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

C.A. Formigatti caf57 at cam.ac.uk
Mon Jun 20 10:04:19 UTC 2016

Dear Harry,

I'm not entirely sure that I made my point clear. I tried and have a 
look at the ISO-15919 standard online and realized I'd have to buy it to 
read the complete version. I have no intention in the foreseeable future 
to buy the whole ISO-15919 standard and read it through, but I guess it 
doesn't deal entensively with manuscript transcription. Any standard can 
be improved and I am sure that the ISO-15919 does not provide any clue 
as to how to transliterate the countless symbols that occur in South 
Asian manuscripts. You can get a fair idea of how many and how different 
they are in the various South Asian manuscript traditions by browsing 
Katrin Einicke's Korrektur, Differenzierung und Abkürzung in indischen 
Inschriften und Handschriften, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, 2009 (and in my 
personal experience, this work covers only a part of the symbols 
actually used in Sanskrit manuscripts). I also think that the ISO-15919 
cannot possibly be exhaustive and all-encompassing, because it cannot 
cover all possible aims of transcription.

I am quoting and pasting the remarks provided by Prof. Witzel in the 
useful link you provided:

''The question is which ``norm`` to follow.''

Exactly this is the point. Often we normalize and bluntly follow 
Paninian rules even for Sanskrit texts that sometimes were clearly 
composed and written in non-Paninian Sanskrit.

''Prof.  v. Simson wrote:
>>>>> But since the scribes are not consistent in their use of sandhi, I
think it is best to standardize the orthography and to follow Panini's
rules as far as sandhi is concerned. This makes it also easier for the
user of your edition. You may describe the actual practice of the 
in your introduction or you can give the writings of the manuscripts in
the critical apparatus. <<<''

Alas, sometimes scribes solved the sandhi to mark word boundaries in 
manuscripts that probably had didactical purposes. What shall we do in 
such cases? If we normalize the sandhi, then this information is lost 
(unless we note it in the introduction). We even go as far as to 
normalize the doubling of consonant after repha, even though this 
optional orthography is allowed by Panini (8.4.46) and it actually 
occurs very often in manuscripts. Why do we do that? Here is the reason, 
with the counter reason why we shouldn't do it, again in the words of 
Prof. Witzel:

"This is reasonable practice. However, I think the this practice *is* 
problem. At any rate, the case is more complicated. Once you start
comparing MSS from various areas of medieval India you notice clearly
defined local styles: the Kashmirians have one ``orthography`` of
Sanskrit, the Newars of the Kathmandu valley another, the Gujaratis,
Oriyas, Tamils, Nambudiris  still another, and so on...  Apart from
occasionl remarks (e.g. : this is Dravidian ``ra`` for  vowel ``r``) the
problem has hardly been noticed. (I think I have referred to it here and
there in articles on the Paippalada Atharvaveda; or see Lubotsky in IIJ
25 for Maitrayani Samhita /Gujarati practise which is surprisingly
different from what we learn  in school; cf. also Prof. Rao`s example of
pronunciation of   vowel R in sandhi ).

You write the following remark:

>  To my mind the problem is that if you can't use a transliteration
> standard to prepare a diplomatic transliteration then there is
> something wrong with that transliteration standard.  Surely thats the
> purpose of a transliteration standard. Note that the  rule for
> normalizing anusvaras to class nasals is a "required rule" and not a
> recommendation or option.  As you pointed out the normalization of
> nasals is bad practice for transcribing manuscripts.  The
> normalization of nasals  was pointed out as a problem in editing
> manuscripts about 20 years ago on this list:

I think you are mixing up levels, because editing is one thing, and 
preparing a diplomatic transcription is another. Moreover, if a standard 
is not useful and creates more problems that it solves, then there is 
clearly a problem, in this I totally agree with you. However I also do 
not believe that the purpose of this standard was to provide a full 
guide as to how to prepare a diplomatic transcription of manuscripts 
from all South Asian manuscript traditions. In fact, it provides a 
standard to transliterate mainly Devanagari--and related Indic scripts 
(and this loose definition is already problematic). Does the standard 
provide a rule for distinguishing between siromatra and prsthamatra 
vowels? Then again, why should it?

I think that your question opened a can of worms, and I have to thank 
you a lot for having asked it.

Best wishes,


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