An interview about Central Asia, linguistics and how to have an academic career…
Friday, June 12, 2009
Meaning of suffixes
The Mīmāṃsā account of language is among the most ancient linguistic theories in India.
This is not to say that Mīmāṃsā theories are directly comparable with those of Western linguistics. They would probably be collocated, from a Western point of view, somewhere between semantics, pragmatics, textual linguistics and speech act theory.
In fact, Mīmāṃsā authors developed their theories from their focus on hermeneutics of the sacrificial portions of the Veda. Hence, they stress the role of the context of whole passages, they emphasise the role of the listener (since the Veda is by them believed to be authorless), and above all they concentrate on the way sacrificial prescriptions act on their listeners.
Their inquiry on the way sacrificial prescriptions work starts with a survey on what linguistic element expresses a prescription. As most other Indian authors, Mīmāṃsā thinkers assume that every morpheme has a distinct meaning which is made explicit by means of a paraphrase (vivaraṇa).
In case of prescriptions, the linguistic elements most likely to express them are the verbal suffixes commonly associated with prescriptions, namely the suffixes denoting the optative (called liṅ by Indian Grammars and also in Mīmāṃsā), the imperative (loṭ), the Vedic subjunctive (leṭ) and the gerundive (tavya); moreover, due to the Mīmāṃsā stress on the point of view of the listener, also present indicative forms may convey an exhortative meaning, if the semantics of the passage requires an exhortative meaning.
From now onwards I will refer to all these cases, for brevity's sake, just as “exhortative” verbal suffixes.
Due to their chronological priority and to their link with the influential theory of ritual elaborated by the Mīmāṃsā authors, Mīmāṃsā 'linguistic' theories extensively influenced all other philosophical schools.
More in detail, the Mīmāṃsā approach predominates even over the Vyākaraṇa's one whenever accounts of the agentive component of verbs or of exhortative sentences are at stake.
Notwithstanding the peculiarity of the Mīmāṃsā point of view sketched above, and since Western theories of language consider exhortative expressions as less prototypical and regard instead affirmative sentences as the standard, Mīmāṃsā theories may have some significance in proposing new fields of investigation for today's analyses, too.