of Language and Navya-Nyaya
& Pankaj Goyal
is a much misunderstood common term used by us. But most of us do not agree
about the correct meaning of this term. Different people have different ideas
about it, which has give rise to a variety of concepts. Different concepts of
language give rise to different problems and to different theories of language.
These problems about the nature of language have not only bothered the modern
scholars, but the ancients too. We will discuss below the Navya-Nyaya Theory of
Bhatattacharya, the famous philosopher, discusses these interesting issues, and
various modern theories of language in relation to the ancient Indian Navya-Nyaya
theory in a recent article, “Some Aspects of Navya-Nayaya Theory of
Language.” We have summarised his views here.
of language that he discusses are:
According to one
concept, the language may be defined as man-made sounds with the help of which
the humans communicate information or thoughts. But this definition of language
includes drum beating, or playing of any instrument, musical or non-musical, as
in Morse-code. Among these different forms of language, articulate speech is the
most basic form because all the other forms logically depend on it. Similarly,
the Morse-code depends logically on the analysis of speech into letters of the
alphabet. This concept of language is quite common, but it does not include
other types of behaviour that may also be regarded as language in a still more
According to another
concept, any behaviour, not necessarily speech-behaviour that can communicate
information or thought, may be termed as language. So one can say that gestures
and postures are regarded as forms of basic language. A person in a foreign
country generally uses gestures to communicate to others and postures are the
natural responses if not to all, at least to higher animals. According to St.
Augustine, gestures and other bodily behaviour constitute the natural language
of the man, as a result of which, a child learns his first language by observing
the behaviour, including the gestures of the elders. As we cannot express all
our thoughts or communicate all information by gestures, so some people may
argue that gestures constitute a poor language. But this objection is not valid,
as like all the other languages, gesture-language has to be learned. The most
important feature of all languages is that there must be certain conventions for
the use of languages that have to be learned.
The above two concepts
of language do not include written language. Some people argue that written
sentences are the pictures of reality. On one hand,
a picture is directly related to the object of which it is a picture, whereas
the written language is not directly related to the object but to the spoken
words. Therefore, the spoken language is prior to written language. But
Derrida’s theory was just opposite; according to him written language is prior
to spoken language. So, it is hard to justify Derrida’s theory. Although, the
written language expands the scope of spoken language, still the written
language is dependent upon the spoken language.
Concepts of ‘Natural language’ and ‘Artificial
distinguish natural from artificial language, but it depends upon what we mean
by natural and artificial language. According to St. Augustine, bodily behaviour
can be regarded as the natural language of the man. If we believe in this
concept then verbal language will be a non-natural language, which will mean
artificial language can be learnt by a child only through natural language,
which he knows. Therefore, according to this concept natural language does not
require to be learnt.
There is also a
theory known as Bennett’s theory according to which any pattern of behaviour
even when it succeeds in communicating information cannot be called a language
if it is instinctive. This theory
gives a different definition of natural and artificial language. In this
concept, a natural language is a language of ordinary people used for all
purposes, while, artificial language is the language invented by a group of men
for a specific purpose.
Navya-Nyaya Theory of Language
Navya-Nyaya Theory states that spoken language is language in a primary sense,
and gestures and written languages are languages only in a derived sense. The
commentators of Visvanatha make a distinction between gesture language and
written language. They describe the former as language of a different kind (vijatiya)
and the latter as of the same kind (sajatiya) as the spoken language.
Even though gesture-language and written language are different from each other,
both of them are different from spoken language. They are termed as
‘language’ because gestures and written characters ‘suggest’ spoken
words that alone constitute language proper.
Navya-Nyaya Theory is based on the fact that written language depends upon
spoken language, even though writing makes possible long and complicated
constructions that would have not been possible without writing. If we also
admit the fact that the art of writing gives the condition of being permanent or
continued existence to speech which can be repeatedly observed, and also makes
possible the development of language in the new directions, still the fact
remains that written language would have been impossible without spoken
language. Thus spoken language is logically prior to written language.
Therefore, Navya-Nyaya philosophers regard spoken language alone as primarily
philosophers also hold the same theory of the primacy of spoken language about
the gesture-language too but here this primacy is not apparent; for apparently,
gesture-language precedes articulate speech in the process of evolution.
