[INDOLOGY] ISO transliteration standard for devanagari (Harry Spier)

C.A. Formigatti caf57 at cam.ac.uk
Sun Jun 19 17:51:25 UTC 2016

Dear Harry,

I do not see any problem in this rule, I actually find it useful and 
logical. I personally still use the IAST system simply because I haven't 
got enough time yet to read thoroughly the ISO-15919 rules, but this has 
nothing to do with the problem of transcribing manuscripts. I would use 
the ISO-15919 transliteration system only when I edit a text. Preparing 
a diplomatic transliteration of a manuscript is something different, I 
would never normalize the use of class nasal or anusvara when 
transliterating a manuscript, regardless of this rule.

Personally, I believe that for a diplomatic transcription one ought to 
reproduce the manuscript as it is, with all orthographic peculiarities 
and all blunders. For instance, if you are adding avagrahas even if they 
don't appear in the manuscript, strictly speaking you are not preparing 
a diplomatic transcription. In this case, you can simply state at the 
beginning of your transliteration that you normalize the use of class 
nasals and anusvaras according to the ISO-15919.

Moreover, when I transliterate any Brahmi-based script, I know that I am 
interpreting the text to some extent for good or bad, for even in a 
diplomatic transcription I do not try to reproduce the effect of the 
scriptio continua. This is a contradiction to what I have just written, 
but alas, working with manuscripts is still a challenge for me even 
after years of cataloging.

Best wishes,


I have just been going through the ISO standard for transliteration of 
Devanagari and related Indic scripts ISO-15919 and I found something 
quite surpriseing.

Note the following rule quoted exactly  from the standard is a 
requirement not an option. The rule includes an example from Sanskrit.

8.1 Special requirements
Rule 3.

In modern vernaculars, anusvara before a stop or class nasal shall be 
transliterated as the corresponding class nasal; in other languages, 
anusvara before a stop or class nasal shall be transliterated as 
thecorresponding class nasal unless it arises from sandhi (euphonic 
combination) of final m with that consonant.

EXAMPLE 1 Sanskrit संग is transliterated as saṁga when it represents the 
noun formed from sam + root gam, but as saṅga when it represents the 
noun derived from the root sañj

That means in many cases  if you transliterated a manuscript exactly as 
it was keeping all anusvaras as anusvaras you would not be following the 
ISO standard for transliteration.  It also seems to me the standard is 
crossing the line from transliteration into "interpretation".

I'm somewhat surprised this found its way into the standard.

Harry Spier

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