Śākaṭāyana was an early "etymologist" or nairukta. He is the oldest grammarian known by name, even though his work is only known indirectly, via references of Yaska and Panini's works.
Śākaṭāyana apparently claimed that all nouns are ultimately derived from verbal roots. This process is reflected in the Sanskrit grammar as the system of krit-pratyayas or verbal affixes.
Bimal Krishna Matilal in his The word and the world refers to the debate of nirkuta vs. vyakarana as an interesting philosophical discussion between the nairuktas or etymologists and the pāṇinīyas or grammarians.
According to the etymologists, all nouns (substantives) are derived from some verbal root or the other. Yāska in his Nirukta refers to this view (in fact defends it) and ascribes it to an earlier scholar Śākaṭāyana. This would require that all words are to be analysable into atomic elements, 'roots' or 'bases' and 'affixes' or 'inflections' — better known in Sanskrit as dhātu and pratyaya [...] Yāska reported the view of Gārgya who opposed Śākaṭāyana (both preceded Pāṇini who mentions them by name) and held that not all substantival words or nouns (nāma) were to be derived from roots, for certain nominal stems were 'atomic'.
- (The ancient grammarian) Sakatayana says that prepositions when not attached (to nouns or verbs) do not express meanings; but Gargya says that they illustrate (or modify) the action which is expressed by a noun or verb, and that their senses are various (even when detached). This view was challenged by Gargya. This debate goes to the heart of the compositionality debate among ancient Indian Mimamsakas and Vyakaran/grammarians.
His work might have been called the Lakṣaṇa Śāstra, in which he also describes the process of determining gender in animate and inanimate creation.
- Jaini 1991, p. 111.
- Saini, Ranjit Singh (1999). "one+sakatayana" Post-Pāṇinian systems of Sanskrit grammar. ISBN 978-817110161-0.
- Glasenapp 1999, p. 130.
- Bimal Krishna Matilal (2001) . The word and the world: India's contribution to the study of language. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-565512-5.
- Monier Williams, Indian Wisdom Or Examples of the Religious, Philosophical and Ethical Doctrines of the Hindus, 1876 (quote from Goldstuecker's translation of Yaska's Nirukta)