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The Indic Scripts (Palaeographic and Linguistic Prespectives)

The Indic Scripts (Palaeographic and Linguistic Prespectives)
Item Code: NAW016
Author: P.G. Patel, Pramod Pandey and Dilip Rajgor
Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 9788124604069
Pages: 266 (28 B/W Illustrations)
Other Details: 10.00 X 7.00 inch
weight of the book: 0.79 kg
About the Book

This volume presents the advances in the ongoing research on Brahmi and _ its daughter scripts used in the present day India. It brings together two main trends: evolutionary-historical development and linguistic grounding. This is the first attempt to cross-fertilize palaeography and linguistics.

The palaeographic papers cover the main issues in the decipherment of the Indus Valley script, the origin and evolution of Brahmi, and the palaeographic methods and considerations employed in the decipherment of scripts. These present different trends and arguments of writers on the origin of Brahmi as having been around the Mauryan era or at a much earlier stage, relate to broader historical and cultural issues. They also deal with the need for the use of established and more current palaeographic techniques in classifying regional and _ stylistic variants of scripts.

The linguistic papers in the volume explore the issues of the roots of the orthographic unit aksara in Vedic phonetics, its claim as a minimal articulatory phonetic unit, and the properties of Brahmi as a generative writing system. The philosophical and linguistic underpinning of the concept aksara is shown to thread its use in the varieties of treatises, from the Vedas to phonetic texts. The papers help in providing linguistic evidence for historical accounts of the script as an invention at a given time or as an evolving evolutionary system, apart from relating the development of the script to the linguistic history of India.

Palaeographers — epigraphists, linguists and computational scientists, will find this volume interesting and useful.

About the Author

PURUSHOTTAM G. PATEL, specialized in Psycholinguistics-Neurolinguistics for his PhD at the University of Alberta. This background is reflected in his recent monograph, Reading Acquisition in India: Models of Learning and Dyslexia. Previously he co-authored with Donald G. Doehring the book Reading Disabilities: The Interaction of Reading, Neuropsychological and Language Deficits. At the moment he is working on the draft manuscript of The Brahmi Writing System: Ancient Indian Phonetics with Modern Currency.

PRAMOD KUMAR SUDHAKAR PANDEY, with research degrees in English and Linguistics, was awarded with Third World Linguists Award (The Hague), Nuffield Foundation Travelling Fellowship (York, England), 1987 Linguistic Institute Fellowship (Stanford University) and Rockefellar Foundation Residency Fellowship (Bellagio, Italy). His research interests are: Phonetics —- Phonology Morphology, Historical Linguistics, Writing Systems and Applied Linguistics.

DILIP RAJGOR is a PhD in Indian numismatics, M.A. in archaeology and P.G. Diploma in linguistics. He has contributed sixty research articles to various journals and books. He has also published 13 books on Indian numismatics. Dr Rajgor was awarded the Lowick Memorial Grant of the Royal Numismatic Society, UK in 1991; and the Indological Research Fellowship of the Asiatic Society of Bombay in 1994-95. Presently, he is working as Director of University of Mumbai Dinesh Mody Numismatic Museum, and is editing ICS Newsletter.


One of the major accomplishments of the Vedic people in India was the creation of the different branches of language science: phonetics, metrics, grammar, and lexicology. Even though they can be presumed to be aware of the notion and technique of writing, they preferred to keep this scholarship in oral memory. However, the growing body of phonetic and metrical insights into the process and mechanisms of speech articulation soon led to the construction of a script known as Brahmi, especially the phonological design of the unit aksara, if not its graphic forms. The linguistic design of the orthographic unit aksara in Brahmi scripts is amazingly modern in terms of current phonological theory.

The scripts derived from Brahmi are used to write Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic, and Tibeto-Burman languages in present-day India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Kampuchea, Thailand, Laos, Tibet, and Nepal. The weight of the phenomenal linguistic diversity created by the different language families in South Asia is carried by the orthographic unity provided by the Brahmi-derived scripts. The genius of the unit aksara works for the languages from different genetic families, regions and cultures.

