has Bhart?hari got to Say on Language?
I. Bhart¤hari has
not received due attention for a variety of reasons. After a word
about B and his works, a sketch of the Indian intellectual tradition
in which to place him is presented in terms of its key questions,
the resulting affiliations, and broad periodization.
The difficulties in presenting B to the modern reader need
to be overcome. Thus, no citations; Sanskrit terms parenthesized;
the risk of tidying up his thought is taken.
II. A Conspectus of B’s thought on language is best presented under
three headings in a certain order. Language as communication : B’s
conceptual framework and ideas of related casual dependencies are
touched upon. Language as
human practice : For B it is human practice that sustains speech power
and its acquisition and the power of the speech bond.
Language as cognition : All cognition, even seemingly non-linguistic
cognition, is sustained by specific and generalized language competence.
B’s position on the interpretative element and on the presence of
chains of signation was well-motivated.
III. B’s thought on language is considered in
the perspective of Indian and western thought on language.
Anybody who has heard of the ancient Indian achievement in
the field of grammar has heard of Pˇ¸in˘ and his grammar of the Sanskrit language.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Bhart¤hari
in spite of his crucial position in the development of the Indian
grammatical tradition. The
present study is a modest, if somewhat unconventional, attempt to
set things right. I hope that those familiar with the tradition
will not find it too distorting and those not so familiar will be
induced to find out more about his thought with the help of the select
bibliography at the end.
As it happens all too often in chronicling Ancient and Medieval
India, not too much is known about Bhart¤hari. He lived probably in the 5th c CE,
in any case not later. The
once widely shared supposition that Bhart¤hari
(B from now on) the grammarian-philosopher is the same as Bhart¤hari the highly popular legendary poet-king-renouncer
has now been mostly given up by scholars (who tend to place the poet
in the 4th c CE at the latest). B is the author of Vˇkyapad˘ya (‘of the sentence and the word’) an incomplete
verse treatise on the theory of grammar and language; MahˇbhˇŔyad˘pikˇ (a little light on the great commentary) better
called MahˇbhˇŔya¶˘kˇ, a sub-commentary on Pataµjali’s commentary on Pˇ¸in˘’s
grammar available in a short fragment and not too widely studied;
V¤tti (commentary) an incomplete commentary
in prose on Vˇkyapad˘ya (VP from now on) that is now believed
to have been composed by B himself, and żabdadhˇtusˇmikŔˇ
(possibly, ‘close search into speech as the basis of what there is’)
a treatise cited but now lost. We shall be concerned here with VP
and its auto-commentary.
VP has three books (kˇ
¸·as), namely, I Brahma-Kˇ¸·a
(the book on brahman the Overwhelming Other), also called Ëgamasamuccaya
( a collection of traditions) dealing chiefly with language as such
and its relation to what there is; II Vˇkyakˇ ¸·a (the book on the sentence); and the
relatively longer and probably incomplete III Prak˘r¸a-kˇ¸·a (the book of the word), divided into
many topics (samuddeżas)
some of which have either been lost or remained unwritten. Though the three books appear to constitute a cohesive whole with
a traditional sequence but without constituting a connected argument,
it has been argued that the title Vˇkyapad˘ya properly applies only to books
I-II or only to book II and the whole work should simply be called
Trikˇ¸·˘ (a work in three books). The auto-commentary is available only for books
B’s contribution to the theory of grammar, cognition and reality
was recognized as a watershed by grammarians and as significant contribution
to an on-going debate by philosophers of language, cognition, and
reality. There was, however, a certain waning of interest
after the 11th c CE, judging from the paucity of citations
and commentaries, and, above all, from the relative neglect in traditional
teaching and scholarly activity.
Perhaps grammarians found B too philosophical and philosophers
found him too philological and students found him too difficult. Among modern western scholars and west-influenced
scholars in India and elsewhere, B is coming into his own only in
recent decades, judging from editions, translations, citations, and
studies and from seminars and conferences.
A proper understanding of B’s thought calls for its proper
placing within the Indian grammatical and philosophical traditions. A concern for language (for which the metonyms żabada, vˇc, vˇ¸˘,
bhˇŔˇ, all meaning
speech, are commonly used and, as will be seen later, differentiated
semantically in careful use) and therefore a concern for linguistic
forms ranging from word elements to sentence sequences (for which,
again, the metonyms żabada
and vacana, both meaning a unit of speech, are commonly used
with some differentiation) as well as a concern for grammar (vyˇkara¸a) was widely shared by all thinkers
whether grammarians or not.
Traditional Indian thought involves taking a position on certain
key questions. It will be useful to set these out along with
alternative answers proposed and names of groups or individuals to
be associated with the answers.
(1) What is the chief object of philosophizing?
(a) Understanding (jµˇna) of what there is (vastu)
(a1) Understanding how to understand (vastu-jµˇna) according to Grammar (including
B), Hermeneutics (m˘mˇmsˇ),
(a2) Chiefly, understanding what there is to be understood
(vastv-artha), according to Pluralist Cosmology (vaišeŔika)
and of course various positive sciences (like Health science (ˇyurveda), Astromathematics (jyoti Ŕa) and normative sciences (like Ritual,
(b) Understanding of how to cope with one’s life.
