Grammar. Philosophy and Epistemology

George Hart glhart at BERKELEY.EDU
Fri Oct 13 13:48:53 UTC 2006

The issue of connotation in Sanskrit is an extremely complex one.  I  
would suggest the following:

1. In the classical period, Sanskrit cannot be considered a language,  
but rather is a style.  It is the same language as the various  
Prakrits (which are dialects of each other and of Sanskrit).  A  
similar situation (diglossia) exists in Tamil and older Telugu.   
Formal Tamil is every bit as different from the various kinds of  
spoken Tamil as Sanskrit is from the Prakrits.  In the Sanskrit  
plays, characters who speak Prakrit have no difficulty understanding  
those who speak Sanskrit, just as even illiterate Tamilians can  
easily understand formal Tamil, even though it is very different from  
the language they speak.

2. The connotations words have in Sanskrit are influenced, and  
perhaps even determined, by the use of tadbhavas and tatsamas in  
Prakrits and other languages (including, of course, Dravidian).

3. Because of this, Sanskrit words change their meanings -- or at  
least their connotations -- over time.  Styles of Sanskrit also change.

4. Everyone who writes in Sanskrit from classical times to the  
present is deeply and profoundly influenced by his/her native  
language or Prakrit.  In this regard, Sanskrit cannot be separated  
from the other Indian languages.

Of course, Sanskrit writers are also influenced by earlier Sanskrit  
texts also.  A good example is the Bhagavatam.  Its writer concocts  
pseudo-Vedic forms while using many elements from the Tamil spoken by  
Srivaisnavas in Tamil Nadu.

In sum, it does seem to me that to properly understand Sanskrit  
usage, it is essential to look at the Prakrits and other Indian forms  
of speech and languages.  One should be aware that the meaning (or at  
least connotation) of words in Sanskrit is a moving target.  And one  
should know another Indian language well.  I rather doubt that paz  
and dRz have different meanings, but a glance at Prakrit usage would  
surely help out in this regard.  Similarly, to understand Ramanuja,  
it is (I would argue) essential that one know Nammazvar and be  
acquainted with the extraordinary range and richness of his Tamil  
lexicon (e.g. the use of nalam in the first Paacuram of the  

This brings to mind one more issue regarding Sanskrit.  Ingalls, as I  
remember it, claimed that Sanskrit has perfect synonyms, and that in  
this regard, it differs from ordinary languages.  For example nRpa,  
raajaa, and bhuumipa all mean exactly the same, while in English  
"king" and "monarch" have different connotations (the same for the  
many words for "king" in Tamil).  It seems to me that the  
connotations of these words are mediated by their usage in other  
languages.  A Tamil would understand all three Sanskrit words, but  
each would have slightly different weight or degree of formality.   
Surely, this is transferred into Sanskrit when that Tamil speaker  
writes in that language.

George Hart

On Oct 12, 2006, at 8:42 AM, Dominik Wujastyk wrote:

> What Madhav is saying is that the pazya- and dRz- don't have any  
> semantically significant distinction.  Their distribution in  
> language usage is governed by the *formal* requirements of  
> grammatical suppletion, not by semantic significance.  Madhav  
> certainly isn't dismissing a connection between grammar and  
> philosophy!  The pazya- / dRz forms are mutually-exclusive formal  
> alternates, whose occurrence depends on formal grammatical  
> conditions, not on semantic context.
> The Paninian rule that bears on this is 7.3.78, which rules that  
> "pazya" replaces "dRzi" when followed by a suffix with the marker  
> "z".  There is no suggestion here of any semantic trigger to the  
> rule: the trigger is purely formal.
> In strictly Paninian terms (and vaiyakaranas, please correct me if  
> I'm wrong) there is no dhatu "paz" meaning "see", but only "dRz".
> So, it would be wrong to say that pazyati means "he sees" in  
> contrast to, say, tasya darzanam vartate, "he has [profound] vision  
> or insight".  The statements are semantically identical.  Both  
> phonetic forms can signify a range of "see" acts, determined by the  
> sentences they occur in. Historical lexicographical study on these  
> terms as embodied in the standard dictionaries also does not  
> support a difference.
> There's a reasonable summary on grammatical suppletion at
> (I'm constantly surprised by Wikipedia.)
> Best,
> Dominik
> On Thu, 12 Oct 2006, Harsha Dehejia wrote:
>> Freinds:
>> While I respectfully agree with Madhav Despande's grammatical  
>> exposition of Sanskrit terms pazya and dRz I am not totally  
>> convinced that one can totally dismiss the connection between  
>> grammar and philosophy.
>> Pazya means to see and drz is vision or insight. Seeing does not  
>> automatically lead to vision, it requires contemplation.
>> Sanskrit grammar is naunced with many implications.
>> Regards.
>> Harsha
>> Harsha V. Dehejia
>> Professor of Indian Studies, Carleton University
>> Ottawa, ON. Canada.
>>> From: "Deshpande, Madhav" <mmdesh at UMICH.EDU>
>>> Reply-To: Indology <INDOLOGY at>
>>> To: INDOLOGY at
>>> Subject: Re: Indian epistemic terms
>>> Date: Wed, 11 Oct 2006 19:36:05 -0400
>>> Dear Harsha,
>>>      'pazya' and 'dRz' have a suppletive relationship in Sanskrit  
>>> like'go' and 'went' in English.  Both 'pazya' and 'dRz' taken  
>>> separately have incomplete paradigms, but in the actual usage of  
>>> the language, these two roots complement each other.  So the  
>>> passive form corresponding to pazyati is dRzyate, and so on.  The  
>>> Rgvedic passage uta tvaH pazyan na dadarza vAcam uta tvaH zRNvan  
>>> na zRNoty enAm exhibits this suppletive behavior.
>>> Madhav M. Deshpande
>>> -----Original Message-----
>>> From: Indology on behalf of Harsha Dehejia
>>> Sent: Wed 10/11/2006 5:08 PM
>>> To: INDOLOGY at
>>> Subject: Re: Indian epistemic terms
>>> Friends:
>>> An important concept that is overlooked by epistemologists is  
>>> that of
>>> DRISHTI or visual knowledge.
>>> While PASHYATI is a verb there is no verb like DRASHYATI. This  
>>> is  the
>>> beginning of an inquiry into visual knowledge.
>>> I am trying to develop this concept further.
>>> Regareds.
>>> Harsha
>>> Harsha V. Dehejia
>>> Professor of Indian Studies, College of Humanities
>>> Carleton University, Ottawa, ON. Canada.

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