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A Sabda Reader (Language in Classical Indian Thought)

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Item Code: NAS421
Author: Johannes Bronkhorst
Publisher: Permanent Black
Language: English
Edition: 2019
ISBN: 9788178245454
Pages: 371
Other Details 10.00 X 7.50 inch
Weight 940 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

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 thought. 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 of language.

About the Author

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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