Mind and Language: A Indian Perspective

One of the central questions in Indian philosophy in the past has been the nature of awareness. Indian thinkers have also considered the function of language in examining the nature of consciousness, considering how language helps express various states of consciousness but also helps to create consciousness. What is the nature of awareness, for example, is a topic that has been answered repeatedly by all classical systems. Given that every speech in this setting is linguistic, it is important to discuss how to approach these discourses (texts).

Indian Perspective on Mind and Language

In general, all philosophical traditions have considered these issues, but discussions on language, awareness, and cognition have been particularly focused on three philosophical traditions: grammarians, Mimamsa, and Buddhism. The ontic state of language, linguistic denotation, referential reality, the eternity or non-eternity of words, and the relationship between a word and the world have all been ongoing debates in these systems.

Grammarian’s System: Theory Of Essential Word (Sphotavada)

The two elements of Sabda are Sphota (to manifest) and Dhvani (to sound). Panini claims that the former is a permanent component of the word, while the latter is an actualized, transient component that is an attribute of the former. The sphota (potential to materialize) can be a single letter or a set pattern of letters, but it never changes and is unaffected by the particular speaker's quirks. Even if it is pronounced differently by different speakers, its meaning value in language remains the same. Dhvani uses expressions that have unique characteristics. These two facets of a word (sabda) correspond to the later Grammarians' terms "prakra dhvani" and "vaikrta dhvani." A word has two powers, according to Bharthari: it may convey both the form and the substance of a statement.

In reality, language and consciousness are comparable in that each word can refer to both itself and the external objects it is used to represent, just as consciousness discloses both itself and other things. Buddhists acknowledge the dual meaning of a word, which can express the speaker's identity and the things the word symbolizes. However, Buddhism holds that this dual meaning is only realized once the speaker becomes the object of a conventional relationship, not when the word is first perceived. Since the sound of the words is known at the time of perception, the sound's expressive potential is not there then.

According to grammarians, there is an objective, mental, and positive link between words and their meanings. The term has four different meanings: universal (jati cowhood/gotva), action (kriya: walking), quality (guna: white), and substance (dravya: cowness). Brathari describes the characteristics of spohta as being provided (nitya), timeless, invariant, part-less (akhand), and non-sequential (akarma). That thing reveals the significance. The level of both the music and the message is abstract.

The actual sound made by the speaker and heard by the listener is the vaikrta dhvani (a phonetic component of language). It encompasses each unique change in pitch, speed, and intonation. The normative phonological pattern is pakrta dhvani. At this level of language, all non-linguistic speaker variances are disregarded. However, the time sequences are still present. The unit of meaning, called a spohota, is thought to be an invariant, sequence-free, integral linguistic object. Prakriti Dhvani makes it evident.

Bhartrhari discusses how his concept of Sphota operates at various stages of vak. Pasyanti, Madhyama, and vikhari are the three stages of vak that Barthari visualizes. Sphota exists as an undifferentiated, non-sequential entity at the level of pasyanti. The meaning of Spota and its possible form is dormant. Moreover, the speaker's desire to share starts things off and serves as an abstract shape and meaning at the madhyama level. Although the speaker sees them as separate, the sphota and meaning are still one. The latent form of every linguistic component is present in this sentence. Additionally, the speaker can distinguish articulated speech from sphota. At the vaikhari level, the listener may hear the speaker make genuine speech sounds.

Mimamsa: Theory of Meaning (Vakyarthavada)

The Mimamsa theory of meaning explains propositional meaning; for this reason, it is referred to as vakyarthavada. Because it cannot be made or formed, the Mimamsa word is sacred and eternal. Words are seen as having inherent meaning, and only expression or manifestation uses words. Jaimini first defines a sentence: "A set of words having a single goal becomes a sentence if on the investigation of the constituent words are determined to have akamsa" (Mimamsa sutra II.I.46). However, the term akamsa or syntactic expectation among words is regarded as a necessary need for a sentence in the next sutra when he lays out the notion of syntactical split (vakyabheda). Akamsa can be interpreted as a listener's desire to understand the other words in a statement or their significance.

