‘To translate or not to translate?’, Méta: Journal des traducteurs, 30:3, Montreal, 1985,
-----‘Style and tehnique’, in Suresh Kumar (ed.), Stylistics
and Text Analysis, Bahri, New Delhi, 1987, 1-16; Marathi version
in Marāṭhti šaill-vicāra,
Pune, 1985; Hindi version in Chandrabhan Rawat, Dilipsingh, (ed.), šailltattva
. . . Hyderabad, 1988.
Willard Van Orman Quine, Word and Object, MIT
Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1960.
J.R. Searle, ‘Meaning and speech acts’, Philosophical
Paul Zipt, ‘On H.P. Grice’s account of meaning’, in
Analysis, 28, 1967, 1-8.
*Earlier versions of portions of this were presented
orally at the Department of Philosophy, University of Poona in February
1991; at the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad
in July-August 1991; and at the Department of English, Nagpur University,
in November 1991, and the present version stands benefited by the discussions
that followed these. The present version was presented at the seminar
on Language, Culture, and Cognition at Nehru Museum and Library, New
Delhi, March 1992, under the auspices of the Indian Institute of Advanced
Study, Shimla. It was published in Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical
Research 9 : 3 : 1 – 28,1992. It was also incorporated, slightly revised,
as chapter of in Ashok R. Kelkar’s Language in a semiotic perspective,
Pune, Shubhada – Saraswat, 1997. The subtitle is new.