What is the difference between nouns and verbs (according to Mīmāṃsā authors)? Diaconescu vs. Clooney

What do nouns mean? And what is the difference between nouns and verbs? Pūrva Mīmāṃsā authors are rightly known as having conceived the first textual linguistics in South Asia. In this sense, their theory differs from the Vyākaraṇa one, as it does not start with basic forms having already underwent an analysis (vyākaraṇa), but rather with complex textual units, the sacrificial prescriptions of the Brāhmaṇas.

The sūtras PMS 2.1.1–2.1.4 constitute the bhāvārthādhikaraṇa, the one commenting upon which Kumārila elaborates his theory of bhāvanā (efficience force) as the meaning of verbal endings*. But what did Jaimini mean through them? The first one (PMS 2.1.1) states that verbs denote bhāva (interpreted by Kumārila as meaning bhāvanā).

In 2.1.2 an objector proposes that all linguistic expressions could mean bhāva and the next two sūtras discuss the difference between nouns and verbs. What is this difference? The opinion of ancient and contemporary scholars here diverge. Let me therefore first present the sūtras:

2.1.3 yeṣām tūtpattau sve prayoge rūpopalabdhis tāni nāmāni, tasmāt tebhyaḥ parākāṅkṣā bhūtatvāt sve prayoge

2.1.4 yeṣāṃ tūtpattāv arthe sve prayogo na vidyate tāny ākhyātāni tasmāt tebhyaḥ pratīyetāśritatvāt prayogasya

It seems (relatively) clear that nouns are linked to something already there (bhūta), whereas verbs express something which is not (yet) there (na vidyate). What is instead debated upon is the meaning of parākāṅkṣā “dependence on something else”. Śabara wants this expression to say that nouns do not depend on anything else, exactly since they signify something already existing. Thus, he just suggests to add na vidyate “there is no” (na vidyata ity adhyāhāraḥ). Kumārila, who wants the same meaning to hold proposes in addition the interpretation parā ākāṅkṣā “The dependence on something else [of the nouns] is far away (i.e., non existent”).

Now, if you readers think that adding a negation to a sūtra is a too far-fetched interpretation, you are not alone.

F.X. Clooney, who tried to understand the PMS independently of its later interpreters (in his Thinking ritually), suggests instead to take parākāṅkṣā at face value, and explains that Jaimini’s focus is constantly on action and that nouns depend on something else in order to express an action.

B. Diaconescu in his Debating Verbal Cognition supports Śabara and Kumārila’s interpretation, especially insofar as otherwise there would be no distinction among nouns and verbs regarding their dependence on something else. Nouns would depend on something else in order to express an action and verbs would depend on something else since their denotandum is not yet there, ready to be used.

Thus, Diaconescu follows the tradition and Clooney is rather a fundamentalist (in the literal sense of going back to the foundational text). Both methods are interesting and legitimate and my only perplexity regarding Diaconescu is his claim that he is following Jaimini and that “Clooney’s stand does not seem to be supported by the text”. I would have preferred him to clearly state that he read Jaimini through Śabara etc.

*This point is oversimplified, since Kumārila oscillates between the idea that the bhāvanā is the meaning of the verbal endings only and that it is the meaning of the whole verb, including the root.

On bhāvanā, see these posts. For my view on Clooney, see this post.

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3 Replies to “What is the difference between nouns and verbs (according to Mīmāṃsā authors)? Diaconescu vs. Clooney”

  1. I don’t have Clooney’s and Diaconescu’s books here, but I am inclined to follow C., provided that we get one thing clear: the fact that Śabara and Kumārila negate the sūtra doesn’t mean that they actually understand the sūtra to mean the opposite of what Jaimini intended. That is, Śabara and Kumārila seem to have maintained Jaimini’s focus on action when reinterpreting parākaṅkṣā. There are a lot of variables here: whether parākaṅkṣā is a bahuvrīhi or a tatpuruṣa (or two separate words); if it‘s a bahuvrīhi, what is said to be parākaṅkṣā (I might say, given the parallelism with 2.1.4, that this phrase means “therefore the action is dependent upon something else on account of nouns,” which is actually consistent with the negated version, “therefore, from the side of nouns, there is no dependence upon anything else”); and how we understand “dependence” in the first place.

    On that last point, it may be obvious to Mīmāṃsakas, but casual readers of this blog might like to know that “dependence” generally means the dependence of one word upon other words to fulfill its function (i.e., in most cases, denoting its meaning). I don’t think it means the dependence of a word upon its referent (or denotandum), or the dependence of the “apprehension” referred to in 2.1.3 on the thing that is apprehended when a word is pronounced.

  2. Pingback: Keywords: BhāvaḥThe Indian Philosophy Blog | The Indian Philosophy Blog

  3. I think you would be greatly interested in contemporary theories in morphosyntax concerning what’s in a root. There are two ways of seeing this, one is that ‘cut’ as a word is not originally specified as a verb or noun, and that it syntactic context determines whether this means ‘I cut the onions’ or ‘a haircut’, so a verb or a noun, respectively. Others think for example that we have two versions of ‘cut’ stored, each with its own syntactic context specified a priori

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