[INDOLOGY] subscript dot diacritic

Richard Salomon rsalomon at u.washington.edu
Tue May 19 18:34:41 UTC 2015

Dear Arlo,

I wouldn't assume a common origin for the diacritic dot which is used in 
various Indian scripts to indicate allophonic variants (e.g. Hindi ṛ) or 
non-native phonemes (Hindi k.), because adding a dot is a simple and 
common method in all sorts of scripts -- not just Indic -- to indicate a 
variant pronunciation for a given graph, or for other types of 
disambiguation. For example:

	-in Perso-Arabic scripts used for Urdu and other Indian languages, an 
(extra) dot is used to distinguish retroflex consonants from the 
corresponding dentals.
	- in Hebrew (when written formally with vocalization and diacritics) a 
dot indicates that a consonant is to be pronounced as an occlusive as 
opposed to as a fricative (e.g. p• = [p] vs. p = [f])
	- in Kharosthi script a line above indicates various kinds of variant 
pronunciations, e.g.  (ṣ with line above) corresponds to Skt. ṣṇ; also, 
ś with line above does not indicate a variant pronunciation, but rather 
disambiguates ś from y, which in some hands are otherwise more or less 
identical. In any case, this short line above consonants in Kharosthi 
is, I suspect, an extended form of what was originally a dot.
	- and what, after all, is anusvara -- attested right from the time of 
the earliest Brahmi inscriptions? We (Sanskritists, I mean) are so used 
to thinking of anusvara as a substitute or abbreviation for m or other 
nasal consonants,  but originally and systemically it is nothing but a 
dot which differentiates a nasalized vowel from a non-nasalized one.

So, my point is that similar usages in various Indian scripts could 
easily have arisen independently. This is however hard to document since 
these developments probably originated in sub-literary forms which are 
hard to deal with, if they are available at all. This is why you don't 
find good discussions of the matter in the standard references; no clear 
data available.

On 5/19/2015 6:15 AM, Arlo Griffiths wrote:
> Dear colleagues,
> I am interested in determining when, where and in what function
> Brāhmī-derived scripts first started using a subscript dot in order to
> distinguish certain phonemes or allophones, such as:
> - y vs. ẏ in Bengali: য় vs. য (a clearly related sign, though not a dot,
> exists in Oriya in the same function)
> - r vs. v/b in Bengali: র vs. ব
> - ṛ vs. ḍ in Nagari (and Oriya, and probably also in other scripts): ड vs. ड़
> Since the same device is used in partly same, partly different functions
> in different North Indian scripts, one wonders whether there is a single
> source script and single original function dating back to before the
> proto-regional scripts became, or whether the use of this diacritic
> developed in one specific area (whether in a single or in more than one
> function) and diffused from there to other regions and their scripts.
> I haven't been able to find anything about the early history of the use
> of the dubscript diacritic dot in any of the usual handbooks, and would
> be grateful for pointers to relevant secondary literature as well as
> concrete examples from early (1st millennium CE, if possible)
> manuscripts or inscriptions.
> Thanks, and best wishes,
> Arlo Griffiths
> École française d'Extrême-Orient
> _______________________________________________
> INDOLOGY mailing list
> INDOLOGY at list.indology.info
> indology-owner at list.indology.info (messages to the list's managing committee)
> http://listinfo.indology.info (where you can change your list options or unsubscribe)


Richard Salomon
Department of Asian Languages and Literature
University of Washington, Box 353521
Seattle WA 98195-3521

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list