(b1) Chiefly, managing life with success (as befits a worldly
according to Common Sense school (lokˇyata),
Political Economy (arthażˇstra,
Chiefly, changing oneself in such a way as to be free from the need
to manage (as befits a liberation-seeking one, mumukŔu), according to Sˇmkhya-Yoga,
Upanishadic thought, Vedˇnta,
so-called Kashmir Shaivism), Buddhism, Jainism, various god-participation
Notes (1) Quite
often, thinkers under (a) take up positions under (b) as well rather
than remain neutral. Thus,
B (Grammar), later Logic, later Pluralist cosmology additionally take
up position (b2); later Hermeneutics additionally takes up position
(b1) with the stipulation that rectitude (dharma) be adhered
to. (2) Again, thinkers under
(b) often take up positions under (a) rather than accept some received
account. Thus, Sˇmkhya
and Vedˇnta propose a paucalist cosmology, Buddhism
proposes its own pluralist cosmology and its own modified logic as
also Jainism. (‘Paucalist’
here is a cover term for ‘monist’ or ‘dualist’ as opposed to ‘pluralist’.)
(2) Understanding how language works is crucially
helpful in any serious philosophizing. That is, understanding language
vehicle (żabda/vˇc), language meaning (żabda-ˇrtha), and the bond (sambandha)
between the two. What then
is the chief object in understanding how language works?
Chiefly, understanding language vehicle, according to Phonology (żikŔˇ). Lexicon, Grammar (Pˇ¸ini and others).
Chiefly, Chiefly, understanding language meaning, according to Etymology
(nirukta), Hermeneutics, Logic, Poetics (kˇvyašˇstra).
Chiefly, understanding language bond, according to Grammar (Vyˇ·i, Vasurˇta,
B, Kau¸·a, Nˇgeša),
does understanding or cognition come about (jµˇnautpatti)? From
what sources (jµˇpaka)?
Chiefly by resolute search (ˇnv˘kŔik˘), according to Logic, Pluralist Cosmology,
Grammar (including B), Hermeneutics, positive sciences, Common Sense,
Political Economy, Buddhism, Jainism.
Chiefly by vision (darżana),
according to Sˇmkhya-Yoga,
Upanishadic thought, Vedˇnta,
Chiefly by precedent (paramparˇ)
according to normative sciences.
Notes: (1) Quite often, thinkers under each head resort to the remaining
two activities to. (2) At least someUpanishadic thought (Uddˇlaka Ëru¸˘ Gautama, for example) takes up position
can one make sure that understanding really amounts to right understanding
Discovery (pratyaya) without scrutiny (par˘kŔa¸a) is lame, scrutiny without discovery is
Cognition is never free from interpretation (nirŁpa¸a), what there is being forever inaccessible,
according to Buddhism (Nˇgˇrjuna), Grammar (B).
Cognition needs to reach out to what there is.
(b1) What there is being
independent of the cognizery (jnˇt¤),
typically material (ja·a),
according to Common Sense.
(b2) What there is being inherent in the cognizer, typically consciousness
(citi) or monitoring (vijµˇna),
according to Advaita Vedˇnta,
Pratyabhijµˇ, Vijµˇnavˇd˘ Buddhism
(other than Nˇgˇrjuna).
(b3) What there is being either of these, according to Grammar (including
B), Heremeneutics, Logic Pluralist Cosmology, Sˇmkhya-Yoga, Dvaita Vedˇnta, Sthaviravˇdi and Bˇhyˇrthavˇdi
between condition (sthit˘)
and process (gati) in either direction or between differing
conditions or between differing processes indicates causual dependency
(kˇrya-tva) as distinct from causal nondependence
(nitya-tva). How to
understand causal dependency?
(a) Chiefly, as genesis (utpatti/pari¸ati) in the course of which inflow or
undergoes activity (kriyˇ)
yielding outcome or output (kˇrya)
if any. Thus, uncooked rice
undergoes cooking yielding cooked rice thanks to fire, water etc.
along with occasion for cooking it etc.
Genesis activity typically leads to a fresh episode in which
the outcome/output now becomes the inflow/input, cooked rice getting
digested or further cooked, so to say, in the belly in the example
(a1) Process alone (if at all) exists, effectant
and outcome/output merely subsist, according to Vijµˇnavˇdi Buddhism.
Vedˇnta (Gau·apˇda), Jainism (This is the a-jˇti-vˇda
(a2) Process and outcome exist, according to Sthaviravˇdi
Buddhism. (This is the samutpˇda-vˇda
position, that tends to highlight causal dependency chains (pratitya-samputpˇda.)
(a3) Process, outcome, and condition exist, inflow/input
being pervasive (vyˇpaka)
or inclusive of outcome/output, according to Logic, Pluralist Cosmology.
(This is the pari¸ˇma-vˇda position)
(b) Chiefly, as manifestation (abhivyakti)
in the course of which manifest-yielder or unmanifest (vyaµjakala-vyakta) undergoes manifesting
thanks to power-transmission (šaktisaµcˇra) along with manifesting-assistants
if any. Thus, seed undergoes
sprouting and growing yielding seedling thanks to life-transmission
along with soil, moisture, etc. Manifesting
typically metamorphoses the unmanifest into the manifest, seed into
seeding in the example at hand.
(b1) Condition, unmanifest, manifest exist, manifest
being no other than (tadˇtma)
the unmanifest, according to Sˇmkhya,
early Vedˇnta. (this is
the sat-kˇrya-vˇda position)
(b2) Condition, unmanifest exist, manifest being
no other than a figuring out imposed (vivarta) on unmanifest,
according to Grammar (B), later Vedanta (Šamskara onwards).
(1) The term under (a) are
often substituted for the corresponding terms under (b). B, in spite
of his (b2) position, not only does this but on occasion adopts (a3)
(2) In certain cases, the inflow/unmanifest and
the outcome/manifest are seen to share a site (ˇśraya/adhikara¸a).
