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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Your email address will not be published *
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend