World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0002863251
Reproduction Date:

Title: Yāska  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Agni, Kambojas in Indian literature, Kamboja (name), Vyākaraṇa, Savitr
Collection: 6Th-Century Mathematicians, Ancient Sanskrit Grammarians, Atomists, Medieval Indian Mathematicians
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Born c. 6th–5th century BC
Era late Vedic period
Region Indian subcontinent
Main interests
Sanskrit grammarian
Notable ideas
one of the earliest known systematic grammarians
Major works

Yāska (Devanagari: यास्क) was an early Sanskrit grammarian who preceded Pāṇini (fl. 4th BC), assumed to have lived in the 6th or 5th century BC. Nothing is known about him other than that he is traditionally identified as the author of Nirukta, the discipline of "etymology" (explanation of words) within Sanskrit grammatical tradition.


  • Contribution 1
  • Lexical categories and parts of speech 2
    • Words as carriers of meaning: atomism vs. holism debate 2.1
    • Etymologically, nouns originate from verbs 2.2
  • Notes 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Yaska is the author of the Nirukta, a technical treatise on etymology, lexical category and the semantics of Sanskrit words. He is thought to have succeeded Śākaṭāyana, an old grammarian and expositor of the Vedas, who is mentioned in his text.

The Nirukta attempts to explain how certain words get to have their meanings, especially in the context of interpreting the Vedic texts. It includes a system of rules for forming words from roots and affixes, and a glossary of irregular words, and formed the basis for later lexicons and dictionaries. It consists of three parts, viz.:(i) Naighantuka, a collection of synonyms; (ii) Naigama, a collection of words peculiar to the Vedas, and (iii) Daivata, words relating to deities and sacrifices.

The Nirukta was one of the six vedangas or compulsory ritual subjects in syllabus of Sanskrit scholarship in ancient India.

Lexical categories and parts of speech

Yāska defines four main categories of words:[1]

  1. nāma – nouns or substantives
  2. ākhyāta – verbs
  3. upasarga – pre-verbs or prefixes
  4. nipāta – particles, invariant words (perhaps prepositions)

Yāska singled out two main ontological categories: a process or an action (bhāva), and an entity or a being or a thing (sattva). Then he first defined the verb as that in which the bhāva ('process') is predominant whereas a noun is that in which the sattva ('thing') is predominant. The 'process' is one that has, according to one interpretation, an early stage and a later stage and when such a 'process' is the dominant sense, a finite verb is used as in vrajati, 'walks', or pachati, 'cooks'.[1]

But this characterisation of noun / verb is inadequate, as some processes may also have nominal forms. For e.g., He went for a walk. Hence, Yāska proposed that when a process is referred to as a 'petrified' or 'configured' mass (mUrta) extending from start to finish, a verbal noun should be used, e.g. vrajyā, a walk, or pakti, a cooking. The latter may be viewed as a case of summary scanning,[2] since the element of sequence in the process is lacking.

These concepts are related to modern notions of grammatical aspect, the murta constituting the perfective and the bhāva the imperfective aspect.

Yāska also gives a test for nouns both concrete and abstract: nouns are words which can be indicated by the pronoun that.

Words as carriers of meaning: atomism vs. holism debate

As in modern semantic theory, Yāska views words as the main carriers of meaning. This view – that words have a primary or preferred ontological status in defining meaning, was fiercely debated in the Indian tradition over many centuries. The two sides of the debate may be called the Nairuktas (based on Yāska's Nirukta, atomists), vs the Vaiyākarans (grammarians following Pāṇini, holists), and the debate continued in various forms for twelve centuries involving different philosophers from the Nyaya, Mimamsa and Buddhist schools.

In the prātishākhya texts that precede Yāska, and possibly Sakatayana as well, the gist of the controversy was stated cryptically in sutra form as "saṃhitā pada-prakṛtiḥ". According to the atomist view, the words would be the primary elements (prakṛti) out of which the sentence is constructed, while the holistic view considers the sentence as the primary entity, originally given in its context of utterance, and the words are arrived at only through analysis and abstraction.

This debate relates to the atomistic vs holistic interpretation of linguistic fragments – a very similar debate is raging today between traditional semantics and cognitive linguistics, over the view whether words in themselves have semantic interpretations that can be composed to form larger strings. The cognitive linguistics view of semantics is that any definition of a word ultimately constrains it meanings because the actual meaning of a word can only be construed by considering a large number of individual contextual cues.

Etymologically, nouns originate from verbs

Yāska also defends the view, presented first in the lost text of Sakatayana that etymologically, most nouns have their origins in verbs. An example in English may be the noun origin, derived from the Latin originalis, which is ultimately based on the verb oriri, "to rise". This view is related to the position that in defining agent categories, behaviours are ontologically primary to, say, appearance. This was also a source for considerable debate for several centuries (see Sakatayana for details).


  1. ^ a b  
  2. ^ Langacker, Ronald W. (1999). Grammar and Conceptualization. Cognitive linguistics research, 14. Berlin; New York: Mouton de Gruyter.  


  • Kahrs, Eivind. On the Study of Yāska's Nirukta. Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, India, 2005. LCCN 2006310275. OCLC 64771339.
  • Matilal, Bimal Krishna. The word and the world: India's contribution to the study of language. Oxford, 1990. ISBN 978-0-19-562515-8.
  • Langacker, Ronald W. Grammar and Conceptualization. Mouton de Gruyer, 1999. ISBN 978-3-11-016604-0.
  • Rajavade, V.K. Yāska's Nirukta. Government Oriental Series Class A, no.7. Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, India, 1993. OCLC 30703024.
  • Sharma, T.R.S. Chief editor. Ancient Indian Literature, An Anthology. Volume 1, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 2000. ISBN 978-81-260-0794-3.

External links

  • Niruktam sememes
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.