typing Sanskrit

Gerard Huet Gerard.Huet at inria.fr
Fri Aug 30 15:30:09 UTC 1996

This discussion on transliteration seems endless, and I apologize
to contribute to a very boring topic. However, I feel that some
clarification is needed, since different people are mixing different

First of all, let us not confuse 3 completely different views of
computerized sanskrit:
1. What actual keys you type on your keybord when inputing
2. What ASCII characters get entered in the computer text file
3. What printing characters you get when you process this file with
a text processing system, either on paper or on your computer screen.

What happens at 1 is basically your own problem: no two keyboards are the same,
different operating systems interpret keys differently, you may customize your
favorite text editor with macro-characters, etc etc 
No need of standardisation here, everyone manages his own input convention.

2 is important, because it is computer files which are shipped around and
processed by computer tools on which we must agree. But, as Dominik said
many times, it does not really matter what is the convention as long as it
is unambiguous, since these conventions are parseable with easy grammars
amenable to tools such as oak/sed/lex/yacc/perl etc to translate into each

Let me illustrate the 3 levels. Here I am in Emacs, a standard
UNIX text editor. I may define a sanskrit mode such that whenever I shall
type in the letter "x" the sequence "k.s" will be entered in the file.
I may define another mode in which the sequence "k{\d s}" will be entered.
The first mode permits fast typing of the DEVNAG convention, so that
the devanagari ligature for this letter will be output at level 3.
The second mode permits the TeX processing convention for diacritics,
so that my romanized transliteration at level 3 will be with standard
REAL diacritics (i.e. not prefix or infix, but two-dimensional with a nice
dot below the "s"). Since the two conventions are inter-translatable,
I may use one uniform convention for the file representation, but see various
possible outputs according to my processing of the file.

Thus we have to decide what are the characters in a file. The choice
is between:
- ASCII ANSI 7 bits
- ISO, its extension to 8 bits
- UNICODE, an extended alphabet on 16 bits
ISO is compatible with ASCII, but does not solve any of our problems,
since the extra characters are a few accented letters in latin or nordic
alphabets, but will not allow general diacritics such as .s
UNICODE may be the way of the future but I would not recommend its use
too soon, since many tools are not yet adapted. I do not know however
to what extent we shall be able to use it to represent directly devanagari,
i.e. what ligatures have been standardised. Someone competent should say.
If we decide on ASCII or ISO, some bracketing convention is needed when 
one mixes an original text and its commentary.

The discussion on compounds is also confusing. What matters is whether
we input the original sandhi text, or we try to analyse it into separate
words. Both have advantages, as the discussion showed; we want to input
fast original sandhi text, without risking mistakes of interpretation.
We also want to share the knowledge of competent pandits, with analysed
texts. For unanalysed texts we may decide to preserve the exact
sequence of ligatures, or adopt a certain standard, breaking complicated
ligatures, or standardizing eg the use of (non-original) anusvara.
Using a transliteration scheme such as devnag there is no explicit
notation for ligatures at input, although in output we may disallow certain 
combinations. But the choice remains to standardize $"sA.mtanu$ and $"sAntanu$.

For analysed texts additional conventions are needed for the break between
words and for texts with multiple interpretations, as was remarked.
One may try to go one step beyond, by further grammatical analysis 
(declensions, etc) and then more conventions will be needed, but more 
information will be available for word statistics etc. This is entering t
he more specialised domain of computer representation of indian languages.

I hope I did not add to the confusion...
G. Huet

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