(3) Causal dependency may well be conducive, compulsive,
obstructive, or preventive (anukūla, bandhaka/avaśyambhˇvin, oratikula, pratibandhaka respectively).
(4) While thedistinction between the causally dependant
the causally non-dependent (nitya) is crucial in Indian thought,
it is open to a thinker, given the occasion, to suspend consideration
of the distinction and provisionally use the more fluid distinction
between the achievable (sˇdhya
/ prˇpya) and the available (siddha/prˇpta). Thus, language analysis consistently ignores language history and
treats everything in the language being looked at as available whether
it is liable to be lost or modified at a later time by virtue of causal
dependency or not so liable.
is man most himself when coming to terms with what there is?
(a) In understanding rightly
what there is to be understood, according to Sˇmkhya-Yoga,
Pratyabhijµˇ, Grammar (B).
(b) In accomplishing one’s goal through action (karman), according
to Common Sense, Hermeneutics.
(c) In accomplishing one’s
goal through action and at the same time understanding rightly what
there is to be understood, according to Bhagavadg˘ta,
god-participation schools, Dvaita Vedˇnta.
(d) In understanding rightly
what there is to cope with, namely, suffering (duĹkha/kleśa),
according to Upanishadic thought (at least some), Advaita, Vedˇnta, Buddhism, Jainism.
Notes : (1) Thinkers under (a), (c), and (except Buddhism,
Jainism) (d) recognize a non-interacting inner self (ˇtman) beyond the interacting out self
The rest do not,. (2)
Thinkers under (d) also take the position that there is ultimately
nothing to be understood (Buddhism, Jainism) or that what there is
ultimately cannot be understood, being the Overwhelming Other (Upanishadic
thought, Advaita Vedˇnta);
B joins the second group though falling under (a).
what different ways does man interact with what there is?
(a) Being a man is no more than being a site for
certain channels of consciousness, (pudgala individual), according
to the rest, including Health Science.
(b) Being a man is at least being a person (puruŔa) with certain channels of interaction,
according to the rest, including Health Science.
On either view, one does not think of man as body and soul put together
or as body, mind, and spirit put together, but rather as a whole person
to whom certain channels are available for interacting. There are certain broad correspondences between different schemes
of the channels. Two such
schemes widely accepted under (a) and (b) respectively are presented
here for comparison.
a1 Presentation (rūpa)
b1 gross (sthūla)
a2 name-holding (nˇma) b2
a sensing (vedantˇ)
b mentation (samjµˇ) b2 b
c disposition (samskˇra)
b2 b1 disposing
d monitoring (vijµˇna)
b2 b3 controlling (budh˘)
b2 b4 referral (asmitˇ/ahmkˇra)
Sˇmkhya was probably the originator of the
b3 scheme. Each channel under
b2 has a cognition aspect and an action aspect; for example, at b2
a are recognized five sense modes (sight, hearing touch, smell, taste)
and five action modes (speech, handling, legging, defecation, urination-coitus).
Memory is the cognitive aspect of b2-b2 and a2c.
The scheme appears in Upanishadic thought as the doctrine of
five sheaths covering the inner self (these košas being anna, prˇ¸a,
ˇnanda) : they roughly correspond to
b1, b2a, b2 b1 & 2, b2 b3 & 4, the fifth speath being the
inmost state of the inner self.
will be noticed that there are certain broad correlations between
the positions taken on each of the key questions.
In other words, not all the logically possible combinations
of position are attested. There
are of course many complications.
B appears to plough his own rather lonely furrow (with some
The task of placing B’s thought will not be complete without
a rough indication of the periods in the unfolding of the Indian intellectual
tradition. (This broad periodization does not wholly correspond
to the periodization of political-social-economic history and is subject
to revision in the light of current research.)
(1) Proto-historic period 20th-8th c BC associated
with Veda and brˇhma¸a texts, with a poetic-mythic-ritual-magical-ethnocentric-this-worldly
1st mythopoeia : the Indra pantheon out of the Varu¸a pantheon : asura demonology.
1st brahmanization : maintaining Vedic texts and
practices and Sanskrit in a beleagured Aryˇvarta (10th-6th c BC).
(2) Transition to historic period 8th c – 4th
c BC associated with Upanishadic thought, the Epics, Buddhism and
Jainism, gradual emergence of a prosaic-dialectic-ethical-technical-anthropocentria
world view admitting the other-worldly option the cosmocentric option,
and the genesis option (by the side of the accepted manifestation
account of causal dependency), wide acceptance of the twin doctrines
of kanna-phala and rebirth.
1st spiritual ferment : Upanishadic thought, Buddhism,
1st intellectual ferment : the emergence of disciplines
and their gradual dissociation from the Vedas.
1st debrahmanization : Samkhya, Yoga, Tantra
Note : The worldview translation has often been seen as a part
of a worldwide Axial Revolution comprising Rome.
Greece, Hebrew prophets (Isaiah to Jesus), Persia (Zarathushtra
to Manes), India, and China (Laotse, K’ungfuse andMengtse).
(3) Ancient period 3rd c BC-7th c CE associated
with India as the home of a world-linked civilization and the rise
of Pˇli and the Prˇk¤its (the literary
vehicles of Middle Indo-Aryan).
2nd mythopoei : theTrimūrti and Dev˘
2nd brahmanization 3rd c BC – 4th
c CE : emphasis on codification, hierarchy, constraints, anti-intellectualism.
2nd intellectual ferment : debates between and within
Vedic, Buddhist, Jain, and Vedānta camps 4th-9th
(4) Mediaeval period 8th c – 18th c CE associated
with bhakti cults, purā¸a
texts, insulation from non-Hindu contacts across and within the borders,
the rise of Modern Indian languages and their poetry (little or no
prose or intellectual discourse in these languages)
3rd intellectual ferment 8th-18thc CE.