Due to akamsa, a word cannot express the whole meaning when another word is not there. There are three additional prerequisites, yogyata, samnidhi, and tatparya, and the basic condition of mutual anticipation of speech (akamsa). Yogyata is best understood as the logical coherence or suitability of a sentence's terms for mutual connection. Because of the yogyata in the statement, experience does not contradict the sentence's meaning.

Samnidhi refers to a sentence situation because the words in the phrase are close in time. The phrase is disrupted when words are spoken in short bursts, and no knowledge is gained. Samnidhi, according to Kumarila Bhatta, is the constant movement of words or their meanings in the mind. Later Naiyayikas and Mimamsakas describe Tatparya. Later, scholars claimed that the speaker's intent was Naiyayikas tatparya.

Prabhakara: Anvitabhidhanavada

Anvita Bhidhanavada denotes that the term conveys a mutually inclusive sense. The reciprocal interaction between the words gives them their meaning in a phrase. Therefore, the meaning of words cannot exist independently of the phrase. Prabhakara emphasizes the natural approach of word learning, whereby a kid always picks up on a word's meaning in connection to other words in a phrase. A youngster picks up on a word's meaning by watching adults use it and engage in activities. A little toddler notices that when someone (x) says "bring the cow" to someone else (y).

The cow then arrives (y). A youngster watches both utterance and action as a result. At this age, a youngster learns the entirety of a statement and what it means (meaning). Later, in another event, the little child witnesses what happens when (x) command (y) to fetch the horse. A youngster may grasp that the word "bring," which is used in both sentences, must indicate the command "to bring" and that "cow" and "horse" refer to two distinct animals by comparing the two sentences and their usages. Therefore, a youngster acquires knowledge of distinct words and their meanings through the psychological process of exclusion and inclusion. As a result, the phrase has a singular meaning, but the words that make up the sentence have significance solely about this singular sentence meaning.

Therefore, in the phrase "bring the cow," the word "cow" refers to the action of bringing, not just the notion of "cowness," just as the word "bring" refers to the action of bringing in connection to the cow. In actuality, the words in a phrase provide both their meaning and a grammatical relationship to the other words. Thus the meaning of the sentence is directly communicated by the words themselves.

Kumarila Bhatta: Abhihitanvayavada

According to abhihitanvayavada, each word that makes up a phrase expresses a distinct and isolated meaning. These distinct meanings align with the three syntactic conditions of akamsa, sanidhi, and yogyata. As a result, a phrase is nothing more than a combination of word meanings. We comprehend each word's meaning separately in a phrase before combining them under three syntactic variables to determine the sentence's overall meaning.

Buddhism: Theory of Meaning (Apohavada)

According to the apohavada (differentiation) school of Buddhism, a word indicates what an item is not. Buddhist logicians reject all categories of reality, including class, universality, inherence, and others, since they are non-essentialists. Therefore, in their eyes, language cannot adequately express the objective world. Words have a bad connotation and have no clear allusion to the real world. Buddhists claim that the relationship between word (sabda) and sense (artha) is merely conventional and that there is no real connection between the two because words lack an objective, eternal status and are merely conceptual constructions of the mind (vikalapa).

As a result, there can be no real connection between words and the outside world. According to Dignaga, a word's meaning is the negation of all of its counter correlates. According to Dignaga, a word cannot express the ultimately real [svalaksana], which is the immediate specific. A word's meaning is a mental creation rather than an unchanging truth (svalaksana). A word cannot represent a singular specific since it is a fleeting thing that vanishes in the next instant.

Even if a linguistic relationship between a word and a certain transitory instant is established, the word cannot imply any other specific moment. As a result, language could be more effective. For instance, the term "cow" would only apply to a specific cow at a certain time (t-1), not to any other cows or even to the same cow at a later time (t-2).


The mind creates language, enabling it to advance or carry out its many mental functions skillfully and effectively. Whether the mind comes before language or language comes before the mind has been a hot topic of discussion among philosophers. Mentalists, like Fodor and Chomsky, claim that language has an underlying structure in the mind that exists before natural language.

Language and awareness are related, according to Indian philosophical traditions. In this sense, there are three different perspectives: Grammarians believe that language is reality, whereas Mimamsa believes language explains propositional meaning (vakyartha). Buddhists, however, believe that language cannot adequately express the true nature of reality since it is limited to mental pictures because they are momentarists.

Updated on: 06-Feb-2023


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