Too many synonyms?

Vidhyanath Rao vidynath at MATH.OHIO-STATE.EDU
Sun Sep 14 14:10:02 UTC 1997

> Is this confined to nouns? What is the current thinking concerning one
> dhAtu (root) representing many actions (e.g., `divu krIda vijigIsha
> vyavahara dyuti stuti mOda mada swapna kanti gatishu') and one action
> being represented by many dhAtus in sanskrit.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but it seems that Indian lexicography
assumes that if two words have approximately similar meanings in one context,
then they are exact synonyms. This is provably false in many living languages.
For example, in English, `I looked at the painting' and `I saw the
painting' are not too far off in meaning, `I saw the movie' and `I watched
the movie' are viturally identical, but `I looked at X' and `I watched X'
are seldom equivalent. [An amusing game based on such things, for nouns,
is one I learned from New Scientist: Follow a chain of `synonyms' in
a standard thesaurus till the last one is an antonym of the first.]

How far is the seeming polysemy and existence of several synonyms due
to this assumption, and how far is it part and parcel of Sanskrit?
[i.e, are there manuals in Sanskrit meant to illustrate the distinctions
between words of broadly similar meaning?]

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