2nd de-brahmanization : Nath and ku¸·dalinī
3rd brahmanization : intellectual complacency or
Note : Sanskrit (but not Pāli or Prākrits) continues
as a vehicle of intellectual discourse in prose or verse.
Note : The terms ‘brahmanization’ and ‘de-brahmanization’ of
course refer back to Brahmanism and not to the Brahmans as such.
B belongs to the 2nd intellectual ferment, though
he presents himself as a Brahmanist.
He carries on from Grammar (Vyā·i,
Vājapyāyana, Audumbarāyana, Pataµjali,
his own teacher Vasurāta); B was supported by Ma¸·anamiśra (Hermeneutics to Vedānta) and Grammar (Kau¸·a,
Nāgeśa; B influenced Jai Logic (Mallavādin), Pratyabhijńā (Abhinavagupta, and Poetics (Ānandavardhana);
and B was opposed by Hermeneutics (Kumārila), Logic (Vācaspati
and Jayanta), Buddhist Logic (Di´nāga,
Harmakīrti), and Vedānta (Šamskara).
The available commentaries on B include those of V¤Ŕabha
(on VP book I). Helārāja
(on VP book III) Pu¸yarāja (chiefly
on VP book II), none of them later than the 10 c CE, they are great
help, apart from the auto-commentary, in the understanding of VP kārikās.
In a milieu of polemical dialogues or a senātentious monologue
B’s presentation is often in the likeness of an interior monologue
in which he reviews various available positions and then offers a
new position or selects an available position such that it will put
the remaining positions in a new perspective that will make allowance
for whatever plausibility they possess..
His cognitive style is gentle rather than hard, depth-seeking
rather than tidiness-seeking. Once in a while, he treats us to charming cameos
of ordinary life by way of illustration (a mother pacifying a crying
child by saying, ‘Be quiet or the tiger will carry you away’) or metaphor
(a bird-catcher plying his trade).
Having placed B within the Indian tradition and having made
the modern reader aware of the key questions that were being asked
within that tradition, we shall now consider some of the other difficulties
in understanding B and ways of mitigating them.
Inadequate translations of key terms like Šabada (as word)
artha (as sense, jńāna (as knowledge, nitya (as constant or even
eternal) in contexts in which they don’t have these senses is another
difficulty that we have sought to remove. (Very often in B, these terms mean speech,
speech form/language, speech meaning/what there is to be understood,
understanding a cognition, causally non-dependent respectively.)
His handling of kārikās,
which are supposed to be the verse counterparts of the prose aphorisms
(sūtras) in intellectual discourse has not made for lucidity. His terminology is not stream-lined but fluid; this may be due to
exigencies of verse form and to a relatively exploratory style, but
may also be due to his pioneer status.
His doctrines of spho¶a,
of a-kha¸·a-pakŔa, and šabada-tattva are often
discussed in isolation from the rest of his thought, which make these
seem stranger or more mystifying than they need to.
His arrangement of topics does not always make for a clear
grasp on our part of the over-all structure of his thought or of its
Kant has said (Critique of Pure Reason B 370 that our
job is to understand Plato better than he understood himself.
This study is an attempt to present B’s thought on language
with a more careful arrangement of topics, a more careful use of terminology,
but with a less careful separation between what B has taken over from
the tradition and from other thinkers and what he has contributed
himself and also a less careful separation between what he has to
say tacitly or implicitly and what he has to say explicitly. We hope to bring in greater tidiness without
sacrificing either the gentleness or the depth. (What Kant said is not a piece of presumptiousness or arrogance
but the recognition of one way of repaying our debt to a major thinker.) The foregoing preliminary notes, sketchy as
they are, should be of help to someone, especially a modern philosopher
or scientist of language, in placing in perspective B’s thought, which
does not really recognize either a split between the philosophy (mīmāmsā
in the broader sense) of language and the science (šāstra)
of language or a split between a consideration of (a) speech (vyākara¸a), (b) interpretation (mīmāmsā
in the narrower sense of hermeneutics), and (c) cognition (nyāya
that comprises logic, dialectic, and epistemology as one sees them
His thought on the narrowly grammatical
questions (available in most of the ‘topics’ of book III of VP) cannot
be fully understood except in the context of certain prior steps (available
in books I, II, and some of the ‘topics’ of boo III). The steps in their order are –
Language as communication
Language as human practice (loka-vyavahāra)
Language as cognition (jńāna)
The present account, as the title suggests,
is confined to these three steps.
No textual references will be offered.
The Sanskrit terms are given in parentheses primarily on their
first occurrence and should serve to offer bearings to the reader.
(A newcomer should feel free to ignore them in the first reading.)
Language as Communication : Communication
(pratipdāna) presupposes comprehension ((pratipatti).
The first is an action episode (karman, kriyā), but the
second is a cognition episode (jńāna and jńapti). In any communication episode, the communicator
(pratipādayit¤) brings about the
comprehension of the meaning (pratipādya/pratipanna) in
the comprehendor (pratipatt¤) with the help of some means of communication
terminology is not all that stream-lined, it is more fluid and informal,
as has already been indicated. This
observation applies throughout).
All communication and ensuing comprehension is, in a deep sense,
linguistic. This is true of seemingly non-linguistic communication
and comprehension as in animals, newborn humans, children, even humans
when they use silent language as in pointing fingers, flying banners,
or wooing the beloved.
