INDOLOGY FAQ. Re. Varanasi

george thompson gthomgt at COMCAST.NET
Thu Feb 18 19:55:25 UTC 2010

Well, I am glad, Richard, that my post gave you a good laugh.  It was 
surely a little too vehement for such a small topic [pedagogical rather 
than scholarly, after all], but my point, I think, still stands.

I think that John Clay's ambition was admirable, and I think that the 
translations that have been produced as a result of his ambition have 
generally been of high quality.  So I do not say that the Clay Sanskrit 
Library is a failure.  But I do think that the decision to to create 
this alternative transciption system, entirely artificial and surely 
confusing to the new user, was a mistake.

As you yourself say, the readers interested in correct transcription and 
pronunciation of the Sanskrit text were "only a very small minority."  
Sanskritists [even beginning ones] will of course glance over to the 
left hand page.  But since such readers were "only a small minority" 
[and who therefore probably did not need the extra help] maybe it would 
have been wiser to attend more thoughtfully to the needs of the vast 
majority of your readership -- i.e. those readers who either would not 
make the effort to glance to the left hand  page, or who, even if they 
did, would be unsure of what they were looking for or seeing.  I 
disagree that the typical uninformed non-Sanskritist [the majority of 
your audience] would have an easy time with the diacritical formating of 
the Clay Sanskrit Library, because the left-hand page operates with one 
system, whereas the right hand page operates with another one.

Honestly, I think that I know the majority of your audience better than 
you do.



Richard Gombrich wrote:

> I am a former General Editor of the Clay Sanskrit Library.  Because 
> of  its sudden unforeseen demise just over two years ago, it is a 
> painful  subject.  However, at least George Thompson's posting has 
> given me a  good laugh.
> It was John Clay's ambition to introduce classical Sanskrit 
> literature  to a wider public, and we have ample evidence that in this 
> aim he was  far from unsuccessful.  A scholarly man, unusually well 
> endowed with  common sense and experience of the wider world, he 
> argued that the  failure to reach a wider public must largely be laid 
> at the door of  Sanskritists themselves, who refused to offer the 
> world books which  ordinary educated people could regard as readable.  
> He was joined by a  fair number of Sanskritists, many of them young, 
> who were or became  convinced that he was right.  The collapse of the 
> series had  absolutely nothing to do with this issue.
> George Thompson is correct: the Clay programme did not include 
> Vedic.   Therefore the need to have regard for conventions in 
> transliterating  Vedic is not obvious to me.  We also left the 
> conventions for  transliterating modern Indian languages, e.g. Hindi, 
> out of  consideration.
> Our conventions for transliterating Sanskrit names might have been  
> different had the normal scholarly transliteration not been on show a  
> couple of inches to the left.  The reader interested in such matters  
> -- and we have ample evidence that they constituted only a very small  
> minority, sad though this may be -- were deemed to be capable of  
> moving the direction of their gaze by that very small distance.  
> Since  the names began with capital letters on the left-hand page as 
> well, no  one could possibly miss them.  We thus found a remarkably 
> economical  way of conveying a lot of information: it is very easy for 
> anyone to  garner full information about the pronunciation of every 
> Sanskrit  name, while those who do not care about that are at least 
> nudged into  pronouncing the name with a correct stress.
> Richard Gombrich
> On 17 Feb 2010, at 03:06, george thompson wrote:
>> With regard to Dominik's last point:
>>> There's lots to discuss about the various Clay decisions, but one  
>>> thing I
>>> quite like is the use of the acute accent to mark stress or ictus.   
>>> While
>>> ictus isn't the same as vowel length, it's pretty close to  
>>> gauravam, and
>>> people who know nothing of Sanskrit and don't have access to a  
>>> teacher do
>>> rather well reading such accented words out loud.
>>> Best,
>>> Dominik
>> Agreed.  But I am a Vedicist who spends most of his time working on
>> accented Vedic texts like the Rigveda.  So for me at least this use of
>> the acute accent marker is disconcerting, since Vedicists need to mark
>> both long and short vowels as well as pitch.  I think that the best  way
>> to go, in general, is to start with the very simple and easy  
>> distinction
>> between short and long vowels.  The Clay system does not do that.  In
>> fact, the Clay program doesn't do Vedic at all.
>> What does that mean?
>> In my view, the Clay Library system of transliteration is an arbitrary
>> and a completely unsuccessful failure.
>> Is 'Rama' [with or without acute accent] reallly better than 'Raama?'
>> Is 'Sita' an acceptable equivalent for 'Siitaa'?
>> Is 'Praja-pati' okay in any sense?
>> You will find all of these ghastly forms and many more in the Clay  
>> editions.
>> What is wrong with using long and short vowel markers instead?
>> Sincerely, I think that the alternative is absurd.
>> Best wishes
>> George

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