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  • The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Indian Philosophy of Language ed. by Alessandro Graheli
  • Mark Siderits (bio)
The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Indian Philosophy of Language. Edited by Alessandro Graheli. London: Bloomsbury, 2020. Pp. x + 478. Hardcover $175.00, ISBN 978-1-350-04916-1.

This volume is a noble effort to present the fruits of recent research in classical Indian philosophy of language. It is now well known that Indian philosophers had very important things to say in the areas of metaphysics and epistemology. That they also had interesting insights into the nature and uses of language is not as widely appreciated, and the present work seeks to rectify the situation. It is organized into four topical sections on, respectively, the units of speech, word meanings, sentence meanings, and figurative meaning. Each section contains essays discussing important theories and arguments in the area, arranged roughly chronologically. The volume begins with a general introduction, and there are also brief introductions for each section. At the end are a chronology of important figures in the tradition, a glossary of technical Sanskrit terms, an annotated bibliography of recent scholarship in the field, and a detailed index. All of these make this a useful work for those wishing to find out more about the subject.

A few general features stand out. Great care has been taken in editing the Sanskrit passages utilized in the references. The inclusion of a detailed glossary is also extremely helpful with respect to unfamiliar technical terms. Take the term dharma when used to mean “duty.” A non-specialist who missed the discussion of this term (p. 39) in an early chapter on phonetic and morphemic segmentation, because they had skipped over that section and gone straight to the section on word meaning, might be baffled by its unexplained use (p. 186) there. The glossary at the end of the volume solves this sort of problem neatly. Usually--but not always. There is no glossary entry for sandhi (euphonic combination). This Sanskrit word may be widely used as a technical term in linguistics, but I suspect very few philosophers understand it; a glossary entry would have been useful here as well. There are also some difficulties that derive from the order in which topics are introduced and discussed. The semantic theory of the Mīmāṃsā school, for instance, is built on the assumption that the primary meaning bearers at the sentence level (at least for the Vedic corpus) are injunctions, not statement-making sentences. (This is what happens when it is not logicians but experts in ritual who set the agenda in semantics; [End Page 1] more on this later.) This point is made in the introduction to the section on sentence meaning (248). But an earlier discussion of the relation between word meanings and sentence meanings (p. 185) utilizes this point without explaining it.

This work contains some fine examples of scholarship made accessible to a broader audience. Of note in this regard are Ollett’s account of the Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā theory of sentence meaning (an important attempt to reconcile the context and composition principles), Dasti’s account of the Old Nyāya theory of word meaning, Cuneo’s discussion of the history of theorizing about the figurative use of language in late medieval Kashmir, and Nowakowska’s discussion of some early Mīmāṃsā accounts of how words are grasped from hearing their constituent phonemes. Nowakowska, it should be noted, is the one author here who uses the type/token distinction in her discussion; other authors would have done well to follow her lead, since the distinction seems crucial to clarifying any number of issues in the philosophy of language.

The role of a reviewer is not only to describe the work but to note as well any possible difficulties. What follow are several questions that this reviewer had about specific content. The first concerns a puzzling claim about the role of memory in acquiring knowledge through testimony. Jayanta, a Naiyāyika, devises an interesting and plausible account of how sentence meaning is computed upon hearing a sequence of phonemes that are individually devoid of meaning. Given that the individual phonemes...