In what is normally called a linguistic
communication-and-comprehension-episode, namely, a speech transaction
(vˇgvyavahˇra), the speaker (vakt¤)
brings about speech reception (šabda/graha¸a) of the
speech meaning (šabda-ˇrtha/vˇcya/ukta) in the listener (šrot¤,
šabda-grahit¤) being addressed (sambodhita) with
the help of some speech act (vacana, ukti).
One may present the causal dependency underlying the speech
transaction as genesis or as manifestation.
In the course of genesis, speech act as input undergoes the composite
episode of speech transaction, which yields speech reception as output
thanks to effectant speech bond.
In the site of the speaker, speech meaning undergoes speech
performance (šabdaprayoga) yielding speech vehicle thanks to
speech bond. In the site of the listener, speech vehicle
undergoes speech performance yielding speech meaning thanks again
to speech bond.
In the course of manifestation, unmanifest speech (ˇvyakta-šabda) undergoes the speech transaction
manifesting, yielding manifest speech (vyakta-šabda) thanks
to speech power transmission (šabda-šakti-sańcāra). In the site of the speaker, unmanifest speech
undergoes speech power linkage (šabdašakti-yoga) yielding manifest
speech in successive stages thanks respectively to inner, mediate,
outer speech power transmission (pašyant˘,
madhyamˇ, vaikhar˘ vˇ¸˘).
In the site of the listener,
manifest speech undergoes speech power linkage yielding unmanifest
speech in reversed stages. The
three stages in the speaker are the following: (a) inner speech that
consists in figured-out (sa-vikalpa) speech meaning; (b) mediate
speech that consists in figured-out speech meaning and quality specified
(sa-gu¸a) speech form that is classified and
sequenced segments; and (c) outer speech that consists in figured-out
speech meaning and quality-specified speech form and accessibly formed
speech vehicle. The stages
are incremental in the speaker (speech-meaning, speech form, speech
vehicle) and the listener (speech vehicle, speech form, speech meaning).
Thus, looking out the window, one sees falling
drops of water. One ‘sees’
that it is raining. One then
recalls a dark shape seen on the horizon earlier.
One ‘sees’ that one saw a dark cloud.
One wonders about the connection between the ongoing experience
and the recalled experience, and welcomes the rain on a stuffy afternoon. One ‘sees’ in a flash how the dark cloud has
brought welcome rain. This
inner seeing, this figuring out is inner speech.
One silently says to oneself in English or Hindi or whatever
and hears oneself saying this or that thing.
This is figured-out inner speech getting translated, so to
say, into figured-out mediate speech complete with classified segments
in due sequence. One may then choose to speak out to another
and choose what one speaks about and speaks out. The outcome is figured-out, quality-specified, and accessibly formed
outer speech. One hopes that
the listener will arrive at a seeing that is reasonably close to one’s
own seeing, after moving from accessibly formed speech through successfully
formed, quality-specified speech to figuring-out, quality-specified,
accessibility formed speech.
Note: B has conveyed this account in terms of manifestation
by using a popular metaphor already used by grammarians in other connections
: the metaphor is probably of bursting sound as on percussion (spho¶a) and resulting resonance (dhvani,
respectively for unmanifest speech and manifest speech.
B does not turn down the genesis account but finds the manifestation
account much more illuminating.
Language as human practice : A new term, ‘speech power’,
has been introduced. Speech power is the power that sustains speech
bond in a specific language (bhˇŔˇ). Now what sustains the power of the speech bond?
B places language squarely in human practice.
(1) In the course of manifestation, unmanifest apeaker-intention-claim
(vivakŔˇ) undergoes speech transaction yielding manifest
listener-discovery (pratyaya) thanks to the intentionality-in-the-speech-bond
in the site of the interlocutors (vˇk-prayok¤ts)
: The term tatparya-śakti came later, B uses yogyatˇ (or yogya-bhˇva). The term yogyatˇ later came to mean the compatibility
aspect of sentence-cohesion, and tˇtparya-śakti
(literally, ‘that-for-ness’) was assigned to intentionality-in-the-speech-bond.
The transition from speaker-intention-claim through intentionality
to listener-discovery applies to speech vehicle and to speech form
as it does to speech meaning.
In the site of a would-be interlocutor, typically a child, unmanifest
specific language competence (šabda-šakti) undergoing language
acquisition (šabda-šakti-graha) yields manifest specific language
competence (šabda-šakti) thanks to language faclty ((šabda-bhˇvanˇ)
along with assistants like exposure to grown-up-interlocutor-transaction
(v¤ddha-vyavahˇra) and elucidation (vivara¸a) offered by grown-up interlocutors,
grammarians or the like)
Two more questions can be asked for which B has only partial
answers. The question ‘How do specific languages arise?’
was traditionally answered : ‘Through language degeneration’ (apabhramša). But B holds that language faculty also causes
generalized language competence (šabda-tattva) to be manifest,
yielding unmanifest specific language competence. So we have a chain of manifestations : generalized language competence
(whose details, discussed in VP book III, add up to what Westerners
have called ‘universal grammar’) through specific language competence
to speech transaction. The
question ‘Where does language faculty come from?’
was answered by B: ‘Through traces (vˇsanˇ) left from previous births’ (which
was the traditional Indian way of saying, ‘as innate capacity’).
The traditional Indian way of asking the question ‘What sustains
the power of the speech bond?’ was
‘Is speech bond characterized by causal dependency (kˇrya-tva)
or causal non-dependence (nitya-tva)?’
