Ākāṅkṣā in Mysore

Spotted in Mysore, outside of the Jaganmohan palace, a philosophical sign, along the lines of those Alex Watson found in New Delhi:


(I have been in Mysore the past several days after a week in Manipal at the Rasa Theory Workshop put on by the Center for Religious Studies. We had the pleasure of C. Rajendran leading us through the Abhinavabhāratī, and hearing from Daniele Cuneo and Andrew Ollett on alaṁkāraśāstra.)

The term ākāṅkṣā, of course, refers to what is often translated as “expectancy”, of one word for another. For example, the word “bring” has an expectancy for another word that would communicate an object–such as “cow.” Chapter Four of K.K. Raja’s Indian Theories of Meaning is a nice survey of texts where discussion of this concept is found, and he observes that the term is often found in Mīmāṃsā, although it may be roughly equivalent to what Pāṇini and other grammarians call sāmarthya (though Kumārila does sometimes use this term as well–for instance, in verse 57 of the śabda-pariccheda, in explaining how it is that a single word, uttered on its own, can communicate something qualified, viśiṣṭa–through another word being inserted due to sāmarthya).

While often we see ākāṅkṣā translated as “syntactic expectancy”, syntax is not always taken as the basis for expectancy. For instance, in Śālikanātha’s Vākyârthamātṛkā, which I was reading this week with Andrew Ollett, Śālikanātha explains how it is a hearer’s desire (jijñāsa) and not the invariable correspondence between verb and object, etc., that grounds expectancy. Raja (158ff) cites this text and explains that the purpose of the utterance and a sort of “need-to-know basis” (my words, not his) constrains what constitutes completing a sentence. So “Bring the cow” could, in some contexts, have expectancy for an instrument: “with a stick”, but not in others, such as when it doesn’t matter how the cow is brought. How ākāṅkṣā works in tandem with grammar, knowledge of context, one’s pragmatic aims, and so on, is the subject of a lot of discussion, here, and in other places.

K.K. Raja, Indian Theories of Meaning. Adyar: The Adyar Library and Research Centre, 1969.

About Malcolm Keating

Malcolm Keating is Assistant Professor of Philosophy in the Humanities Division at Yale-NUS College, Singapore.

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