[INDOLOGY] rhetorical questions in Sanskrit

Andrew Ollett andrew.ollett at gmail.com
Sun Mar 8 10:41:00 EDT 2020


Dear Matthew,

It is an interesting question and I'd be curious to see what others say.
The category of "rhetorical question," I suppose, includes questions to
which the speaker does not actually expect an informative answer, including
questions in which the answer is implicit in the question. I have seen
praśnavyājēna, "in the guise of a question," but not in this sense (rather
when one asks a question in order to distract someone from some other
topic).

One interesting approach is offered by the anonymous commentator on
Śaktibhadra's Āścaryacūḍāmaṇi. He distinguishes surface meaning from "final
meaning" (vākyaparyavasānam). So Rāvaṇa's verse at 3.17 (yudhi sarabhasaṁ
hatvā rāmaṁ balān mayi gr̥hṇati svayam anucitā bhartuḥ śōkād asūn na kim
ujjhati) is a question, on the surface, which the commentator answers
(ujjhaty ēva). But he then explains the presumptive answer (Sītā will die
if Rāma is killed) as a reason for a further conclusion (therefore Rāma
ought not to be killed). That conclusion is the final meaning (yata ēvaṁ
gr̥hītā sā prāṇān parityajati atō rāmahananaṁ balād grahaṇaṁ ca na
kartavyam iti vākyaparyavasānam). So a rhetorical question might be one
which has the form of a question but has the "final meaning" of something
else, in this case a prohibition. The reverse happens sometimes too, where
something that has the form of a statement is read as a question in its
"final meaning" (e.g., "I see that you're the only one in this ashram" >
"why are you the only one here?").

Andrew

On Sun, Mar 8, 2020 at 8:24 AM Madhav Deshpande via INDOLOGY <
indology at list.indology.info> wrote:

> Dear Matthew,
>
>      The term *kāku *is used in Sanskrit to refer to a rhetorical
> question.
>
> Madhav M. Deshpande
> Professor Emeritus, Sanskrit and Linguistics
> University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
> Senior Fellow, Oxford Center for Hindu Studies
>
> [Residence: Campbell, California, USA]
>
>
> On Sun, Mar 8, 2020 at 1:56 AM Matthew Kapstein via INDOLOGY <
> indology at list.indology.info> wrote:
>
>> Dear friends,
>>
>> The use of the rhetorical question as a figure of speech has been often
>> noticed in Sanskrit epic, poetry, drama and philosophy. But is there a
>> proper technical term in Sanskrit itself for "rhetorical question"?
>>
>> In the commentarial treatments that come to mind, the question is
>> paraphrased so as to make explicit the rhetorical intent, but without
>> reference to a precise term to identify the figure. Am I perhaps missing
>> something? Or is it merely treated as falling under some broader category,
>> perhaps vakrokti?
>>
>> with thanks in advance for your responses,
>> Matthew
>>
>> Matthew Kapstein
>> Directeur d'études, émérite
>> Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris
>>
>> Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies,
>> The University of Chicago
>>
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