Ordinarily, interlocutors and language specialists choose to
regard speech bond simply as an available (siddha) given. In a few cases (samjńˇ-šabda), as assigned proper names or
as assigned technical terms, the speech meaning has been arbitrarily
assigned to the speech form within the span of living memory (ādhunika). What about the majority of cases that remain?
(3) Is the speech bond essentially causal-dependency-bound (kārya)
or causally independent (nitya)?
(a) It is causally dependent, being basically
sustained by assignment (samketa) or by convention (samaya)
(a1) In accordance with God’s will (išvara-icchā)
which imparts power to it, according to early logic, Pluralist Cosmology.
Note : This position has evoked the ironic query, ‘God appears
to have plenty of leisure to do it lexical item by lexical item?’ This is apparently a pious way of mitigating (a), except in the
case of samjńā.
(a2) In accordance with somebody’s will,
whether God’s or (in the case of samjńā) an ordinary person’s,
according to later logic.
(b) It is causally independent and the
common property of people (loka).
(b1) Except when (in the case of samjńā)
effected by restrictive rule (niyama-k¤ta), according to
(b2) It is felt-to-be-appropriate (yogyatā-rūpa)
because people, conditioned by memory of constant association (nitya-sāhacarya-sm¤ti),
actually impute (adhyāsa) the meaning to the speech form;
indeed they even identify the two (tādātmya), according
(c) It is sustained by specific language
competence which is manifest generalized language competence, according
Language as cognition : All cognition is, in a deep
sense, linguistic; this is true of seemingly non-linguistic cognition,
as in animals, newborn humans, children.
Comprehension of what is communicated is of course only a special
case of cognition. Generalized language competence covers both
communication and comprehension, and, again, both comprehension following
communication and comprehension of on-going and recalled experience.
In taking this position, B does not receive much support. The ‘linguistic turn’ that begins with Nāgarjuna
and culminates in B in Indian philosophy does not quite fructify.
This position of B is his way of saying three things :
(1) Some say that cognition needs to reach out to what there is,
but what there is inherent in the cognizer, typically the cognizer’s
consciousness. The impression
that what there is can be independent of the cognizer is no more than
the cognizer’s imaginative figuring out of something out there. B argues that, while no cognition is free from interpretation (nirūpa¸a),
this additive is not so much a mater wholly private to the cognizer
as a mater publicly shared through generalized language competence
if not through specific language competence.
Even wholly silent cognition that does not get ‘translated’
into mediate or outer speech falls back on inner speech.
How else to account for space or time sense, for example?
(2) Is there pure discovery (pratyaya) that is yet free from
inner speech? Pure sensation,
for example? B concedes that
this can be. But such pure
discovery is cognition in only a rudimentary sense : it cannot be
retrieved, communicated, or manipulated in any way.
Any cognition worth the name involves at least some figuring
out (viklpa) and any such figuring out attracts at least rudimentary
mediate speech forms (such as ‘this’, ‘that’,
‘something or other’). As
we have already seen, inner speech is figured-out (sa-vikalpa).
Figuring out inner speech (pašyantī), time-wise
imaging or storying (kriyā-vivarta), space-wise imaging
or picturing (mūrti-vivarta) are all channeled through disposing
(citta). (B uses the cover term pratibhā for all such
capacities of citta). Sooner
or later, we have to recognize inmost recesses of pašyanti, call it
par-paśyantī if you like.
(Later, the terms pašyantī or simply parā came to
be used). (In any case, how
else to account for mystical experience except as inmost seeing, figured-out
or non-figured-out as the case may be?)
(3) Man is most himself in understanding rightly what there is to
be understood. What there
is to be understood cannot be understood, being the Overwhelming Other
(Brahman), the eminently unmanifest, any aspect of the manifest
being no more than an imposed figuring out (vivarta).
Considering that all that is manifest is open to interpretation
through speech (šabda), what better way could there be of being most oneself in understanding rightly than through
generalized speech competence (śabda-tattva) reaching
to the inmost recesses of speech.
One has access to the Overwhelming Other through speech (šabda-tattva-brahman).
Note : Compare similar claims about musical resonance (nāda-brahma).
Another related position that B takes and that was widely resisted
was his invoking unmanifest speech (āvyaktašabda) or spho¶a in attempting certain problems in
accounting for the operations of language recognized by Indian grammarians,
namely, the following –
How is it that varying manifests are figured out as the same language
unit, whether speech sound (var¸a), word (pada),
or sentence (vākya)?
By virtue of the unmanifest kind (jāti-spho¶a).
How is it that fragmented manifests are figured out as the united
language unit, whether speech sound, word, or sentence> By virtue
of the unmanifest unity (akha¸·a-spho¶a).
B proposed his version of the spho¶a
doctrine in connection with var¸a-jāti-spho¶a, and akha¸·a-vākya-spho¶a.
Others applied it to the remaining cases. The crucial point that concerns B’s version of the doctrine is the
janusfaced role played by unmanifest speech sound, unmanifest word,
and unmanifest sentence. They
are both signates (vācyas) and signants (vācakas). Thus, unmanifest word is the signates of speech
sounds but the signant of speech meanings. B also takes up another related problem.
is it that certain operator speech forms such as certain flexions
or particles participate in the speech meaning formulation or comprehension
without any speech meaning directly assignable to them?
They are essentially signants that assist other signants in
meaning formulation or comprehension.
Thus, a negative operator within a word or a sentence has no
signate of its own but merely bars the signate of the signant it accompanies.
Note : Later, such operators were treated not as signants (vācakas). B distinguishes between grammatically figured-out
speech forms (anvākhyeya-śabda) and communicating
speech forms (pratipādaka-śabda); his attempt to
assimilate the content/operator speech form distinction to this latter
distinction is not wholly felicitous.
