Vakyapadiya (study of the concept of Sentence)

by Sarath P. Nath | 2018 | 36,088 words

This page relates ‘Various Means of Ascertainment of Meaning’ of the study on Vakyapadiya by Bhartrhari and his treatment of the Concept of Sentence in Language. Bhartrhari was a great grammarian and philosopher who explored the depth and breadth of Sanskrit grammar. These pages analyse the concepts and discussions on sentence and sentence-meaning presented in the Vakyapadiya, against the different systems of knowledge prevalent in ancient India (such as Mimamsa, Nyaya and Vyakarana).

5.2. Various Means of Ascertainment of Meaning

According to Bhartṛhari, sentence is the primary conveyor of meaning in a communication. Words and word-meanings are only manifesters of the meaning of sentence. In certain situations, word-meanings are even insignificant also. Bhartṛhari says that to console a crying child, one may threaten him that a tiger would eat him. Here, the intention of the speaker is not to threaten the child, but to put off his crying (Vākyapadīya, 2.321). Sometimes, the intention may be far away from the chief meaning of the sentence. Bhartṛhari cites some examples for such ambiguities in the meaning. When one says to other 'look at the sun, we have to go', it really indicates the time, even though it says something about sun. (Vākyapadīya, 2.310) Similarly, when a boy is told 'save the butter from the crows', the speaker intends to keep the butter away from all the birds and animals. Thus, Bhartṛhari intends to say that the meaning of a sentence does not depend on the meanings of its parts. But it is a flash of understanding. Speakers use the words to express the literal sense and also to express some intended sense. The speaker's intention, embedded in the sentence, cannot be understood through its parts.

Bhartṛhari says that the meanings of words are determined according to the sentence, situation, meaning, propriety, place and time, but not according to its mere external form.

vākyāt prakaraṇādarthaucityāddeśakālataḥ
śabdārthāḥ pravibhajyante na rūpādeva kevalāt
  —(Vākyapadīya, 2.314)

Besides these factors, he gives an account of contextual and syntactic factors, which helps to determine the precise meaning of an expression.

They are stated in the following verses:-

saṃsargo viprayogasca sāhacaryaṃ virodhitā
arthaḥ prakaraṇaṃ liṅgam śabdasyānyasya sannidhiḥ
sāmarthyamaucitī deśaḥ kālo vyaktiḥ svarādayaḥ
śabdārthasyānavacchede viśeṣasmṛtihetavaḥ
  —(Vākyapadīya, 2.315-316)

Vṛtti and the commentary of Puṇyarāja makes this view clear by citing examples. K A S Iyer opines that these verses may be quotations from some unknown work (Vākyapadīya, 2.314). Anyway this list has been adopted by the later philosophers to discuss about the problems of ambiguous expressions.

(i) Saṃyoga (Association):

Some words are used in more than one meaning. The meaning in which it is used in a particular context can be determined by its association with other words. The word hari can be taken as the example. This word is used to denote various meanings like 'Lord Viṣṇu', 'monkey', 'lion' etc. When this word is associated with the words śaṅkha (conch) and cakra (discus), it denotes Lord Viṣṇu.

(ii) Viprayoga (Dissociation):

The meaning of words, which denotes more than one meaning, can be determined by dissociation also. The sentence ' akiśorā dhenurānīyatām' is the given example. The word dhenu may denote a 'cow' or a 'mare'. But here, the phrase akiśorā (without calf) implies dissociation, which makes it clear that a cow is referred to.

(iii) Sāhacaryam [sāhacaryam] (Mutual association):

When somebody says ' Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa went to forest', it is unambiguous that the son of Daśaratha is referred to here, but not Balarāma (the brother of Kṛṣṇa). This meaning is determined on the basis of mutual association of Rāma with Lakṣmaṇa

(iv) Virodhitā (opposition):

It is stated that the word Rāma refers to the son of Daśaratha when associated with the word Lakṣmaṇa. Similarly when the same word Rāma is used in the compound word Rāmārjunau (Rāma and Arjuna), it obviously denotes Paraśurāma (incarnation of Lord Viṣṇu). It is because of the hostility between Paraśurāma and Kārtavīryārjuna.

(v) Artha [arthaḥ] (Purpose):

The word Sthāṇu means a 'pillar' or 'Lord Śiva'. When someone is asked to 'worship sthāṇu', the purpose of the speaker is to worship Lord śiva, not the pillar. Thus the purpose of the speaker helps the listener to determine the latter meaning of the term.

(vi) Prakaraṇa [prakaraṇam] (Context):

The well-known example is the expression ' Saindhavam ānaya', in which the word saindhavam signifies both 'salt' and 'horse'. Here, the meaning is determined by the context. If it is the time of eating, the term denotes 'salt' and it denotes 'horse' at the time of travel.

(vii) Liṅga (Indicatory sign):

Matilal explains this as follows;"some sign may be present in the larger context (within the passage), and this may help to resolve the ambiguity" (1992, p.25). An example is taken from a Vedic passage, which reads as " aktāḥ śarkarā upadadhāti", means 'the wet pebbles are placed on the altar'. Here, the word aktāḥ signifies 'wet'. To make the pebbles wet, they can be soaked in any liquid, because it is not specified in the sentence. Since the context mentions 'clarified butter', we have to understand that it is an indicatory sign that the pebbles should be wetted by the clarified butter.

(viii) Śabdasyānyasya sannidhiḥ (Proximity with another word):

This is also a sort of association, but differs from Sāhacaryam or Virodhitā. Here, it is not the psychological association as in the case of Sāhacaryam or Virodhitā, but perhaps a physical proximity or a syntactical connection is meant (Matilal, 1992, p.26). The example given by Matilal is the word Purārāti, which literally means 'destroyer of cities'. Though any king can be denoted by the word, it obviously refers to Lord Śiva,

(ix) Sāmarthya (Capacity):

When one says " abhirūpāya kanyā deyā", it is clear that the girl has to be married to a handsome groom. Though the word groom is not said by the speaker, the listener understands it. Similarly when one says "I am intoxicated with madhu", the word madhu would mean wine, not the spring season.

(x) Aucitī (Propriety):

This is a variation of the former concept. In a poetic context, the same word madhu can also signify the spring season. In that particular situation, it may proper to say "I am intoxicated with the advent of the spring season".

(xi) Deśa (Place):

In the expression ' Bhātīha parameśvaraḥ', which means 'here shines the master', the word ' parameśvara' signifies 'the king' and not Lord Śiva. The reference to the place 'here' helps to attribute this meaning to the term.

(xii) Kāla (Time):

When one says " citrabhānu shines now", the word citrabhānu refers to sun if it is said at daytime and it refers to fire or light if it is uttered at night.

(xiii) Vyakti (Grammatical gender):

-It is well-known that the term 'Mitra' in Sanskrit signifies 'sun' when it is used in masculine gender. And the same word means 'friend', if it is used in neuter gender.

(xiv) Svara (Accent):

A well-known example is cited in Mahābhāṣya that the word ' Indraśatru' with accent on the last syllable means 'one who kills Indra'. When the first syllable of the word is accented, it means 'the one, whose killer is Indra'. Thus in Veda, a word may denote a different or opposite meaning if the accent used is improper.

These are the contextual factors that help to determine the meaning of an expression unambiguously. Bhartṛhari says that even many more factors are there, which influence the meaning of a word. Thus, it is obvious that Bhartṛhari takes into account the grammatical, syntactical, psychological and contextual factors for determining the intended meaning. These factors are not related to a specific language, but they are universal in nature. Thus it becomes clear that he deals with the problems of communicability of language and word-meaning relationship in a comprehensive manner.

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