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Mukulabhaṭṭa’s Defense of Lakṣaṇā: How We Use Words to Mean Something Else, But Not Everything Else

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We frequently use single words or expressions to mean multiple things, depending upon context. I argue that a plausible model of this phenomenon, known as lakṣaṇā by Indian philosophers, emerges in the work of ninth-century Kashmiri Mukulabhaṭṭa. His model of lakṣaṇā is sensitive to the lexical and syntactic requirements for sentence meaning, the interpretive unity guiding a communicative act, and the nuances of creative language use found in poetry. After outlining his model of lakṣaṇā, I show how arthāpatti, or presumption, forms the basis of both semantic and pragmatic processes in this approach. I employ a model from contemporary linguist James Pustejovsky as one way of reconstructing Mukulabhaṭṭa’s analysis. Finally, I argue that presumption is responsible for the wide range of interpretations in creative uses of language, and that our interpretations are constrained, through defeasible in a way that our decodings of literal meanings typically are not.

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Correspondence to Malcolm Keating.

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Keating, M. Mukulabhaṭṭa’s Defense of Lakṣaṇā: How We Use Words to Mean Something Else, But Not Everything Else. J Indian Philos 41, 439–461 (2013).

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