This exposition of what B has got to say on language when read
carefully with the preliminary notes should serve to reveal the wide-ranging
scope and the deep penetration of this pioneering thinker on language. (Let it be noted that we have left out B’s insights on the specific
topics in language). Those
familiar with modern studies of B will appreciate that the tendency
to mystification has been consistently resisted in the present account. It may be noted in passing how Saussure resembles
B in adopting a semiotic framework in thinking on language and linguistic
I I I
How do we sum up the overall
trend of B’s thought on language as a philologist (lover of speech)
and as a philosopher (lover of wisdom) in a terminology that is accessible
(1) Language (unmanifest speech power) is certainly a means
(contributory cause) of communication (pratipādna). But it is much more. It is nothing less than a medium (manifestation)
of human understanding or cognition (jńāna) in that a
generalized speech power manifests man’s capacity for cognition and
a specific language manifests that generalized speech power.
(a) So, as a philologist, he attends to the speech
meaning rather than the speech vehicle.
(b) So, as a philosopher, he sees part meanings
as no more than intersections of whole meanings (a-kha¸·a-śabda-artha),
and sees universals (kinds, qualities, actions) rather than particulars
(substances, individuals) as the basis of the unity of word meaning.
(2) Language use (speech transaction, vāc-vyavahāra)
is certainly the performing of a text calling for interpretation. But it is much more. It is nothing less than the performing of an
act calling for a response.
(a) So, as a philologist, he attends to the actual specifics
(speech transaction) rather than the abstract form (speech power,
śabda-śakti). The specific context(s), for example, are accorded
(b) So, as a philosopher, he sees configuration
(kalpanā) imposed by the minding faculty (manas)
rather than any direct account of what there is out there (bāhyārtha)
as available to man.
It should be interesting, and instructive, to compare B’s thought
on language with that of Wittgenstein, early and late.
Earlier Wittgenstein, an associate of Ideal Language philosophers,
appears to agree with B in respect of (2), (2b) but not so much in
respect of (1), (1b). Later
Wittgenstein, an associate of Ordinary Language philosophers and a
part-time philologist, appears to agree with B on both (1), (1b),
and (2), (2b). One difficulty in comparing the two thinkers
is that the problematics they are disposed to select for closer attention
in applying their basic insights present a somewhat limited overlap. This, of course, is also a measure of the difference
between the traditions within which the two respectively operate.
It will be interesting to make similar comparisons with other
Indian and Western thinkers on language.
The following schemata are only a tentative beginning subject
of course not only to elaboration but also to possible corrections.
is chiefly a means of human communication and its use is chiefly the
making of text.
Language is chiefly a means of human communication and its use is
chiefly the performing of an act.
Language is chiefly a medium of human cognition and its use is chiefly
the making of a text.
Language is chiefly a medium of human cognition and its use chiefly
is the performing of an act.
Note : It will be seen that B fits best under
(D), and so does later Wittgenstein but earlier Witgenstein fits best
(2) Philologists :
the śikŔa phonologists; Bloomfield.
The prakriyā Grammarians (like Bhaoji), the prātišākhya
phoneticians; Saussure, the Prague school, Haliday.
Sapir, the rebels against Chomsky
Note : The cleavage between (A,C) and (B,D)
appears to be more salient than that between (A,B) and (C,D).
(3) Philosophers of language
Logic (nyāya school); Locke
Ideal language philosophy, earlier Wittgenstein
Hermeneutics (mīmāmsā school); Descrates, Frege
Kant, Humboldt, later Witgenstein, Ordinary Language philosophy
Note : The cleavages appear to go the same
way as with philologists (note under 2).
Apparently, the alternative (B) is not attested among Indian
philosophers of language.
is of course more to B and other thinkers on language than such pigeonholing,
but some diversion was needed after such a strenuous journey.
A Select Bibliography for further Reading
Texts and Translations
Vākyapadīya of Bhart¤hari Ed. Abhyankar, K.V.; Limaye, V.P.,
Pune : University of Pune, 1965. (Bare text).
Bhart¤haris Vākyapadīya. Ed. Rau, Wilhelm.
Wiesbaden : Franz Steiner for Deutsche Morgenlandische Gesellschaft,
1977. (Bare text, with a pāda-index). Another version, Bhart¤hari’s Vākyapadīya II, 1991. (Bare
Vākyapadīya of Bhart¤hari Ed. And transl. Iyer, K.A. subramania.
Kanda 1, v¤tti, V¤sabha’s commentary. Pune : Deccan College, 1966. English tr. Pune : Deccan College, 1965.
Kānda 2, v¤tti, Punyarāja’s commentary, Delhi : Motilal
Banarsidass, 1983. English
tr. Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass, 1977.
Kānda 3, Helāraja’s commentary, 2 parts. Pune : Deccan College,
1963, 1973. English tr. Partly,
Pune : Deccan College, 1971. Part
2, Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass, 1974. (No v¤tti on book has
come down to us; probably none was written).
Bhart¤hari Vākyapadīya Brahmakānda. Avec
le v¤tti de Hariv¤sabha. Texte reproduit de edition de Lahore
(ed. Charudev Sastri, in 2 parta, 1934, 1939/40). Traduction, introductio, et notes. Biardeau, Madeline. Paradise Boccard, for Institout de Civilisation
indienne, 1964. (Translation closer than Iyer’s translation).
Mahābhāsyadīpikā of Bhart¤hari. Ed. Abhyankar,
K.V.; Limaye, V.P. Pune : Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute,
Critical ed. With English tr. (ahnikas 1-7). 8 fascicules, by various hands.
