Bhartrihari and the theory of Sphota

Valdimir Iatsenko

Developing the thought of Patanjali on a single meaning-bearing unit, Bhartrihari goes farther and makes an overall survey of what is single entity and how it works on all levels of speech and language. For Bhartrihari, text is single undivided speech unit, and word is not totally independent from the point of view of meaning of sentence. For the intention of a speaker is translated mainly through the text and not through the separate word. The whole world, as it is, has a meaning, which can be grasped only as an indivisible unity. This meaning is inherent in the consciousness of man from his very birth, which he later finds a partial correspondence with in his language and reproduces it in his speech, and that is Sphota. Sphota, literally means "sudden opening", disclosure, occurs in both speaker and hearer, through the process of articulation of the intention of the speaker by a means of language. The sound of speech (dhvani) simply evokes the Sphota in the hearer, as varna-sphota, pada-sphota, and vakya-sphota, the phoneme-in-morpheme-articulation-cognition, the word-articulation-cognition, and the text-articulation-cognition, respectively. But the meaning, according to Bhartrihari, is realised through vakya-sphota only. Even today this theory is widely recognised among modern linguists as the most complete investigation into the profundities of language, making a considerable contribution to the Philosophy of Language, Linguistics, and especially - Semiotics. This paper examines Bhartrihari's Theory of Sphota in detail.


This paper was presented at the
National Conference on
Yoga and Indian Approaches to Psychology

Pondicherry, India, September 29 - October 1, 2002