Aksara is the best exemplar of the concept of phonological-orthographic interface. Aksaras represent short/long vowels or diphthongs either by themselves or with a preceding consonant or a consonant cluster. Each aksara consists of one or two primary measures of time called matrd. The duration unit matra equates the duration of a short vowel; hence, it corresponds with the modern linguistic musical unit mora. The consonant or consonant cluster, which follows vowels, may be long or short, that is, it may or may not approximate the value of a full matra. Hence, the post-vocalic consonant carrying the duration of a full mdatra is treated as an aksara and the short one is attached to the following aksara. This implies that aksaras are timing units in word representation; they are not isolated semi- syllabic units, as it is commonly believed. Whether the present-day form of the aksara is a product of the different adaptations that it went through to suit the phonology of Prakrit, Early Tamil, Hybrid Sanskrit, and Classical Sanskri is a crucial research question. These changes took place between the time of Asoka’s inscriptions and the reign of Samudragupa toward the end of the fourth century CE, when Classical Sanskrit gained its primacy in inscriptions.

The intricacies of aksara formation can be traced to the phonetic-phonological insights in the Pratisikhyas and the Siksas, which are Veda-specific and general phonetic manuals, respectively. For example, the nasalization dot is placed over the aksaras carrying nasalized vowels in Devanagari and Guajarati, while in Kannada and Telugu, the nasalization circle stands as an independent aksara. The Vedic phoneticians recognized the vocalic as well as the consonantal components in the nasalization process and assigned more importance to the vocalic part. Hence, the nasalization symbol stands for a vowel in Brahmi Scripts; it 1s placed differently in topographic design in different scripts.

In this volume, our objective is to present the advances in the ongoing research on Brahmi and its daughter scripts used in present-day India. We bring together several trends: evolutionary, historical development and relevance to current phonological theory. The papers cover the decipherment of the Indus Valley script, _ the evolutionary stages in the emergence of Brahmi, the generative nature of Brahmi and its implications for phonological theory, and the roots of the orthographic unit aksara in Vedic phonetics.

The different strands in research presented in this book represent the interests and the academic background of the three editors: Purushottam Patel is a psycholinguist interested in reading acquisition and dyslexia; Pramod Pandey is a phonologist; and Dilip Rajgor is an archaeologist who is trying to create paleolinguistics. We met at the M.S. University of Baroda in the Department of Linguistics in 1997. Patel was a Faculty Research Fellow of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute collecting data on reading acquisition in Gujarati-speaking children. He was fascinated when he saw Rajgor read Brahmi fluently and suggested that the phonology of Brahmi would be a productive topic for Rajgor’s diploma thesis. Pandey, who taught linguistics in Vadodara at the time, agreed to supervise this thesis and gradually got involved in this topic.

For the first time, this volume presents the Brahmi script in its historical side as well as its phonological basis and the associated psycholinguistic-sociolinguistic inquiry. So far Brahmi has been studied only by paleographers; this is a pioneering effort to analyse the phonology-orthography interface in Brahmi and focus on its psycholinguistic relevance, of course, keeping the link with paleography in an important way. We hope to attract attention from paleographers-epigraphists as well as phonologists. We fondly hope that our effort will be taken only as a floodlight, which can point the way for further research.


This volume was conceived as presenting multi-disciplinary perspectives on Brahmi and its daughter scripts in Modern India. Contributors were invited who were known to be doing research in the diverse areas of Indian writing scripts. The papers of the volume can be said to represent two main approaches here — palaeographic and linguistic. The papers on the palaeographic aspect comprehensively represent the main trends of research on the origin and development of Brahmi. Subhash Kak, R. Salomon and Harry Falk deal with the development of the scripts. B.N. Mukherjee, A.K. Singh and Andrew Glass illustrate the use of the palaeographic method of deciphering and tracing the chronology of the writing styles of Brahmi. The papers on the linguistic aspect are represented by Dilip Rajgor, Purushottam Patel and Pramod Pandey. A foundational perspective on writing in Indic scripts is provided by Kapil Kapoor. We give brief summaries of the papers below in order to straighten out the bearings of the volume.

Kapoor proposes to look into the concept of aksara in Indian philosophy and examine its use in language studies. He takes up for discussion the use of the concept in the Vedas, in the Upanisads and in the linguistic treatises on grammar and phonetics. His main purpose is to show how the core meaning of aksara "threads the use of the concept in philosophy and language."

Salomon presents a review of longer works by Oscar van Hantiber and Harry Falk, articles by Gerard Fussman and Kenneth Norman, and of other relevant publications, all of them assigning the origin of the ancient Indian scripts to the beginning of the Mauryan era, i.e. late fourth to mid-third centuries sce. They also assume their derivation from the prototypes in semitic or semitic-derived scripts. The papers are representative of the trend arising in reaction to the prevailing views about much earlier origins of the ancient Indian scripts. Salomon reviews the bases of the assumptions guiding the new trend and evaluates its significance in "the context of broader historical and cultural issues". He also examines the characteristics of Brahmi in relation to other ancient scripts.

