using Devanagari or transliteration

Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at UK.AC.UCL
Mon Oct 21 10:19:35 EDT 1991


The extraordinary advances in computer technology over the last few
years have meant that it is now possible to do very nice Devanagari on
most of the machines that members of this group use for writing.
 
In fields like Arabic or Greek, it is de rigeur that the language
is written in its own script.  To publish an entire Arabic text in
transliteration would be (I am told) quite unacceptable.
 
I suspect that Sanskritists are so comfortable with romanized
texts for two reasons:
 
1) The transliteration scheme set up in 1894
by the Transliteration Committee of the Geneva Oriental Congress was
excellent, and mostly uncontroversial (see MW's intro, p.xxx).  In
most respects it has remained unchanged for almost a century.
 
2) Since Sanskrit has always been written in the local script,
it seemed justifiable  that European and American Sanskritists
write the language in their own script too.
 
Against this, however, one can say that Devanagari has been the
dominant script in use for Sanskrit for several hundred years.
While there are many Sanskrit MSS in Sarada, Bengali, Telugu
and other scripts, they are *far* outnumbered by those in
Devanagari (including its variants such as the script of
Jaina scribes, Nandinagari, etc.)
 
Furthermore, the vast majority of Indians find it hard to read
extended passages of Sanskrit in romanization; for Indians,
brought up with Devanagari as a first or second script, it
is far more natural to read Sanskrit in that script.  I would
go so far as to say that any author genuinely interested in
reaching an Indian readership with Sanskrit-related writings
should think seriously of using Devanagari.
 
So, I put it to you.  Now that we can all do Devanagari relatively
painlessly, should we make a point of changing our professional
practice, and using Devanagari for Sanskrit, as the rule rather
than the exception?
 
I realize that this would mean making heavy demands on our
journal and book publishers.  But a) most of us can produce
our own high-resolution output directly from our machines,
and b) typesetters and printers may have to drag themselves
into the 20th century before it's over!  I know that I have
software technology on my desk that most typesetters
don't even know exists, but there is no reason why this should
be so.  There are at least two commercial typesetting companies
in Britain (probably more) founded by academics from the
humanities/computing community to meet exactly this need.  These
people know exactly what is available at the cutting edge of
computer typesetting and the setting of multilingual text.  I
expect there are such companies in the USA too.
 
Opinions please!
 
Dominik
 
 




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