Ashok R. Kelkar



What 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 I-II.


            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), Logic (nyˇya).


            (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, Law, Poetics).


            (b) Understanding of how to cope with one’s life.


            (b1) Chiefly, managing life with success (as befits a worldly one, sˇmsˇrika), according to Common Sense school (lokˇyata), Political Economy (arthażˇstra, da¸·an˘ti).


            (b2) 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, Pratyabhijµˇ (the so-called Kashmir Shaivism), Buddhism, Jainism, various god-participation (bhakti) cults.



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?


(a)        Chiefly, understanding language vehicle, according to Phonology (żikŔˇ). Lexicon, Grammar (Pˇ¸ini and others).

(b)        Chiefly, Chiefly, understanding language meaning, according to Etymology (nirukta), Hermeneutics, Logic, Poetics (kˇvyašˇstra).

(c)        Chiefly, understanding language bond, according to Grammar (Vyˇ·i, Vasurˇta, B, Kau¸·a, Nˇgeša), Rhetoric (alamkˇrašˇstra).


(3)  How does understanding or cognition come about (jµˇnautpatti)?  From what sources (jµˇpaka)?


(a)     Chiefly by resolute search (ˇnv˘kŔik˘), according to Logic, Pluralist Cosmology, Grammar (including B), Hermeneutics, positive sciences, Common Sense, Political Economy, Buddhism, Jainism.

(b)     Chiefly by vision (darżana), according to Sˇmkhya-Yoga, Upanishadic thought, Vedˇnta, Pratyabhijµˇ.

(c)     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 (a).


(4)  How can one make sure that understanding really amounts to right understanding (jµˇapti)?  Discovery (pratyaya) without scrutiny (par˘kŔa¸a) is lame, scrutiny without discovery is blind.


(a)       Cognition is never free from interpretation (nirŁpa¸a), what there is being forever inaccessible, according to Buddhism (Nˇgˇrjuna), Grammar (B).

(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 Buddhism, Jainsim.


(5)  Transition 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 input (kˇryin) 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 at hand.


            (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 position.)


            (a2)  Process and outcome exist, according to Sthaviravˇdi and Bˇhyˇrthavˇd˘ 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 (abhivyaµjana/ pari¸ˇma), yielding manifest (vyan´gya/vyakta) thanks to power-transmission (šaktisaµcˇra) along with manifesting-assistants (abhivyaµjaka) 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).


            Note: (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) stance.


            (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 (kˇrya) or 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.


(6)  When 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 (asmitˇ/ ahamkˇra).  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).


(7)  In 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.


            Note: 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            subtitle (sūkŔma)

            a2 a            sensing (vedantˇ)                      b2 a            outer (bˇhya)

            a2 b            mentation (samjµˇ)                  b2 b            inner (antar)

            a2 c            disposition (samskˇra)            b2 b1            disposing (citta)

            a2 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, manas, vijµˇna, ˇnanda) : they roughly correspond to b1, b2a, b2 b1 & 2, b2 b3 & 4, the fifth speath being the inmost state of the inner self.


            It 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 untypical combinations).


            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 worldview.


            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, Jainism.

            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˘ pantheon; rākŔasa demonology


            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 c CE.


(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 Yoga, bhakti.


            3rd brahmanization : intellectual complacency or intolerance


            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 sphoa, 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 cross-disciplinary ramifications.  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 today).

            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  (pratipādana)

            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 (pratipādaka).  (B’s 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.

(1)               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.

(2)               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 (sphoa) and resulting resonance (dhvani, nˇda) standing 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 (tˇtparya-šakti) in the site of the interlocutors (vˇk-prayok¤ts)


Note : 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.


(2)               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 (yad¤cchayā) 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 hermenutics, Vedānta.



            (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 to Grammar.


            (c)            It is sustained by specific language competence which is manifest generalized language competence, according to B.


            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 sphoa in attempting certain problems in accounting for the operations of language recognized by Indian grammarians, namely, the following –

(1)   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-sphoa).

(2)   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-sphoa).


Actually, B proposed his version of the sphoa doctrine in connection with var¸a-jāti-sphoa, and akha¸·a-vākya-sphoa.  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.


(3)  How 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 analysis.







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 to us?


(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 special attention.


            (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.


(1)    (A)  Language is chiefly a means of human communication and its use is chiefly the making of text.

(B)  Language is chiefly a means of human communication and its use is chiefly the performing of an act.

(C) Language is chiefly a medium of human cognition and its use is chiefly the making of a text.

(D) 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 under(B).


(2)  Philologists :


(A)      ¸ini, the śikŔa phonologists; Bloomfield.

(B)       The prakriyā Grammarians (like Bhaoji), the prātišākhya phoneticians; Saussure, the Prague school, Haliday.

(C)      Nāgeša; Chomsky

(D)      Bhart¤hari; 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


(A)     Logic (nyāya school); Locke

(B)     Ideal language philosophy, earlier Wittgenstein

(C)     Hermeneutics (mīmāmsā school); Descrates, Frege

(D)     Bhart¤hari; 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.


There 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 text).

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, 1970.

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 1931.

-----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, 1985.

----- 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, 12, p.133-41.

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.


Bhart¤hari Thought


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 sphoa. Delhi : Motilal Banarasidass, 1980.

----The philosophy of Bhart¤hari. Delhi : Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan, 1991.

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 Linkers, 1992.

--- 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.  Pune-411004, India.


            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.