"Discourse in its strict linguistic sense refers to connected speech or writing occurring at suprasentential levels (at levels greater-than the single sentence)." Harris (1952) pioneered this approach to discourse, arguing that the methods of formal linguistics could be used to understand how sentences are connected, and not simply the formal structure which exists within the structure itself. While Harris used the invented data and attempted to find the formal structural properties of connected speech, this is now a typical – and not essential to Harris’s definition of 'Discourse'.
Most discourse analysts these days (possibly beginning with Mitchell (1957) prefer to work with naturally occurring data (actual talk, actual texts) and to pursue the local – contextual features and social functions of them rather than their purely 'Linguistic' (or systemic) properties. In this sense, a focus on discourse entails a shift in Linguistics away from competence and the langue (the language systems) and towards performance and paroles (actual speech events).
However, the above definition is only an ideal type. There are many variations upon it and some discourse analysts would totally disagree with it (Frawley 1987). In what follows, after a brief look at the history of the discourse and its analysis, there is an outline of arguably, the three main approaches to it in contemporary scholarship:
(1) The Formal linguistic approach (Discourse as text) (2) The Empirical sociological approach (Discourse as conversation) and (3) The critical approach (Discourse as power/knowledge).
[Encyclopedia of language of Linguistics pp. 940].
The concept of Discourse is not new to the Traditional Indian scholars. This was discussed and debated from the beginning under the titles "śābdabōdha" 'Tātpurya" and "Mahavākya".
K. Subramanyam in his paper on "Tātparya of a Discourse" discusses the concept of Discourse in the Indian tradition. He says Discourse analysis is as old as Vedic literature and Jaimini (5th century B.C) the founder of pūrva Meemamsa School defines the Discourse as "A group of sentences which serve a single purpose or idea". Even though Jaimini gave this definition in the context of Vedic discourses but the same definition is applied to secular discourse as well.
In order to decide the coherence at intersentencial level, the propagators of pūrva Meemamsa system have suggested certain facts like the relations of (1) complete and complement (2) Principal and subordinate (3) Constitute and constituents. These relations are reflected as qualifier and qualified at the linguistic level.
The tests or Criteria of Discourse are enumerated in Brahatsamhita, they are:
1) Upakrama - Commencement. 2) Upasamhāra - the end. 3) Abhyāsa - the frequent reference. 4) Apūrvata - Institution regarding the subject matter which is not cognizable by other means. 5) Phalam – The result of knowing the subject matter. 6) Arthavāda – The meaning occasionally made regarding the subject matter. 7) Upapatti – Reasons given in support of the subject matter.
The Discourse must satisfy all the above noted factors. Out of six factors, Upakrama and Upasamhāra are important, Abhyāsa and Arthavāda are verbal and the rest i.e. Phala, Apūrvta and Upapatti are semantic.
Again, K.Subramanyam in his other paper entitled "The verbal cognition through Discourse" says that the śabda is taken up by three systems of Indian Philosophy, viz: Vyākaraṇa, Nyāya and Mīmamsa at three different levels. In all the three systems, śabda has been said to denote phoneme, morpheme, word, sentence, Discourse, the means of verbal cognition, the sound and the sphota.
Any stretch of language beyond a sentence can be called a Discourse or Mahāvākya. In other words, a group of sentences which do serve a single purpose or idea is a Discourse. The question is whether it is the padārthas (word meanings) which are instrumental in the conception of verbal cognition of Discourse or the sub-sentences.
Grammarians (Vaiyākaranas) argue that the padārthas are of perishable nature, it is not possible to have all of them at one point of time and thus the result expected cannot be affected. On the other hand, it is legitimate to suggest that the padārthās as a group is instrumental in the conception of a Discourse - cognition.
Viswanātha states that the farther, far and adjacent words would at once get syntactic unity among themselves and become instrumental in effecting the Discourse cognition. Subramanyam further says that the words in a substance would get syntactic and semantic unity depending on the three prerequisites i.e. आकांक्षा(Ākānkṣhā) i.e. Mutual expectancy, योग्यता(Yōgyatā) i.e. Compatibility and आसत्ति (āsatii) i.e. Proximity and thus cognition of a discourse is conceived.
Nāgēsabhatta, the author of Laghumanjūṣa, takes a position by supporting the old logician’s theory besides suggesting another theory for achieving the verbal cognition through a Mahāvākya. It can be presumed that, Nāgēsha must have felt both the ideologies are essential depending on the approach of both the groups - Those supporting the padārthās as instrumental and sequence as not important in 'Mahāvākyārtha bōdha' and others who consider that the meanings of sub-sentences are instrumental and sequence as imperative in the said result. Nevertheless, he argues that recollection or impression of the cognitions of padārthās and the three prerequisites in one process, and re-collection or impression of the cognitions of sub-sentences in the other directly affect the result. The former process is in the line with 'Khalakapōtanyāya' whereas the later in akin to 'Rājapurapravesanyāya'- Nāgesh declares. The latter regulation is explained thus: people who have got business in king’s office enter in a queue due to the fear of attracting punishment from guards of law and order. Similarly, the meanings of sub-sentences in a sequence would be instrumental in the cognition of a Mahāvākya. There is another interpretation of the Nyāya supported by Sabhapati Sharma. As the people who have some business in King’s office enter along with the concerned officials, in the same manner, the cognitions of sub-sentences with the relation of proposer and propositions get together in 'Mahāvākyārthabōdha'.
