Are diacritics NOW irrelevant ? (Re: [INDOLOGY] the koti

Jean-Luc CHEVILLARD jean-luc.chevillard at UNIV-PARIS-DIDEROT.FR
Sat Nov 27 16:58:34 UTC 2010

On 26/11/2010 18:49, Dominik Wujastyk wrote:
> Yes, Ifra's book is flawed, yes he is inconsistent and idiosyncratic in his
> use of diacritical marks, and yes, subject-specialists will find points to
> criticize sharply.  And yet, and yet, one can still learn a great deal from
> the book.

Dear Dominik,

it is quite clear from your comment
that you think that some of the criticisms
of the book under discussion are unfair
or outrageous
because the book is "path-breaking".

All I am trying to say is that a "path-breaking" book (which belongs 
to the realm of RESEARCH) and a "reference book" (which belong to the 
realm of TEACHING) do not belong to the same category,
and that "reference books" need to receive extra care,
in order to avoid what is called in French "nivellement par le bas"
(I do not know how to express that in English).

Of course, the members of the INDOLOGY mailing list
know that "koti" is in fact "ko.ti" (i.e. "crore")
(and "koo.ti" in Tamil dictionaries).

But why should you expect that every student will know that
and will wisely correct what is found on the printed page
(when quoting that "path-breaking" book)
in order not to be stamped as an ignorant?

It is NOT FAIR for the students.

I have just read a very interesting book
about Chidambaram [from Oxford University press]
which was published in the mid-nineties
and in which the name "pata~njali" is systematically written (a 
hundred times) as "pa.ta~njali" (with a retroflex t [i.e. ".t"])

How is a student supposed to know that this is wrong?

A few months ago,
I read a book concerning the "Dravidian oratory"
published by Columbia University press
in which dialogues in Tamil were reproduced without any diacritics
(and in which there were other problems, as I have pointed out on a 
private basis to a few colleagues specialists of Tamil who agreed that 
it was highly problematic; for instance they had never heard of 
"ullurai aumam", as mentionned on page 105 in that book).

Why print items which a student will not be able to reproduce as such
without being considered as grossly ignorant?

If Ifrah's book was a best-seller (I am happy for him),
the publisher can certainly afford to release a corrected version
with diacritics.

Then it will be both a commercial success
and a reference book that can honourably sit on everybody's shelf,
including the famous Library of Congress.

-- Jean-Luc Chevillard (EFEO/CNRS, Pondicherry)

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