computers and Indology

John Smith jds10 at CUS.CAM.AC.UK
Thu May 7 16:14:23 UTC 1998

On Wed, 6 May 1998, Saroja Bhate wrote:

> Dear colleagues
> I have been asked to make a presentation on  the  use of computers for
> research in Indology in a multinational meet. I will be grateful
> to you all for whatever information on this subject.Your ideas and
> suggestions are also most welcome.Needless to say that I will be
> consulting the Indology website for initial information.Thanks in advance.
> Saroja Bhate

I would obviously stress the ability of computers to aid with the analysis
of diction in texts such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, as I said in
the talk I gave in your department last year. But there are other things
computers can do to help Indologists also. It is not that they can do
things which human beings cannot do; rather it's that they can do things
blindingly fast which would take a human being a very long time --
sometimes so long that it isn't worth doing.


1. Metrical analysis. I wrote a little program that reads in MBh text and
outputs a scanned version of it, using "-" for long (guru) and "u" for
short (laghu). It takes a few minutes to complete the processing of the
entire text; once this is done, you can search the result for interesting
patterns, ask the computer to print every line beginning "- - - -", or

2. Indexing. The computer can be asked to create, say, a word index of a
text. In practice this is getting less and less necessary: if the text is
stored on a computer anyway, it's probably quicker to search through it
looking for the word that interests you than it is to consult the index.

3. Concordancing. A more sophisticated version of (2), and less likely to
become redundant.

4. Analysis of diction. It takes my slow old computer 15 seconds to report
on every occurrence of a word or phrase in the MBh. This makes it possible
to do serious study of the use of repeated phraseology, something which
has been crying out to be done for fifty years, but which has been
impossible for purely practical reasons (human beings don't live long

5. In the Indian context, one may mention specifically the benefits of
getting the indigenous scripts properly supported in computer
representation. Not only does this allow the easy production of
high-quality printed copy (as well as other benefits, such as those
mentioned above); according to the CDAC people, it has also safeguarded
the scripts themselves: "It was a significant achievement of DoE
[Department of Electronics, which developed the ISCII standard for
representation of Indian languages] to have brought about a standard for
Indian languages before Romanisation could have been thrust on India as
has happened in many other countries." They may well be right.

There are no doubt other uses, but these are the ones which come soonest
to my mind.

John Smith

Dr J. D. Smith                *  jds10 at
Faculty of Oriental Studies   *  Tel. 01223 335140 (Switchboard 01223 335106)
Sidgwick Avenue               *  Fax  01223 335110
Cambridge CB3 9DA             *

Dr J. D. Smith                *  jds10 at
Faculty of Oriental Studies   *  Tel. 01223 335140 (Switchboard 01223 335106)
Sidgwick Avenue               *  Fax  01223 335110
Cambridge CB3 9DA             *

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