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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Language ,meaning and context

And the Sanskrit Language debate continues with good inputs

Dear Kalyanaramanji,

Message from Shri.S.Kalayanaramanji in brackets here [I have posited mleccha (meluhha) as the spoken version of Samskrtam, a Prakrit, Proto-Indian lingua franca of 7th millennium BCE. Later chauvinists created the dravida maaya and austro-asiatic family of languages in contradistinct categories to Proto-Indo-European, forgetting the essential semantic foundations of languages. See my Indian Lexicon available online. See Late V. Sundaram's review together with other views: us organize a forum to debate on Indian sprachbund (linguistic area).]
My response:-
I have not done detailed research work like you. So I grab every opportunity to go through any research work someone else has done and taste it as it is easier like savoring readymade noodles!

So, I have gone through both these works you have mentioned already as V. Sundaram mailed me long back and enjoyed reading them. I know it contains lot of useful and pertinent information. Of course, let us take away the hoax called Dravidian theory out of any discussion because it is waste of time and it is a good idea to engage in research as suggested by you. 

I have made it very clear that language evolution has too many complicated features and every language has too many facets that it does not allow any over simplified generalization that easily. So, the language debate will continue forever.

The factors contributing to the greatness of Sanskrit are too many to enlist but primarily they could be classified as:-

1.    Its ancientness,

2. Its great structure,

3. Its flamboyant syntax,

4. Its enormous literature [many yet unearthed],

5. Its multiple layers of meaning- its ability to express one thing on the surface while ensconcing something esoteric for the perceptive interpreter with a profound knowledge unraveling the multiple layers of meaning as Mike Magee mentions in
[This fact I feel has not yet been fully explored especially from texts like Devi Bhagavatham]

6. Its geopolitical life- Most importantly the geopolitical influences which did a great damage to Sanskrit as excellently written by the great scholar Rajiv Malhotra  almost a decade ago in this link which I have been repeatedly posting in my facebook page 

7. Its socio- cultural and religious connotations [which in the case of Sanskrit cannot be denied at all [that’s why the geopolitical damages have been intentionally inflicted on it].

I also see several other reasons for this which are all the result of some inherent  malady in our  mentality [ I mean Hindus] approach to many subjects or perhaps, almost all subjects. I can classify them as:-

1. Failure to document and preserve for posterity. 
2. We have stressed and glorified reverence over research. 
3. Exaggeration over exact reporting. 
4. Deification over delving deeper into details of real merit [a] 
5. Lack of openness in certain areas [this may sound contradictory, for, other religions are far less open comparatively]. I mention this here because we have been rather indifferent to include esoteric studies made by clairvoyants like H.P. Blavatsky especially in text like ‘The Secret Doctrine’ where she resorts to great interpretations with gay abandon unhindered by any constraints of tradition and comes out with some really great revelations.

In fact Steven Pinker and David Crystal have been doing so much research for the past four decades with all the materials available to them and still they have not been able to arrive at very clear cut categorization with linguistic justification even for one language which is of a comparatively recent origin, namely English. Steven Pinker thrashes many established rules with great logic in his latest book ‘The Sense of style’ which may unsettle the traditional grammarians because the expressive possibilities of language often rely on the rules being bent and almost all great poets, novelists have done it as getting across human thoughts, creativity, imaginations etc get a precedence over sticking to rules. It is in the nature of creative genius never to stop the flow and flamboyance by sticking to prescribed rules.

For example Shakespeare’s ingenuity in coming up with newly coined words /expressions to communicate many things have been mind boggling and they have been brought out very well in the book ‘The works of Shakespeare, revised from the best authorities: with a memoir and essay on his genius by Barry Cornwall: also annotations and remarks by many writers, illustrations from designs by K. Meadows’.

These are all because language is more a medium for expression than a tomb of rules. That’s why nowadays we come across many good ideas, opinions and suggestions emanating from many in internet and social media which may be with poor grammar or no grammar, bad punctuation or no punctuation etc.

Even some of the great spiritual and philosophical truths [expressed as an experience by enlightened souls] become a bit difficult to understand as language sometimes becomes an inadequate tool to communicate the real communion of a soul.[b]

Regarding Dr. V.S. Ramachandran's views it only from neuro anatomical perspective and presents his views and from that angle I accept his views for the simple reason he goes through a very strenuous and methodical scientific research based on many case studies and he is precise when he uses the terminologies and never delivers anything as a sort of conclusion with axiomatic certitude and he adopts the same method here too with careful observation when he says "But there were multiple exaptations with fortuitous interactions which resulted in language." Besides more importantly most of our knowledge in the subject he handles is only theoretical and half baked. Probably one may fault him as one would with Freud's psychoanalysis saying his studies were based more on examples who were all his patients and not many on normal people.