Sanskrit as the Object Language
Sanskrit is a
frozen language. It has a very rigorous grammar that includes vowels and
consonants, rules of formation of words from the basic elements, rules of
formation of sentences and many more. Panini’s grammar stands as one of the
best examples of the science of grammar. Still, Sanskrit differs from artificial
language in so far as it allows ambiguous words, figures of speech and also some
freedom that it gives us to analyse a given expression in a variety of ways. If
we deal only with Sanskrit as the language of the study, then it give rise to
the problem of explaining the possibility of regional languages and the
languages other than Sanskrit.
supported by Gadadhara, is to treat all expressions of regional languages as
really devoid of meaning but used in practice only by mistake or in other words,
expressions of regional languages create only an illusion of sense. But many
Navya-Nyaya philosophers, like Annambhatta, have not accepted this theory.
Annambhatta, in his commentary Uddyotana gives an argument against the
theory supported by Gadadhara as explained below.
regional languages also have meanings, as words in Sanskrit. Therefore, there is
no way to determine whether Sanskrit words have primary meaning and regional
languages have only derived meaning, or conversely. The determinant cannot be
equiformity of words in all countries as the meaning of equiformity is
indistinguishable and not clear. The equiformity may mean one of the three
different things as described below:
‘Equiformity’ may mean that Sanskrit words are used in all countries, but it
cannot be accepted as in some foreign countries there is no trace of Sanskrit.
‘Equiformity’ may mean that words that are used in a particular region have
a recognizably the same pattern, but this sense also cannot be accepted, as
equiformity in this sense is common to all languages.
‘Equiformity’ may mean absence of usage of regional languages. This sense
too cannot be accepted as it violates what has been stated in Bhasya that
in many places emphasizes use of different substandard words among people.
the philosophers who oppose the theory supported by Gadadhara, God created the
world, its objects and their names and the languages, so it cannot be said that
God created only Sanskrit and no other languages. When God created the Ionians,
he also created their language at the same time. Therefore, it is wrong to say
that the other regional languages were originally Sanskrit from which they
derived. The modern comparative philologists also attempt to propose and
construct a proto-Aryan language from which all the Indo-European languages have
evolved. But that also tends to support the theory that God created only one
language, just the name of Sanskrit is not there. According to Jagadisa and
other Navya-Nyaya philosophers, there is a possibility of developing different
theories of meaning for different regional languages; only they are not
interested in developing theories, as they are concerned only with Sanskrit as
Divine Origin of Language
philosophers of the Nyaya School agree that Sanskrit is a divine language and is
created by God. According to these philosophers, as God is the creator of the
universe, he is also the creator of all languages, including Sanskrit. The major
cause for holding this theory seems to be that language developed naturally and
not by convention. God creates both the world of objects and also the language
with which to talk about it, but this talking about the world of objects is not
possible until there is a relation between language and reality. Navya-Nyaya
philosophers think that God did not just create the objects and the sounds, but
also instituted a relation of meaning between the sounds and the objects and due
to this relation, sounds become expressions of a language.
Spoken words as physical realities are just a type of sound and they
become language when they are imbued with the meaning.
speech is a natural development of a power in man by which he can be
distinguished from other animals. In the later stages of development he
constructed the language with the help of natural language (language that
develops naturally). When these artificial languages are utilized for
communication, the relation of meaning between expressions of such languages and
elements in the ontology are purely conventional means depending on the will of
those who construct those languages. But this amalgamation of natural language
into man-made languages gives rise to various difficulties such as no artificial
language can be created in a vacuum. The other difficulty is to explain how such
conventions could ever be made in the absence of any language whatsoever. These
two problems, although in all appearance fundamentally different, are
essentially related. A language can not originate without meaning objects,
therefore, if the language is man-made, meaning is also man-made for that
language, and if it is not man-made, the meaning is also not man-made.
Theories of Language Learning and Theories of Meaning
As the theories
of the origin of language determine some elementary aspects of theories of
meaning, similarly theories of language learning and theories of meaning are
closely associated. Recently, many philosophers like Davidson have argued
against philosophical theories of meaning prescribing rules of language
learning, yet it is a fact that different theories of meaning do determine at
least some aspects of theories of language learning.
The Mimamsakas hold the theory that meaning of
the words can be