[INDOLOGY] Question on Diacritical Marks

Matthew Kapstein mkapstei at uchicago.edu
Tue Sep 6 07:58:26 UTC 2016

"First, regarding long quotations in nagari (look, you know what that is, right? no diacritical marks though...), take a look at https://ia902205.us.archive.org/7/items/systemsofbuddhis029771mbp/systemsofbuddhis029771mbp.pdf
This is a book printed long ago mixing romanization and nagari; I think it makes a bizzare impression."

Dear Jonathan and all,

This mix is quite common in Kolkata publications of the period. I don't think it bizarre at all,
at least no more bizarre than texts in Classics that mix Greek and Latin scripts, or in Judaic
Studies that mix Hebrew and Latin, etc. What makes it seem bizarre is just distance
from a milieu in which the particular mix in question is current. I deal all the time now
with published works mixing Tibetan and Chinese - there's nothing odd about it unless you
are not quite familiar with the writing systems in question.

Someone earlier in this thread suggested that romanization was used perhaps because printing
in original scripts was difficult. But 18th and 19th c. printeries relished multiple scripts. See, e.g.,
Kowalewski's 1844 Mongol dictionary published in Kazan, where we find Mongol, Tibetan, Cyrillic
and Roman all jostling with one another. In modern printing history we can probably trace this
back to early 16th c. Venice, where printing was common in Greek, Armenian, Hebrew and Roman
scripts, and even an Arabic font was created. I suspect that the use of romanization had more
to do with the needs of pedagogy and comparative philology than it did with ease of printing.


Matthew Kapstein
Directeur d'études,
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes

Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies,
The University of Chicago

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