[INDOLOGY] Question on Diacritical Marks

Jonathan Silk kauzeya at gmail.com
Tue Sep 6 07:39:15 UTC 2016

I was going to stay out of this, but since I think some of the observations
are not headed in a one might say 'user friendly' direction, I dare to add,
for what it's worth, a few observations.

First, regarding long quotations in nagari (look, you know what that is,
right? no diacritical marks though...), take a look at

This is a book printed long ago mixing romanization and nagari; I think it
makes a bizzare impression.

Second, the idea of diacritics and/or nagari seems to overlook --although
it has been mentioned, certainly--the idea that there are those who might
be interested to read what we write who nevertheless do not know Sanskrit.
The appeal to grammatical markers like iṭ seems to me entirely beside the
point. No one is going to be confused by prajna or karuna, and if there is
a reason to do so one can easily add, for instance (fem.) if the point is
that a word is grammatically feminine, etc.
I have great respect for Andrew Ollett but I confess that his comments
about Chinese puzzle me: romanizing Chinese with tone marks does not help
appreciably in looking up a word; if you don't have the Chinese character,
you're almost certainly out of luck (assuming we are not talking about
multi-syllabic words, and even then) except for very common words, and even
then.... The point about Hebrew is also I think instructive: many people
read romanized Hebrew all the time in a very simplified system, without
much trouble at all, and without significant ambiguity.
I think that the discussion needs some focus: we are not talking about a
thesis on Sanskrit grammar, I suppose (I think we all understand that the
initial question was as clear as it could be without breaking confidence),
and certainly one would argue, or I would argue, that a linguist writing
for (non-Sanskrit knowing) linguists should stick to a scientific method,
but for an audience of philosophers, it should be different.
Something we have not mentioned at all in this discussion is the incredible
difficulty all of us have had, and our forebears had, in getting
'philosophers' to take non-Western philosophy seriously. Perhaps a little
consideration for the 'fear factor' of diacritical marks would not be out
of place?

sorry, my 2¢ seems to have grown, with inflation.... ;)

very best, Jonathan

On Tue, Sep 6, 2016 at 9:24 AM, victor davella via INDOLOGY <
indology at list.indology.info> wrote:

> _______________________________________________
> 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)
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: victor davella <vbd203 at googlemail.com>
> To: "indology at list.indology.info" <indology at list.indology.info>
> Cc:
> Date: Tue, 6 Sep 2016 09:24:01 +0200
> Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] Question on Diacritical Marks
> I mistakenly did not send this to the whole list last night, although it
> seems it is  mostly paunarutka at this point.  I would, however, repeat
> that there are simply many places where the lack of diacritics obscures the
> meaning entirely. For example, *it and iṭ *in Sanskrit grammatical
> terminology.
> Regarding the use of the original script, if I were to have my druthers,
> all longer quotations would be in the original script. Anyone who can read
> the language can read the script, and many of the people who can read it
> best, cannot read transliteration or only with difficulty. It's also worth
> noting that despite the typographic difficulties, many earlier publications
> were printed with Devanāgarī instead of transliteration. Kielhorn, for
> example, published many studies (Kâtyâyana and Patanjali (sic!), his
> translation of the Paribhāṣenduśekhara, etc.) with minimal transliteration,
> mostly for proper names.  The two scripts blend rather elegantly even in
> the same line.
> [image: Inline image 2]
> All the Best,
> Victor
> On Mon, Sep 5, 2016 at 8:39 PM, victor davella <vbd203 at googlemail.com>
> wrote:
>> Dear All,
>> I never understood the rational behind dropping diacritics, especially
>> for Indian languages. For Classical Sanskrit there are but three
>> diacritical marks: (the macron (ā), the under dot (ṣ), and the acute accent
>> (ś)), none of which obscures the original shape of a roman letter and all
>> of which are used consistently to indicate a specific point of articulation
>> or the length of a vowel. The only oddity is vocalic r.  The macron may
>> very well be known to many readers already. Other notes on pronunciation
>> are of course necessary, lest the reader pronounce candra as kandra, but a
>> simple list or table takes care of this within a page.
>> Usually the author who decides to dispense with them adds a note intended
>> to placate those who would wish to have them, and asks for dispensation
>> because a more general or non-specialist public will find diacritics
>> overwhelming, confusing, distracting or the like. Is this true? If one
>> wishes to read a book about Indian philosophy, literature etc., why is it
>> assumed  that the reader would NOT want to have information about the
>> language's pronunciation and that the reader would be so put off by
>> presence of diacritics. If some readers do in fact think in this manner,
>> why should they be the ones to determine which information is suppressed?
>> In any case, I don't believe that there is actually any harm in having
>> them, only benefit.
>> I am pro-diacritics and have yet to see a convincing reason for leaving
>> them out in the transliteration of Sanskrit terms in the realm of scholarly
>> publications.
>> All the Best,
>> Victor
>> On Mon, Sep 5, 2016 at 6:13 PM, Jeffery Long via INDOLOGY <
>> indology at list.indology.info> wrote:
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> 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)
>>> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
>>> From: Jeffery Long <dharmaprof108 at yahoo.com>
>>> To: Indology List <indology at list.indology.info>
>>> Cc:
>>> Date: Mon, 5 Sep 2016 16:12:54 +0000 (UTC)
>>> Subject: Question on Diacritical Marks
>>> Dear Colleagues,
>>> I have a somewhat delicate question on which I would appreciate your
>>> candid opinions.
>>> Imagine a doctoral dissertation in the field of philosophy.  The
>>> primary audience for this dissertation is other philosophers, most of whom
>>> are likely to have little or no expertise in the field of Indology.  The
>>> dissertation does, however, engage quite extensively with Indic
>>> philosophical traditions and texts, and does so in a serious and
>>> responsible fashion.  Because the author him or herself is also, however,
>>> primarily a philosopher and not an Indologist, s/he does not deploy
>>> diacritical marks in presenting Sanskrit terms.
>>> How would such a dissertation be regarded by most of you?  Would the
>>> non-use of diacritical marks alone disqualify this work from being taken
>>> seriously?  (My own reaction: I would personally find it distracting and
>>> irritating, but not disqualifying if the scholarship were otherwise sound.)
>>>  Your thoughts?
>>> With thanks in advance,
>>> Jeff
>>> Dr. Jeffery D. Long
>>> Professor of Religion and Asian Studies
>>> Elizabethtown College
>>> Elizabethtown, PA
>>> https://etown.academia.edu/JefferyLong
>>> Series Editor, *Explorations in Indic Traditions: Theological, Ethical,
>>> and Philosophical*
>>> Lexington Books
>>> Consulting Editor, Sutra Journal
>>> http://www.sutrajournal.com
>>> "One who makes a habit of prayer and meditation will easily overcome all
>>> difficulties and remain calm and unruffled in the midst of the trials of
>>> life."  (Holy Mother Sarada Devi)

J. Silk
Leiden University
Leiden University Institute for Area Studies, LIAS
Matthias de Vrieshof 3, Room 0.05b
2311 BZ Leiden
The Netherlands

copies of my publications may be found at

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://list.indology.info/pipermail/indology/attachments/20160906/5e43b892/attachment.htm>

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list