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Semantics and Etymology in Yāska’s Nirukta

The meghaḥmehati iti sataḥ Type of Etymological Explanation

In: Indo-Iranian Journal
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  • 1 Shanghai Normal UniversityDepartment of World History, China, Shanghai
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Abstract

This paper provides a new interpretation of a type of etymological explanation (T) characteristic of Yāska’s Nirukta. The proposed interpretation sheds light on Yāska’s distinctive ideas on the relation between semantics and etymology. Exemplified by the occurrence meghaḥmehati iti sataḥ, T conveys the following information: the noun to be explained is a name (nāman-) that denotes a certain thing (sattva-) as characterized by a certain action. In the example, the noun meghaḥ is a name that denotes the thing cloud as emitting rain-water (mehati). T operates with two ideas intersecting semantics and etymology: (1) names denote things in relation to the latter’s association with a name-giving action; (2) one thing can receive various names in relation to various name-giving actions. While (1) underlies Yāska’s etymologies in general, (2) informs T as well as the structural organization of noun groups in the Nighaṇṭu ‘Thesaurus’, the word-list constituting the root-text commented upon in the Nirukta. Recognition that (2) underlies both T and the Nighaṇṭu noun groups is consistent with the observation that most nouns explained with T occur in the Nighaṇṭu.

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