On the Notion of Linguistic Convention (samaya, saṃketa) in Indian Thought
Keywords:Indian philosophy of language, linguistic convention (samaya, saṃketa), the relationship (sambandha) between word (śabda) and its meaning (artha), the power of word to express the meaning (śakti)
Linguistic convention (samaya/saṃketa) is one of the central notions of Indian philosophy of language. The well-known view of samaya/saṃketa is its conception as the agreement initiating the relationship between words and their previously unrelated meanings. However, in Indian philosophy of language, we also encounter two other important but little-researched interpretations of samaya/saṃketa, which consider it as the established usage of words.
I present a new classification of traditions of Indian thought based on their view of linguistic convention. This classification is to be verified and expanded in further studies. As far as I know, such a classification has never been undertaken before. 1) Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Buddhism, and later classical Yoga of the Tattvavaiśāradī accept samaya/saṃketa as an agreement initiating the relationship between words and their previously unrelated meanings. 2) Bhartṛhari the Grammarian and the continuators of his thought acknowledge samaya/saṃketa as the established usage of words that is rooted in the natural relationship between words and their meanings; the convention manifests (makes known) the relationship. This view was probably also shared by Mīmāṃsakas and Advaitins. 3) Classical Yoga of the Yogasūtrabhāṣya and probably also earlier Grammar thought of the Mahābhāṣya accept linguistic convention as the established usage of words, but this usage, though having neither a beginning nor an end, is not based on any natural and necessary word–meaning relationship. In this view, linguistic convention not only manifests the word–meaning relationship but also keeps it in existence.
Another new contribution of this research is my explanation for why the same Sanskrit term samaya/saṃketa was applied to the different ways of understanding linguistic convention. I explain this through the common aspects of all three kinds of samaya/saṃketa. The first aspect is the content of all these kinds of samaya/saṃketa. Irrespective of how linguistic convention is understood, its content is the same: “such and such a word has such and such a meaning”. The second aspect is the crucial role of linguistic convention in language acquisition, communication, and transmission.
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