Yoga Body, a book by Mark Singleton

Adheesh Sathaye adheesh1 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Mar 9 18:11:47 UTC 2011

With caveats that I have not read Singleton's work, and that generally I try to stay away from yoga and yogīs as much as I can, I just wanted to point out what I've always thought to be a fascinating linguistic feature of modern Marathi:

In contemporary Marathi there are, in fact, two distinct heterophones: 'yog' (with meanings of 'opportunity', 'chance', 'fortuity', and so on) and 'yogā', pronounced with a long vowel (but still masculine in gender) and bearing only the meaning of English "yoga" as exercise. One never uses the former for the latter or vice versa. I'm not sure exactly how this 'yogā' would be written in newspapers and so on, but would not be surprised to find it appearing as "योगा". (indeed there are numerous hits on Google for 'योगा'). 

It seems safe to say that this latter "Yogā" in Marathi is a double-borrowing--first borrowed into English from Sanskrit (or perhaps S. Indian languages) and then re-imported into Marathi, whereupon it acquired both the distinct long vowel and a place in the language as a distinct word. A linguistic case of the "Pizza Effect" if you will. 

All best wishes,


Adheesh Sathaye
Department of Asian Studies
University of British Columbia

On Mar 8, 2011, at 7:42 AM, George Thompson wrote:

> Hello Dominik,
> I admire your willingness to seek a more generous interpretation of the
> passage from Singleton [generosity is a good thing!], but I still don't buy
> the idea that the English word 'yoga' is a homonym of the Sansrit word
> 'yoga.'  The English word is a loanword from Sanskrit.  So, in my view,
> there is still only one word here.  'Yoga' in the RV doesn't mean the same
> thing as 'yoga' in the Gita, but it is after all the same word, right?  Or
> am I just going crazy?
> Look, would it be correct to say that the English word 'mantra' is a homonym
> of the Sanskrit word 'mantra'?  It doesn't matter that 'mantra' in English
> may have a different set of meanings or connotations than the Sanskrit word.
> Is the English phrase 'habeas corpus' a homonym of the Latin phrase?
> All of this multiplication of words and phrases troubles me.
> Otherwise, I'm just fine.
> All the best,
> George
> On Tue, Mar 8, 2011 at 9:48 AM, Dominik Wujastyk <wujastyk at> wrote:
> [snip]
>> However, there's a more important point.  I've just looked up the passage
>> about homonyms that has exercised George Thompson, and I think George has
>> missed the point that Singleton is making.  See the snippet
>> here<
>>> in
>> Google Books; and the relevant pages 15 and 16 from Singleton's book
>> are
>> attached to this email.  After a passage addressing the issue of partisan
>> ownerships of the word and idea of yoga, Singleton suggests that it might
>> be
>> helpful to consider the English word "yoga" as a homonym of the Sanskrit
>> word *yoga*.  He doesn't quite put it like that, but it's clear enough that
>> that's what he means.  The point of this suggested strategy is to
>> disconnect
>> the modern English use of the word from essentializing arguments about the
>> meaning and history of the Sanskrit word.  Singleton isn't actually arguing
>> that "yoga" in Sanskrit is a series of homonyms.
>> Dominik with a k.
>> On 8 March 2011 05:23, Dominic Goodall <dominic.goodall at> wrote:
>>> Dear List,
>>> Is this not just a reflection of the old idea that the form yoga can be
>>> derived from what have long been judged to be different verbal roots ?
>>> Commentators tend to defend their view of what yoga really is by quoting
>>> (from the Dhātupāṭha) either
>>> yujir yoge
>>> or
>>> yuja samādhau.
>>> Theistic commentators tend to favour the former (e.g. the tenth-century
>>> Kashmirian Nārāyaṇakaṇṭha commenting on Mṛgendratantra, yogapāda 2) .
>>> Historical linguists may not believe these to be properly separate
>> roots,
>>> but the view that yoga and yoga can be homophones appears to be quite an
>> old
>>> one.
>>> Dominic Goodall
>>> École française d'Extrême-Orient,
>>> 19, rue Dumas,
>>> Pondicherry 605001
>>> On 08-Mar-2011, at 9:00 AM, 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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