Of course
"But this by-product view is highly unlikely, as language is too complex. Exaptation -- a re-use of an existing structure -- is undoubtedly a powerful force in evolution. But in all documented cases, complex structures are used for simple purposes, and not vice versa. A type of wading bird uses its wings as a sun shade: there is no evidence of any bird using what was originally a sunshade as wings. You can use a television as a paperweight, but you can't use a paperweight as a television. The complexity of language, and the interwoven adaptations of the mouth, larynx and brain make it unlikely that language developed as an accidental by-product." [Aitchison (1996), pp.74-75.]

Besides all these I keep on insisting about context to unravel the inherent strength and utility because words and expressions in any langue primarily derive their meaning from one- the things they refer to and two -what it means to the mind of the person who uses it. For, all said and done even for ordinary words referring to things there are many abstract aspects attached.

For example when I say Dosa it may appear to refer to the edible item but it could include its appealing taste, the irresistible aroma, the many other things associated with it like the shape, size, texture, components, side dishes, it could also mean I want to eat a dosa now or feel like having a Dosa now etc.

If even a word within a language depends on so many factors or reflects too many aspects, then we can imagine the role and significance of a language or languages in life.

For example you ask any Indian what is the meaning of Rangoli or Kolam, you will come up with many answers or those born in the last decade and confined to living only in modern marble floored or granite floored apartments may just blush. But for me that is one of the best forms of learning art and producing multiple designs with manipulation of dots and lines. I cannot deny others views nor can anyone put aside my observation.

Word meanings are not static but dynamic that’s why connotations have in many cases totally erased the original denotation.

The meaning of meaning by itself is a debatable issue and meaning making sense is more contextual than anything else.

That’s why human vocabulary constantly gets expanded to express more and more feelings, emotions, new technologies, inventions, imaginations, concepts, discovery of or creation of new substances, space, time, causation etc like as Steven Pinker says, ELBONICS to refer to action of two people maneuvering for one armrest in a movie theater or SHOEBURYNESS to refer to the vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat which is still warm from someone else’s bottom.

a] [For example all great composers starting from Appar, to Annamacharya to Saint Tyagaraja everyone's biography has an episode where some deity appeared to their parents just the day before they were born and declaring that they would get a saint as a child, everyone of them were despised by the king or some family member and the next day the king had stomach ache and after they went and sang and pardoned the king the stomach ache vanished etc. All of them were painted as very poor  whereas what ought to have been given importance or stressed and studied in detail after putting in proper perspective that they all were normal human beings who had normal family life with children etc but they had extraordinary  genius which produced some of the unmatched, unthinkable and unrepeatable feats like the number of ragas that Saint Tyagaraja created with such subtle nuances making an unbelievable appropriate blend of stresses, pauses, intervals, vibrations etc delivering  one of the greatest  architectural designs of sound coupled with thousands of words of alliteration that too mostly on a single subject of Rama's life. It is easier to produce vast literature on many subjects. The nuances are so subtle that unless they are exact it can make a person slip into a different raga. I can only think of only one analogy that of canine sense of smell [ it is said a dog can differentiate between some 1. 2 million  different smells] so Saint Tyagaraja in way enhanced the auditory sense of human beings as whole through so many ragas. One of the greatest contribution to the world of music. Instead of studying this, we were propagating his cruel brother, his poverty etc

In fact he made the optimum utilization of the very musical language Telugu because of its excess of vowel sounds. I even use to joke to my Telugu friends on Ugadhi as 'Haapilu Newoo yearlu'.]

[b] "One of the best-known facts about mystics is that they feel that language is inadequate, or even wholly useless, as a means of communicating their experiences or their insights to others. They say that what they experience is unutterable or ineffable. They use language but then declare that the words they have used do not say what they want to say, and that all words as such are inherently incapable of doing so.

"According to the Mandukya Upanishad the unitary consciousness is 'beyond all expression'. According to Plotinus, 'the vision baffles telling.' In a passage which I shall quote more at length later, Eckhart says that 'the prophets walking in the light...sometimes were moved to...speak of things they know...thinking to teach us to know God. Whereupon they would fall dumb, becoming tongue-tied.... The mystery they found there was ineffable.'

"And modern Europeans and Americans who report having had mystical experiences feel the difficulty just as much as do the ancient or classical mystics. R. M. Bucke says that his experience was 'impossible to describe'.Tennyson says that his was 'utterly beyond words'. J. A. Symonds states that he 'was not able to describe his experience to himself' and that he 'could not find words to render it intelligible'. Arthur Koestler says of his experience that 'it was meaningful though not in verbal terms' and of his own [p.278] attempts to describe it that 'to communicate what is incommunicable by its nature one must somehow put it into words, and so one moves in a vicious circle.' Probably hundreds of similar statements could be collected from all over the world." [W T Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, taken from here. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Links added.]

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