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

Dominik Wujastyk wujastyk at GMAIL.COM
Tue Nov 30 23:51:30 UTC 2010

Chrisomalis says,

Although I disagree with his conclusions in many places, I thank Georges
> Ifrah,
> whose gargantuan and important *Histoire universelle des chiffres* (1998)
> inspired me
> to produce this volume.

A browse through the book shows that Chrisomalis cites Ifrah pervasively as
a standard source, only criticising him explicitly on a few occasions.

I very much like Chrisomalis' opening criticism aimed at those who praise
our current internationalized counting system as being in some sense a
pinnacle of achievement.  Chrisomalis argues that it is possible to imagine
other counting systems that would serve us just as well, if not better.

> There is no ideal numerical notation system; rather, each system is shaped
> by
> a set of goals that its users and inventors seek to attain, and that they
> can achieve
> only by compromising on other factors. There may be patterns of change
> among
> systems, but the burden of proof lies with those who wish to maintain that
> nu-
> merical notation evolves in a unilinear sequence. (p.19)
 I have made more or less the same point myself in the past.

I find it quite odd that Chrisomalis doesn't mention Pingree anywhere in his
book or bibliography.  Perhaps it's true that David didn't write much about
numerical notation as such, but his studies on cultural contacts and the
chronology of communication amongst ancient and medieval mathematicians are
fundamental, including his work on Arab-Indian contacts, and I would have
expected to see at least an *awareness* of his oevre.  Pingree's CESS
and *Astral
Literature* are fundamental reference works, even for well-known figures
like Brahmagupta or Āryabhaṭa, and especially for getting the chronology
right.  Chrisomalis refers to Sphujidhvaja's *Yavanajataka* on p.195, but
via Yano and without reference to Pingree's critical edition and study of
the work.  Kim Plofker is cited, though not her new book (which only came
out a year before Chrisomalis').  By contrast, Kaye's 1907 and 1919 terribly
biassed articles are taken seriously.  More seriously, there is no mention
anywhere of the Bakhshali manuscript, of Hayashi's 1995 edition of it, and
his important argument that it provides us the first written zero in India
(Chrisomalis still refers to the Gwalior inscription, p.213).  Chrisomalis
doesn't mention Brahmagupta, the first South Asian mathematician actually to
discuss zero in theoretical terms.  And he follows Datta and Singh (1935) in
placing Panini in the seventh century BC (p.205).  In fact, he cites a lot
of secondary sources from before the war, and few from the last two decades.

Finally, [Jean-Luc] I'm sorry to have to say that Chrisomalis is no better
at getting his diacritical marks right than Ifrah.  They are a mixture of
erratic, wrong, and obsolete.  So, "kaṭapayādi" is "katapayadi" which
undermines the very point of Āryabhaṭa's ("Âryabhata"'s) achievement.  He

The name katapayâdi [sic] itself is taken from the four syllables (ka, ta
[sic], pa, ya)
that are assigned the value 1 in this system. (p.209)

But in his chart of the kaṭapayādi scheme on the next page, the
transliteration is correct.

At the same time Chrisomalis and his editors have put a huge amount of
effort into getting the Asian scripts right.  I haven't found a mistake yet
in the Nāgarī, though I haven't looked systematically or comprehensively.
When he can make a good effort for the Asian scripts, it's hard to
understand the lack of care over the material in Latin script, that is in
principle so much easier to handle.  Chrisomalis' difficulties with
transliteration are somewhat ironic in a book about notation.

There's no question that this book is a major contribution (as is the money
need to buy it), but I think it's South Asia chapter has to be read together
with Ifrah, not instead of.   And the poor spelling (which is what wrong
diacritics are), coupled with the absence of reference to important,
relevant work of the last 15 years, especially by Hayashi, means that
unfortunately it still cannot, in my view, be considered a definitive
work.   Like Ifrah, it is extremely interesting, and worth reading (if your
interests lie in this direction).


On 30 November 2010 23:38, Dominik Wujastyk <wujastyk at gmail.com> wrote:

> Thank you, Richard, I didn't know this book and I'll check it out asap.
> Best,
> Dominik
> On 30 November 2010 20:49, Richard Salomon <rsalomon at u.washington.edu>wrote:
>> In this general connection, please see Stephen Chrisomalis' new
>>  "Numerical Notation: A Comparative History" (Cambridge, 2010), which
>> (though not a collarorative effort as suggested) is intended to supersede
>> Ifrah. My impression is that it will. The chapter on "South Asian Systems",
>> at least, is very well done (although it does not address the issue of words
>> for large numbers which started this thread, if memory serves), and the
>> whole book is a very impressive performance.
>> Rich Salomon
>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Dominic Goodall" <
>> dominic.goodall at GMAIL.COM>
>> To: <INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk>
>> Sent: Friday, November 26, 2010 4:19 AM
>> Subject: [INDOLOGY] Fwd: [INDOLOGY] Are diacritics NOW irrelevant ? (Re:
>> [INDOLOGY] the koti
>> This must be intended for everyone, rather than just for me:
>> Begin forwarded message:
>>  From: <mkapstei at uchicago.edu>
>>> Date: 26 November 2010 4:34:36 PM GMT+05:30
>>> To: "Dominic Goodall" <dominic.goodall at GMAIL.COM>
>>> Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] Are diacritics NOW irrelevant ? (Re: [INDOLOGY]
>>> the koti
>>> Ifrah's book suffers from the flaws of many large
>>> synthetic works -- the author cannot be (and cannot
>>> be expected to be!) -- a specialist in all the domains
>>> treated.
>>> One might of course object: well then why not organize
>>> a collaborative work by specialists? In response, I
>>> offer the lopsided and barely coherent collection
>>> of articles one finds in the Oxford Handbook of the
>>> History of Mathematics (though many of the
>>> articles, taken individually are useful and interesting). Multi-authored
>>> works seldom attain
>>> to the sort of synthesis that a work by a
>>> single author may aspire to, even if flawed.
>>> It's certainly good to be aware of the shortcomings as
>>> detailed in Dauben's review, and thanks to Dominic
>>> for circulating it.
>>> But I don't think the case has been made yet to
>>> abandon Ifrah's work like the plague. It's a work of
>>> first reference, not of last recourse.
>>> Matthew T. Kapstein
>>> Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies
>>> The University of Chicago Divinity School
>>> Directeur d'études
>>> Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris

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