Yoga Body, a book by Mark Singleton

George Thompson gthomgt at GMAIL.COM
Tue Mar 8 12:00:00 UTC 2011

Look, What Singleton & Doniger have done is to sow even more confusion among
an audience that is, we all know, already very much prone to confusion.  So,
in the coming semesters I can expect to have a handful of students who will
declare very confidently that there are three different words "yoga" in the
"Vedas,"  each with three different meanings.

Even worse, there will be yoga teachers who will approach me after some talk
or lecture, village explainers who typically and rather furtively solicit
advice from me about how to pronounce this or that Sanskrit term, who will
have disseminated this misinformation to their nice, naive, serene

The word "yoga" and related verbal cognates are massively attested in the
Rgveda, and their cognates in most other branches of IE [including Hittite]
are massively attested as well.  The history of this *one word* is thus
well-known even to somewhat educated people who have never taken a
linguistics course.

But it doesn't matter.  The village explainers will go about their business
undeterred, now aided and abetted by  Singleton & Doniger.  et tu, S.

George Thompson

On Tue, Mar 8, 2011 at 1:58 AM, Steve Farmer <saf at> wrote:

> There is nothing wrong with either Mark Singleton's or Wendy Doniger's use
> of the word 'homonym', not that the question has any relevance to his book
> or her article (in the Times Literary Supplement this Sunday).
> Take a look in the Oxford English Dictionary under the word 'homonym.'
> You'll find that the first/primary definition of 'homonym' given there is:
> "1a. The same name or word used to denote different things." This is
> obviously the sense of the word that Singleton and Doniger had in mind.
> The second definition of 'homonym' in the Oxford English Dictionary is the
> limited technical sense of the word you have in mind:  "1b. Philol. Applied
> to words having the same sound, but differing in meaning." It is rather
> obvious that that isn't what they had in mind.
> Clearly the word 'homonym' is itself a homonym (in the first sense). Maybe
> a linguist should know that? :^)
> S. Farmer
> On Mar 7, 2011, at 7:30 PM, George Thompson wrote:
> Dear List,
>> On another list there is a discussion of an interesting book with this
>> title
>> written recently  by Mark Singleton.  In this book Singleton argues,
>> provocatively,  that modern hatha yoga practices are bearly a 100 years
>> old,
>> and that they have been heavily influenced by early 20th century European
>> gymnastic regimens.   As far as I am concerned there is nothing
>> controversial about Singleton's interesting new claims.
>> But early on in his book, Singleton tries to suggest that the term yoga in
>> classical Sanskrit is not just one term.  He claims that it is a series of
>> homonyms  \that mean different things in the Upanisads, the Gita, the Yoga
>> Sutras, the Shaiva Tantras, etc.
>> But, in my view this is a very embarrassing error for any Sankrit scholar
>> to
>> make.  In English "to," and "two," and "too," are homonyms.  Also, "threw"
>> and "through" are homonyms.  Aso, in some dialects of English, "marry,"
>> "merry," and "Mary," are all also homonyms.
>> But in Sanskrit, there is is only one word, "yoga," which has only one
>> form
>> but any meanings.  There are no homonyms of "yoga" in Sanskrit.  There is
>> just that single  word.  Singleton obviously has no idea what he is
>> talking
>> about here when it comes to the notion of homony,m.  That's bad enough.
>>  But
>> he is young, and maybe he can be excused for this slight error.  But in
>> her
>> review of his otherwise good book Doniger repeats the same linguistic
>> error:
>> the Sanskit terrn "yoga" consists, in her view, of several so-called
>> homonyms.
>> This of course is very bad linguistics.
>> I don't know what to think.  Should we just be silent about such small
>> errors?  Or should we call them out?
>> George Thompson

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