Evgeniya Desnitskaya

Facets of Language in the Vākyapadīya

  • Time: Mon., 17. November, 14.30−16.30
  • Venue: Institut für Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens, Seminarraum 1
  • Organisation: Elisa Freschi (IKGA)


Doing research on VP we know in advance that somehow it deals with language. Still our (modern Western) ideas of what language is (be it de Saussure’s opposition of langue and parole or some other explicit or implicit ideas) certainly do not correspond exhaustively to what we find in VP. At the same time Bhartŗhari’s work does not provide an explicitly consistent concept of language. It seems quite suggestive to interpret the whole work in the light of metaphysical ideas expressed in the first kārikās, but this would result in neglecting the fact that ontology was not the only subject of Bhartŗhari’s interest. On the other hand even a thorough study of the doctrines and ideas, mentioned briefly or elaborated in more detail in VP, may not be sufficient, because it does not help discovering the presuppositions of the nature of language shared by Bhartŗhari and some of his predecessors. And it may be only the study of presuppositions that allows us to recognize the basic difference between Bhartŗhari’s (or even more broadly - the Indian) concept of language and that of contemporary Western culture. Thus study of the concept of language in VP can be undertaken from different attitudes:

  1. A study of the ideas of language previous to Bhartŗhari: not only those by previous grammarians, but also general ideas of language in Vedic culture. What I would like to underline in this part of my talk is the idea that language in Vedic culture was considered not as a correspondence between words and things, but mainly as speech, i.e. action, and this idea was inherited by subsequent grammatical traditions.
  2. A study of the terms in VP applied with reference to language. Many different terms in VP are used with respect to different aspects of speech and language and there is no single term corresponding to the Western broad concept of language (even śabda has some different connotations).
  3. A study of the specific traits of Bhartŗhari’s philosophical discourse that could have been stipulated by his presuppositions concerning language. These are realized in the text of VP by means of:
    • perspectivistic enumeration of rival concepts and terms, often expressed in antinomies;
    • specific use of udāharanas - not as pure comparisons, but more as models demonstrating structural similarity of different situations;
    • use of language as a means of justification: it is a commonplace that śabda is a pramāņa, but in fact Bhartŗhari’s ideas of the relation of language and external reality deserve a further look.
  4. A study of what Bhartŗhari actually said about language is most obvious but sometimes also misleading because it says more about the controversial issues discussed by rival schools of the time but not about his implicit ideas of language.

These four attitudes are not mutually exclusive but complementary, as they shed light on different aspects of Bhartŗhari’s idea of language.


Dr. Evgeniya Desnitskaya is a lecturer in Sanskrit at Saint Petersburg State University (Russia). Her main point of interest is Indian linguistic philosophy. In 2009 she submitted a doctoral thesis on Bhartŗhari. Since then, she has continued her research on Bhartṛhari and published in various journals.