Falk takes up the relative chronology of Kharosti and Brahmi to explain facts about some of the properties of Brahmi. Falk proposes the thesis, opposed to the one assumed by Kak, that writing must have been a recently introduced art of communication during the first years of Asoka’s reign, and that Brahmi precedes Kharosti. Falk examines several aspects of the writings of texts around Asoka’s time, such as the varied shapes of numerals, the difference between Asoka’s texts on rock edicts and pillars as evidence for his thesis. He also looks at the topological aspects of the texts, such as the line spacing, the word division, the layout of the edicts, the dissolution of ligatures and the type of character such as the retroflex lingual in order to draw conclusions regarding the relative chronology of pillars found at various places.

Kak proposes a sketch of the evolution of Brahmi from an earlier system of writing, known as "Sarasvati," in the light of recent findings in archaeology and the discovery of the Rgvedic astronomical code. Kak shows that a comparative analysis of Brahmi and Sarasvati, of which the Harappan signs are a part, reveals systematic connections between them, such as identical shapes of letters and the representation of the numeral system. There is convincing evidence for literacy in the Vedic period and thus the need for further study of the Sarasvati script and its connections with the then civilizations.

An important aspect of paleographic studies on Brahmi is the crucial modifications in the script leading to multiple varieties. A.K. Singh selects sixth-eighth centuries as the periods for investigating the mechanisms of modification, on the basis of evidence from existing inscriptions. Singh presents a critical discussion of the evidence in identifying the varieties and their possible sources. The palaeographic charts are especially helpful to the reader in deriving a detailed idea of the variants of the later forms of Brahmi. The variants include the Kutila, the Sarada, the Kaliya, Proto-Nagari (Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra), the southern scripts known as the Grantha, the Tamil and the Vatheluttu scripts, as well as the scripts of other Asian countries.

There remain varieties of scripts originating in Brahmi that have not been deciphered so far. What are the considerations in deciphering unknown scripts? Mukherjee who has the credit of having deciphered the Sankha-lipi in 1983 gives a fulsome account of these considerations. The author shows how the script was in widespread use in India from first to eighth centuries CE. Its embellishments had a hieratic function. Its internal structure grew with the development of the Brahmi script in different regions, making its decipherment in each document a challenging task. The appendix contains an account of the crucial factors involved in the decipherment of the shell-script, which should be instructive to scholars interested in looking into other versions of the script, which remain undeciphered so far.

The tradition of the use of linguistics in interpreting historical facts is of long standing now. Rajgor’s contribution is in that tradition. Rajgor argues for linguistic evidence in support of the gradualness hypothesis of the evolution of Brahmi scripts. It did not originate, as is believed by some archaeologists, in a semitic prototype, but evolved gradually. The growth of Brahmi is traceable through five stages — Harappan, Proto-Brahmi, Pre-Mauryan and Post-Mauryan periods. The evolution is argued to be a product of the linguistic-phonological analysis of Indian grammarians over a period of a few centuries.

Glass applies the palaeographical methods developed for analysing handwriting in the European scribal tradition to hand-written documents in Brahmi script, based on his earlier studies of Kharosti palaeography. The article is especially significant in the light of the fact that there exist numerous undeciphered scripts from the Indian subcontinent. Glass convincingly shows the need for refining techniques for identifying and classifying distinct chronological and regional styles in the modern digital culture.

Patel examines the phonological organization of the written aksara in terms of current phonological theory and relates it to the phonetic insights developed by the Pratisakhya scholars. This paper also tries to situate Brahmi in the linguistic history of India and considers the various possible phases in the evolution of Brahmi orthography.

Pandey presents a cognitive-phonological account of two aspects of the Mauryan Brahmi script from the perspective of its relative adaptability. He shows how its development into diverse scripts is based on its self-diversifying character. He also shows how the script reflects cognitive insights into the perceptual, representational and compositional properties of speech sounds. The latter theme is elaborated in his first contribution in the volume. There he focuses on the evidence for the linguistic significance of aksara as a minimal unit of speech, and not just of writing, and examines the relation between the aksara and the syllable.

We hope that the volume brings out successfully the interest that the study of writing scripts holds for humanistic studies. Scripts have history, structure, cognitive complexity and socio-cultural dimensions of use that deserve serious inquiry in the broader study of man.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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