Rework Sanskrit-English Dictionaries

Anyone familiar with Vedic philosophy and its worldview realizes that modern-day Sanskrit-English dictionaries hugely misrepresent the meanings of Sanskrit words. Quite often, this is because many Sanskrit words don't have counterparts in Western languages. Quite often, such words exist but they are not used in the dictionary. The purpose of language is representing the knowledge of the world and it requires a correspondence between our minds, the world, and language. Such correspondence has never been established in any Western philosophy of language. Thereby, how sounds alter the mind, which was the primary use of Sanskrit recitation, is neglected. All fundamental issues of the philosophy of language are disregarded by modern philologists producing grave misrepresentations of Sanskrit. A correction is long overdue to present Sanskrit as it is.

The English-Sanskrit dictionaries in vogue today were developed during the colonial period. Quite apart from the colonialist agendas that influenced these dictionaries, there are two serious philosophical issues pertaining to the nature of language itself inherent in these dictionaries incongruent with the broader Vedic tradition.

First, colonialists assumed an arbitrary word-meaning association in Sanskrit (quite like these associations are arbitrary in European languages) although Sanskrit assigns very specific meanings to each phoneme and constructs complex meaning of words from phoneme meanings. Second, a word is treated as an object in contrast to the Vedic tradition where it is treated as śabda-brahman or a sound-person, where a person is a will acting on five other aspects called cognition, conation, relation, emotion, and intention. When a sound is a person, then it can change its behavior contextually, which doesn’t happen if the sound is an object. These two false assumptions about Sanskrit, carried forward from European thinking about their langauges, have grave implications that undermine all Sanskrit dictionaries.

Due to arbitrary word-meaning associations, most Sanskrit words (especially those that have a philosophical significance) have been incorrectly translated in dictionaries. For example, dharma is translated as religion, although dharma is the contextual duty of an individual to bring about the greatest good to the entire existence while religion is a universalized set of rules and regulations (called laws of religion) that disregard contextuality (i.e., the law doesn’t change based on a context), individuality (i.e., the laws for different people are not different), and universality (i.e., the concept of greatest good for everyone is replaced by individual good for one person).

Similarly, graha is translated as planet, when it means a house. We live in a house and we live on a planet. The soul is trapped in a specific graha or house and cannot leave it under normal circumstances. What it sees as other planets is part of the house and not a different object. The term prakṛti is translated as nature, where nature means the exclusions of senses, mind, intellect, ego, moral sense, and the unconscious, although prakṛti includes all these things. The term kāraṇa is translated as cause, when it means a choice because its counterpart karaṇa is an instrument used by choice but there is no choice-instrument distinction in modern causality. Both causes and instruments are simply material forces and objects. Scientific causation reduces a cause to a mechanical force rather than a choice, creating a conflict between choice and determinism which then leads to numerous other causal paradoxes.

Likewise, there are numerous examples of inconsistent translations of words using the same roots. For example, śraddhā is translated as faith and belief, when it means respect and trust. This is inconsistent with śraddheya (which means a respectable person), śrāddha (which means a son paying his respects to his father who has just left the present body), or śraddhānjali (which means hands folded in respect). The meanings of śraddheya, śrāddha, and śraddhānjali mean respect while the dictionary defines śraddhā as faith and belief. This is the norm with Western languages where the same roots don’t have the same meaning everywhere, but not a norm in Sanskrit.

All linguistic studies are done under the false assumption of an evolutionary idea of language, disregarding the fundamental problem of epistemology, namely, how can language represent reality? There must be a one-to-one correspondence between the external world, our senses and minds, and the language to even produce any kind of truthful representation of the world that can be grapsed by a person. If we cannot establish a one-to-one correspondence between world-mind-language then we cannot know the truth. Knowledge is possible only when the evolution has ended, and we have arrived at a language that can perfectly capture the nature of truth.

The Western idea of ordinary language is that it is not suited for representing the truth. Rather, truth must be represented in mathematics, although now we know (due to Gödel’s Incompleteness) that mathematics is an incomplete language and we need an ordinary language to complely represent the truth. Linguists, however, have ignored both the problems of mathematics and that of epistemology while studying languages. Thereby, they search not for a natural langauge that represent the complete truth but waste their time in historical excavacation to bring the natural language (Sanskrit) down to the level of Western languages with no hope for any solution to the problems of epistemology or mathematics, because that is not their chosen department. The philosophy department is expected to talk about epistemology, the mathematics department is expected to deal with the problems of incompleteness, and the physics department is expected to decide whether mathematics should be their language. By segmentation of all subjects, real cross-cutting issues are never discussed.

The problems arising from the objectification of language suffers from the mind-body problem, namely, how can sound effect our minds? We can never bootstrap any language without a native word-meaning mapping because every language uses a wide variety of concepts such as truth, beauty, justice, causality, space, time, and so on, that we can never perceive. No language can exist without fundamental concepts like these. A mind-body problem ensures that no arbitrary word-meaning assignment can work correctly as we cannot point to anything in the world and label that by a word. A natural language is required to bootstrap any kind of language.

Finally, the objectification of words (i.e., treating words as objects) doesn’t tell us why the same word has variable meanings in different cultures, places, and times. The same person uses the same word in multiple different ways (e.g., man can be used both a class of individuals or used to refer to a specific individual). The emotional effects of sounds, how sounds sometimes refer to the future and sometimes to the past, how sounds refer to things in different places, etc. are incomprehensible in an objectified language because: (a) objects don’t refer to anything, (b) objects cannot cause emotions, and (c) objects don’t have different properties in different places, times, and situations. All these things are possible only if we treat sound as a person as persons refer, emote, and vary in different times, places, and situations.

It is therefore fair to say that any Western attempt at linguistics is deeply flawed. When a problematic ideology is applied to something that solved all those problems then the result is that of bringing down something superior to the status of something inferior.

To address these issues, we have to apply the correct Vedic ideology on meaning and langauge to construct dictionaries: (a) phonemes have meanings, (b) the meanings vary in combination but not so drastically as in Western languages, (c) one of the many meanings is selected based on a time, place, situation (for which Vyākaraṇa is necessary), (d) a natural word-meaning mapping is necessary to solve the problems of epistemology and mathematics and bootstrap any kind of language, and (e) varied types of languages can easily evolve from a natural language because the natural language has the capacity to bootstrap alternative word-meaning mappings.

When language is studied with a broader set of problems in mind, without separating linguistics from philosophy, physics, and mathematics, then we can have an alternative dictionary that stops supplying false word-meaning equivalences such as equating dharma to religion, graha to planet, prakṛti to nature, kāraṇa to cause, or śraddhā to faith. Present-day dictionaries are hugely problematic. When they are used to translate Sanskrit texts or to study linguistic history, gross misconceptions are created both in the translations and the history. They are the results of extending the features of European languages to Sanskrit, when such extension is itself problematic.