The Buddhist Philosophy of Language in India: An Overview

  • Viktoria LysenkoEmail author


The attitude of Indian Buddhist thinkers towards language has varied in the course of history, depending on how they understood its nature, purpose, and efficiency particularly in the light of the key goal of the Buddhist practice: to achieve awakening (bodhi). Since the awakening is  сonsidered a direct, non-conceptual and non-verbal access to the highest reality per se‚ language is attributed to a lower empirical reality the ordinary human beings live in. This explains the fundamentally nominalist position of the Buddhist thinkers regarding language. Unlike some other Indian thinkers who believed in the intimate relation between words, things, and universals, in Buddhism language is understood as the articulation and conceptual construction of empirical reality on the basis of linguistic conventions. The paper will examine some stages of the Buddhist philosophy of language as it was taught by the Buddha, through the theories concerning the nature of language and the problems of semantics in the Indian schools of Buddhism such as Abhidharma, Madhyamaka, and Yogācāra.


Language Buddhism The Buddha Nominalism Sound Phonocentrism Atomistic style of thinking Word Meaning Conceptualization Universals Particulars Correspondence principle Linguistic convention Emptiness Interconnectedness 


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Oriental PhilosophiesInstitute of Philosophy, Russian Academy of SciencesMoscowRussian Federation

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