, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 53–62 | Cite as

Reading Xunzi through Nāmā: Two Ancient Inquiries into the Nature of Names

  • Laurie L. PattonEmail author


This essay is a comparison between two ancient theories of language—the 5th century BCE Indian etymologist Yāska and the 4th century BCE Chinese philosopher Xunzi 荀子. Specifically, it is a reading of the theory of “the rectification of names” in Xunzi through the lens of Yāska. Xunzi is known for his view that humanity’s innate tendencies need to be shaped through education and ritual. Similarly, ancient Indian authors like Yāska understand that a person is created, or made, through the performance of Vedic sacrifice. Both thinkers’ constructivist theories of language and meaning proceed from these ritual assumptions. However, Yāska would query Xunzi’s inherent distrust of multiple meanings of words and their negative effects on a functional state. Guided instead by a theory of the transcendence of Vedic language, Yāska would argue that the more one can proliferate possible meanings the more powerful a word becomes.


Xunzi Yāska Chinese theories of meaning Indian theories of meaning Ancient etymology 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Duke UniversityDurhamUSA

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