review article

falk at falk at
Mon Aug 26 12:07:21 UTC 1996

For scientists believing is methodologically unsound, but nonetheless
attractive. Particularly in those cases when it comes to decide
how to interpret "absence of evidence", which may be understood as
"evidence of absence" or not. We need other arguments, of a different
nature, to decide the case.  
> While it may be possible that the Brahmi script was completely invented 
> in Asoka's time, shouldn't one expect some record of such invention 
> somewhere? 
Whoever did so? Darius had his monumental cuneiform developed without
telling us about that feat in any of his texts. Do you know of
any ruler indicating his use of Runic letters? Where is the local
king who first used Kharosthi? Such thoughts are necessary, but when
we realize that we expect others to have done what we would have done
in their case such thoughts must be given up as too dangerous for
reconstructing historical events.

> Similarly, does not Asoka's silence on the issue qualify as evidence 
> that the Brahmi script was not invented by him? 
No. Silence it itself means nothing; it can only be used as corroborative

> all that can be legitimately said is that the earliest evidence of the Brahmi 
> script is in Asoka's inscriptions, which is nothing more than a statement of 
> fact. 
No, we can say much more, but not by departing from what we have not but
from positive evidence. I mean the development of style, orthography,
text arrangement etc. evident when comparing his earliest with his
latest texts. See my article "The art of writing at the time of the
Pillar Edicts of Asoka" in Berliner Indologische Studien 7,1993, 79-102.
In a nutshell: within 16 years Ashoka learned eminently. His texts go
from chaos to perfection. If there would have been the ominous "long
tradition of writing" he, or better his scribes, would not have had to
depart from chaos. 

Another contributer mentioned I. Mahadevan. He is the leading
authority for Tamil Brahmi. But we should not forget R. Nagaswamy,
with whom I fully agree, as well as S.R. Goyal. 

Harry Falk

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