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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Indian teaching about sentences

Traditionally, Indian texts about language are distinguished into two:

  1. padaśāstra (“Teaching about words”: Grammar, Nirukta etc.)
  2. vākyaśāstra (“Teaching about sentences”: Mīmāṃsā)

The first group badly needs further studies. The second one, by contrast, still awaits even pioneering studies. Hence, one cannot but highlight the need for studying Indian sentence-linguistics.

And this not just for the sake of completeness. In fact, the sentence-context is fundamental in order to deal with complex linguistic phenomena, such as deixis, textual linguistics, the investigation on the minimal elements of signification, exhortation.

One might object that in order to study exhortation the tools of padaśāstra are enough. An exhortative sentence would be one where an optative, imperative, subjunctive verbal ending is found. But this is not correct. Verbal endings are not enough to identify an exhortative sentence, since there are exhortations even in the case of indicative verbal endings and only a sentence-context allows one to detect them. For instance, in the context of the prescriptions regarding the Darśapūrṇamāsa sacrifice, a statement such as ``The sacrificial spoon is made of parṇa wood" means, in fact, ``One should use a parṇa-spoon for the present sacrifice". Similarly ``I am thirsty" may just mean ``Please, give me a glass of water", in an appropriate context.

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