Role of indology in cybexploring the philosophy of languages

s. kalyanaraman s._kalyanaraman at
Fri Feb 24 08:48:47 UTC 1995

Re: Role of indology in cybexploring the philosophy of languages

Indology provides very rich source material for explorations into the origins 
and bases of language in general. This is the warrant for this rather elaborate 
posting to the vibrant group of indology members. 

Please feel free to pass this posting on to other newsgroups etc. on 
internet/cyberspace (hence the coinage, cybexploring in the title); let us have 
some cross-currents (from other disciplines) flowing into the language-stream 
and get it enriched further.

(a) Philosophy of meaning: social contract theory of meaning

Let me take you to the limits of language and the border-point where it meets 
philosophy and, of course, society.

Every child before the age of two is a linguist, immersed in the linguistic 
experience of the child's life. This is the time of the child's exposure to the 
outside world of language, challenging the child's innate language-competence. 
Mother (and others) and child communicate amidst an emerging social contract 
with the child to set up a simple concordance: sounds and meanings.

Bhartrhari's vaakya-padiiya and sphoTa theories are brilliant philosophical 
expositions. So is Wittgenstein's concept of the mathematical impossibility of a
'private language'. As the child forms its own 'private language' (in neural 
networks) its linguistic competence gains potency only when the privacy is burst
asunder and tested on the crucible of society. 

For, a private language, by definition, is impossible; a word or a sentence or 
even a paragraph and their 'meaning' have to be first 'spoken' and then, 
'accepted'. In all contracts, there should be an offer and also, an acceptance; 
then it becomes binding. If the child speaks and its sounds are accepted to 
'mean' something by the 'listener(s)', language (at least in terms of a semantic
structure or form) is born.

I submit that grammatical rules (like PaaNini's) to break-out the inflexions or 
sandhi-s are secondary, superficial manifestations of the formulation of 
language structures in the neural networks of the human brain. 

The fundamental, basic unit of language is the uniquely, phonetically 
identifiable 'sound burst' and its 'meaning' as agreed within a social contract.

Thus, when brain meets society, mind emerges. [Remember Gilbert Ryle's famous 
statement about the category mistake committed when we try to equate brain and 
mind. They are two distinct categories, one is a physiological substratum, the 
other is a social-construct.]

(b) Plea for new inter-disciplinary studies

A new discipline has to emerge combining: philogeny (neurosciences) and language
philosophy (linguistics). 

Indology provides a rich experience-base to unravel these phenomena that make 
man or woman so unique among mammals, with his or her unparalleled, linguistic 

An oriole may sing a tune inheriting the competence to sing the same note as 
other orioles did; but only a man or woman has such a massive sound-repertoire 
and such a complex neural network to mimic this repertoire through a variety of 
sensory media: for e.g., imaging through script, philosophizing (e.g vedaanta) 
through intent conveyed and meaning received.

(c) sphoTa theory revisited

Let us modify and expand the concept of sphoTa which is a bursting forth or 
flashing or splitting open. As the thought bursts forth from the private 
language of the 'speaker's brain', something else happens: the 'listener's 
acceptance'. Thus sphoTa can be better explained in terms of its bhaashaa 
cognate: puTa, which has become a technical alchemical term. The speaker and the
listener involved in creating language are in a social crucible of 
life-experiences; puTa-vikku = to put into a crucible in order to prepare drugs;
to refine as metals; puTa = a cup or concavity made of a leaf folded or doubled;
a basket of leaves; a crucible (Kannada).

Let me submit that sphoTa is not a mere flash, it is a process. 

The refining process, taken out its social context and locked up in academic 
expose, resulted in a construct called Sanskrit and it didn't survive (as Latin 
didn't) as a living tongue because, somewhere along the line, linguists didn't 
realize that a language needs a speaker and a listener; not merely, a writer and
a grammarian. 

     Language, as a product out of the 'human brain' crucible, of course, 
     needs a society, the true, living crucible. Poets may wax eloquent and 
     lexemes may come and go, but they will survive, glisten and stay 
     current only if tested on the touchstone of social interaction. 
     Dr. S. Kalyanaraman 20/7 Warren Road, Mylapore, Madras 600-004, India; 
     Tel. 91-44-493-6288; Fax. 91-44-499-6380.


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