In a day to day life, after hearing a discourse or reading a piece of text, we naturally, due to recollection or impression of the cognitions of sub-sentences, conceive the 'Mahāvākyārtha' and do not try it any other way as suggested by Vishwanātha. Moreover, it is not only logical but also nearer to perfection and brevity to argue that sub-sentence meanings are directly instrumental in achieving the conception of a discourse - cognition, especially a longer one like Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhāratha so much so that, it seems that the concepts suggested by Nāgēśa i.e. the one in line with old Naiyaikas and the other on his own, are feasible.
Among the Meemamsakās, a group of the followers of Bhātta school (Abhihitānvya vāda) follow 'Khala kapōtanyāya' whereas the other two groups along with the followers of Prābbhakara school (Anvitābhidhānavāda) accept the words as instrumental in 'Mahāvākyārtha bōdha'. But on the whole, the Abhihitānvay vādins are considered to be the supporters of the regulation 'Vaisisṭas Vaisis ṭyam'. These concepts are elaborated in śabdarangini.
It may be noted that since Grammarians consider Vākyaphōta as instrumental in conceiving the meaning of a sentence, they cannot accept words or anything the like, to be the factor in the cognition of a discourse. K.Subramanyam expresses his doubt by saying that "I do not know whether Mahāvākya spōṭa is acceptable to Vaiyakarṇās as the Mahāvākya dhvani to Alankārikās".
“Traditional Indian theories on language particularly on sentence meaning are widely discussed and hotly debated by the traditional grammarians, logicians, rhetoricians, Meemamsakas and Vēdāntins holding divergent views under the topic ‘śābdabōdha’ (verbal testimony). To describe the content of śabdabōdha amounts to describing the meaning of the Utterances or knowledge of some sentence meaning. It is primarily concerned with the mechanism of decoding the signals by the hearer which are coded or uttered by the speaker. It should not be confused with the speaker’s coding system or cognition which is his private property.
Among the three fundamental schools of Indian philosophy, viz: padashastra (Science of grammar) pramāṇa shastra (Science of logic) and Vākyashastra (the Science of Meemamsa), the last one directly deals with the sentences and their meaning though the discussion mainly pertains to Vedic sentences. This has a wider application to the theory of language particularly the main aspects of syntax and semantics. Jaimini was the propounder of the Pūrva meemamsa school through his Meemāmsa sūtras. Sabar (200 A.D) wrote an elaborate commentary on these sūtras known as Sabara Bhāṣya. Of the four original commentaries on Sabara Bhāṣya, only two – one by Kumārila Bhaṭṭa and the other by Prabhakara are well known and belong to the end of 6th or beginning of the 7th century A.D.
Anvitābhidhāna vāda of Prābhakara school and Abhihitānvaya Vada of Bhaṭṭa school held different views on śābdabōdhas. According to the Meemāmsakās, all words and denotations are eternal, everlasting, and independent of all conventions and the meanings of the words can be known only when they occur in our injunctive sentence. From this it follows that the word must denote things only as related to the other factors of injunction and no word can be comprehended as having any denotation when taken apart from such sentences. This theory known as ‘Anvitābhidhāna vāda’ advocated by Prabhākara school has the support of Sabara. It holds that words only express meaning as parts of a sentence and as grammatically connected with each other; they only express an action or something connected with action.
In contrast to this view, Abhihitānvaya Vadins and others maintain that words themselves can express their separate meanings by the function of abhidha or denotation. These are subsequently continued into a sentence, expressing one connected idea through the process of purport that is brought out by means of Ākānkṣha (Syntactical) expectancy, (semantic) consistency i.e. Yōgyata and physical proximity i.e. āsatti or Sannidhi (R.N. Aralikatti).
K.Kapoor in his article 'Linguistic meaning and Referential Results: Initiating note' traces the relationship between śabda (word) and Artha (meaning) and their status in the Indian Grammatical system. Indian Grammarians have argued two levels of reality of both śabda and Artha, viz: (1) Physical reality (2) Conceptual reality
The Author states that the relationships between śabda and Artha is complex and raises some issues regarding the nature and process of verbal cognition. They are :
(1) What is śabda and what is Artha? (2) What are the different kinds of Artha as per Indian theories of meaning? (3) What is the typology of Primary meaning? (4) For different kinds of meaning, is the reference universal? (5) Is the Linguistic meaning referential or conceptualized? (6) Whether the Linguistic meaning contradicts our knowledge of reality? (7) What is the process of communication? How does the word succeed in communicating or evoking the given meaning? (8) Do the universals exist? Is it valid to separate qualities from the Universals? How qualities differ from actions?
Author compares the Indian theories of meaning to the western theories of meaning; particularly the modern theory propagated by Ogden-Richards and comes to the conclusion that the western theory of relationship between word and referent is fundamentally not different from the Indian theories particularly of the grammarians. He points out two explanatory theories of Indian Grammarians, viz: (1) śabda Advaita vāda (2) śabda Adhyāsa vāda and also Buddhist theory of meaning who deny any sort of relation between śabda and Artha and claiming the conceptual cognitions as being illusory.
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