Tuesday, August 30, 2005

the role of grammar in indian thinking

compared to the west, india developed a grammar
very early. this has consequences in the way
thought has evolved in india. for example, the
role of ambiguity in language was understood
much earlier, and was traced to fundamental
ambiguities in our understanding of the world
(interpretations of pratyaksha-pramANa). This
may be why indians (and by extension via buddhism,
most of the orient) are more open to non-categoric
thinking - it is not that "either you are our enemy
or our friend" - but that there are many gray
levels in between.

here is an extract from the eminent philosopher
bimal krishna matilal's word and the world,
(oxford, 1990, rs. 225):

it has often been claimed in recent times that in
the indian scientific and philosophical tradition,
mathematics plays a less crucial role and its place
is taken by grammar or linguistics.
... linguistics, and along with it the philosophy
of language, developed in india from the fifth
century bc, although not much is known about these
subjects in the early centuries except for the work
of three grammarians (pANini, followed by kAtyAyana
and paTan~jali), and that of the etymologists
(called nairuktas) such as yAska. in the west,
linguistics developed relatively late, although for
an early discussion of the philosophy of language
one can go back to plato's cratylus.

vyAkaraNa (literally it may mean 'analysis') or
grammar was regarded as the gateway to other
disciplines. it was part of the vedAnga, one of
the six 'limbs', i.e. auxiliary (or preparatory)
disciplines, for the successful study of the vedas.
the six ancillaries include grammar, phonetics,
etymology, metrics, astronomy, and the science (or
art) or rituals.

[the six vedAngas: shikShA - phonetics;
vyakAraN - grammar; nirukta - etymology;
chhanda - prosody; jyotish - astrology;
kalpa - rituals]

The early development of 'grammar' or what may be
termed 'science of language' led to many
interesting results. Intimate relationship between
logical and grammatical categories was noticed:
what may be called certain 'universals' of logic
and language were noted, distinction between
language and metalanguage, or rather between use
and mention, was underlined, and metalinguistic
notions were more clearly understood and treated
accordingly. For example, in rule 1.1.68, pANini
notes the distinction between the practices in the
'language' of grammar and in ordinary language. In
grammar, by the use of a word (say 'cow') we refer
to the word itself, while in ordinary language by
the use of a word we refer to its meaning, the
object, a cow.


in the west, these notions distinguishing the signifier
and the signified appears most clearly
in the work of de Saussere (1907), although it was
presaged in Locke's work An Essay
Concerning Human Understanding (1690). by
then the spread of logical thinking (started
with euclid's geometry) had deeply entrenched
itself in the western ethos.


Post a Comment

<< Home