Language (Sabda) occupied a central yet
often unacknowledged place in classical
Indian philosophical thought. Foundational
thinkers considered topics such as the nature
of language, its relationship to reality, the
nature and existence of linguistic units and
their capacity to convey meaning, and the
role of language in the interpretation of sacred
writings. The first reader on language in—and
the language of —classical Indian philosophy,
A Sabda Reader offers a comprehensive and
pedagogically valuable treatment of this topic
and its importance to Indian philosophical
A Sabda Reader brings together newly
translated passages by authors from a variety
of traditions—Brahmin, Buddhist, Jaina—
representing a number of schools of thought.
It illuminates issues such as how Brahmanical
thinkers understood the Veda and conceived of
Sanskrit; how Buddhist thinkers came to assign
importance to language's link to phenomenal
reality; how Jains saw language as strictly
material; the possibility of self-contradictory
sentences; and how words affect thought.
Throughout, the volume shows that linguistic
presuppositions and implicit notions about
language often play as significant a role as
explicit ideas and formal theories. Including
an introduction that places the texts and ideas
in their historical and cultural context, A
Sabda Reader sheds light on a crucial aspect
of classical Indian thought and in so doing
deepens our understanding of the philosophy
Johannes Bronkhorst is professor emeritus of Sanskrit and Indian studies at the University of Lausanne. He is the author of a number of books, including Buddhist Teaching in India (2009) and How the Brahmins Won: From Alexander to the Guptas (2016).
While I was preparing this book, it soon became clear that much of what should be
covered by the subtitle Language in Classical Indian Thought does not easily lend itself
to presentation in the format of a reader. Too many topics in this area have been
understudied and are far from being correctly understood by modern scholarship.
The texts are often technical and obscure, and they frequently create more confusion than understanding at a first reading. Even longtime study does not always
guarantee a full grasp of these texts.
I try to resolve this difficulty in the following manner. A number of topics that
are crucial for an understanding of the historical role of language in Indian
thought can only be hinted at in this reader (mainly in the introduction). Some of
these have received fuller treatment in my book How the Brahmins Won (Brill 2016;
esp. §§ IIA.4, III.3-4). Readers who look for fuller documentation are advised to refer
to that publication.
In the present volume, the sections of the introduction (part I) correspond by
and large to the sections of the reader (part IN), in the sense that, for example, section I.1 and IL.1 deal, on the whole, with the same or similar topics. This correspondence is not, however, perfect. An example is section 1.3, which deals with the grammarian Patanjali, whereas section II.3 presents passages from both Patanjali's work and more recent texts that deal with the same or similar issues.
Readers may further keep in mind that in this volume I have tried to resist the temptation of cherrypicking, i-e., of choosing topics on the basis of their similarity to or relevance for modern language philosophy. On the contrary, I have tried to bring out the
importance that language has in Indian thought in many or most of its forms, irrespective of whether the Indian notions might or should interest a modern philosopher.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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