Journal of Indian Philosophy

, Volume 40, Issue 5, pp 489–509 | Cite as

Lakṣaṇā as a Creative Function of Language



When somebody speaks metaphorically, the primary meanings of their words cannot get semantically connected. Still metaphorical uses succeed in conveying the message of the speaker, since lakṣaṇā, a meaning-generating faculty of language, yields the suitable secondary meanings. Gaṅgeśa claims that lakṣaṇā is a faculty of words themselves. One may argue: “Words have no such faculty. In these cases, the hearer uses observation-based inference. They have observed that sometimes competent speakers use the word w in order to mean s, when p, the primary meaning of w does not make any semantic sense. In all such cases, s is actually related to p. After having observed this, when the hearer hears the utterance of w, and realizes that w’s primary meaning p is semantically unfit for the sentence-meaning, they infer on the basis of their prior observation that ‘the competent speaker must mean s by uttering w’. Thus lakṣaṇā becomes a success.” This apparently well-argued reduction does not stand the critical examination; neither in Gaṅgeśa’s framework, nor even in the general theory of language. For one can compose and interpret potentially infinite novel sentences based on lakṣaṇā while the observational inferences one can make are finite. Gaṅgeśa says very clearly that as far as the secondary meaning is concerned, no prior observation is required. This paper will argue that not only does language yield secondary meanings through lakṣaṇā, but it also restricts the use of secondary meanings; for one cannot mean just anything by saying something. Lakṣaṇā is a creative function with infinite potential within the limits set up by the language faculty.


Gaṅgeśa Lakṣaṇā Inference Linguistic creativity 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Department of Humanities and Social SciencesIndian Institute of Technology KanpurIndia

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