Does Asymmetric Signification Rely on Conventional Rules? Two Answers from Ancient Indian and Greek Sources

Valeria Melis, Tiziana Pontillo


The topic of asymmetry between the semantic and the phono-morphological levels of language emerges very early in Indian technical and speculative reflections as it also does in pre-socratic Greek thought. A well established relation between words and the objects they denote (the so-called one-to-one principle of correspondence) seems to have been presupposed for each analysis of the signification long before its earliest statement.

The present paper aims at shedding light on two different patterns of tackling the mentioned problem. The first approach sees asymmetry as an exception to the regular correspondence between language and reality, whereas the second approach considers language in itself as a conceptualisation which does not faithfully represent reality. In the latter case, asymmetry is no longer an exception, but the rule.


ancient Greek speculation on language; ancient Indian linguistics; language as a means of knowledge; linguistic asymmetry; paretymologies; polysemy; synonymy; substitution

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