Pune : Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1985-91.
Indian Intellectual Tradition
Mohanty, Jitendra Nath. Indian philosophy. In : Encyclopaedia Brittannica.
15th ed. Chicago; London 1974. Macropaedia Vol.9, p. 313-34.
Potter, Karl H. Presuppositions of India’s philosophies. Englewood chiffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963.
Bary, William Theodore de, & others, compilers. Sources of Indian
tradition. New York: Columbia U.P., 1958. Indian rpt: Delhi : Motilal
Banarsidass, 1963. (Extracts in English translation)
Indian Thought on Grammar, Language, Logic, Cognition, and Reality
Biardeau, Madeleine. Théorie de la conaissance et philosophie de parole
dans le brahmanisme classique. Paris; The Hague : Mouton, 1964.
Chakraborti, Prabhat Chandra. The Philosophy of Sanskrit grammar. Calcutta
-----Linguistic speculations of the Hindus. Calcuta 1933.
Kunjunni Raja, K. Indian theories ofmeaning. Chennai (Madras) : Adyar
Library, 1963; revised 1969. (Based
on U. of London Ph.D. diss., 1954).
Matilal, Bimal Krishna, Epistemology, logic, and grammar in Indian philosophical
analysis. The Hague : Mouton 1971. sections 1:4, p. 29-34; 3 : 5,
p.109-13 on B’s thought.
-----Logic, language and reality : An Introduction to Indian philosophical
studies. Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass,
----- The Word and the world : India’s contribution to the study of language.
Delhi : Oxford U.P., 1990. Chapters 8, p.84-98; 99, p. 120-32,
Ruegg, David Seyfort. Contributions
a ‘histoire de la philosophie linguistique indiene, Paris : de Boccard,
for Instunt de Civilisation indienne, 1959.
Coward, Harold G.; Kunjunni Raja, K. ed. The Philosophy of the grammarians.
Being : Encyclopaedia of Indian philosophies. Ed. Potter, Karl
H., Vol. 5. Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass, 1990.
Staal, John F., ed. A Reader on the Sanskrit grammarians, Cambridge, MA
: MIT Press, 1951; Delhi Motilal Banarasidass, 1985.
Akuljkar, Ashok Narhar. The Philosophy of Bhart¤hari’s Trikā¸·i. Harvard, Harvard U.Ph.D. dis. 1970, unpublished.
----Bhart¤hari. In : Arrington,Robert L., ed. A companion
to the philosophers. Oxford : Blackwell, forthcoming.
Gauriantha sastri. The Philosophy of word and meaning : Some Indian approaches
with special reference to Bhart¤hari. Calcutta : Government
Sanskrit College, 1959. Rptd 1981.
----A study of the dialectics of spho¶a.
Delhi : Motilal Banarasidass, 1980.
----The philosophy of Bhart¤hari. Delhi : Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan,
Iyer. K.A. Subrahmania, Bhart¤hari : A study of the Vākyapadīya
in thelight of the ancient commentaries. Pune : Deccan College, 1969.
Matilal, Bimal Krishna; Sen, P.K. The Context principle and some Indian
controversies over meaning. Mind 97 : 73-97, January 1988 (Frege,
Mimāmsā and Bhart¤hari.)
Bhate, Saroja; Kar, Yashodhara. Word index to the Vākyapadīya
of Bhart¤hari (together with the complete text) Delhi : Eastern Book
--- Bronkhorst, Johannes, ed. Proceedings of the First International Conference
on Bhart¤hari, University of Poona, January 6-8, 1992. Being
: Asiatische Studien / Etudes asiatiques. Bern : Peter Lang 47:1, 1993. Rptd
as a book : Bhart¤hari : Philosopher and grammarian : Proceedings
…. Delhi : Motilal Banarasidass, 1994, rptd. 1997 including : Aklujkar,
Ashok N. An Introduction to the study of Bhart¤hari, p 7-36;
Ramseier, Yves, Bibliography of Bhart¤hari,p 235-67.
Rau, Wilhelm, Bhart¤haris Vākyapadīya Vollstāndiger
Wortindex zu den mūlakārikās. Stuttgart : Franz Steiner, for Akademic der
Wissenschaften und der Literatur, 1988.
--- With Peri Sarveswara Sharma, ed. Vākyapadīyaprameyasamgraha….
München : Wilhelm Fink, for Marburger Gelehrten Gesellschaft, 1978.
(Anonymous scholia on VP, book II).
This is a thoroughly revised version of a paper presented at
the seminar on ‘Word and Sentence : Two perspectives : Bhartrihari
and Wittgenstein’ at Sahitya Akademi (The Indian Academy of Letters),
New Delhi, on 12-14 December 1994.
The paper owes its existence to my senior friend Professor
K.J. Shah who would not take a no for an answer from an absolute novice
in Bhart¤hari studies. Unfortunately he did not live to attend the seminar that he had
planned. To his fond memory I dedicate this essay.
A novice badly needs both encouragement and nitpicking critics. Both were presented in ample measure by my
junior friend. Professor Ashok
Aklujkar (Department of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, BC, Canada) who suffered its two earlier versions as also
my obstinacies. Comments will be welcome from the knowledgeable
as well as the curious and may be sent to the following address :
7 Dhananjay, 759/83 off Bhandarkar Road.
This paper is published one proceedings and also in the Yearbook
of South Asian Linguistics 1999 (Sage India, New Delhi).
The Proceedings appeared later : Word and Sentence : Two
perspectives : Bhart¤hari and Wittgenstein. New Delhi : Sahitya Akademi, 2002, p.78-103.