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Jakub Cejka jakub at
Mon Sep 9 14:49:47 EDT 1996

Thanks to George Thompson for several good points he made.

On Mon, 2 Sep 1996, George Thompson wrote:
> DevanAgarI has taken on this sort of magical relationship with Sanskrit
> not only for traditional Hindus, but also for Western devotees as well. 
Again, I'd like to stress that (save Western devotees) for many Hindus 
the script for Sanskrit is their respective local script. 

Scripts such as Kannada, Telugu, Bengali, Oriya, Malayali have the same 
syllabic structure, same alphabetic arrangement, same ultimate origin (brahmi), 
can represent all peculiarities of Sanskrit (clusters, visarga). They are 
still used for printing (and writing) Sanskrit. They were always used for 
writing Sanskrit on palm leaves. Only Tamil script is not capable to 
represent Sanskrit fully, but they have (and still print) their Grantha 
for that. So, once again, Devanagari is neither historically nor 
structurally more fit for Sanskrit than the others. 

The magical power rather is borne by the syllables themselves, not only 
by the letters that represent them. The syllables associated with 
some deity or whatever in a ritual that are written in some yantra 
are as well pronounced in a prayer - in both cases their magical 
power works. Even if you have a certain yantra prescribed with the 
letters in its various parts, in Bengal they will be written in Bengali, 
in Bihar in "Hindi" script - neither of them is less or more proper, they 
represent the same syllable. I intentionally wrote "Hindi" script, which 
is the term by which usually the common people call Devanagari, to stress 
that all these scripts are simply associated (and usually named after) 
with the contemporary languages primarily and secondarily any of them is 
used for Sanskrit. The fact that many present-day educated 
Indians (non-Sanskritists and many Hindivaale Sanskritists) think that 
Sanskrit's original script is Devanagari, because scholarly books are 
published in Devanagari (both in India and abroad).  But this recent 
belief does not change anything.

The smart alphabetical arrangement also does not originate from 
Devanagari but from the mind of the ancient linguists who, as has been 
quoted from Staal (I do not think it is something provocative, I always 
thought it was obvious and commonly held), were able to carry out such an 
abstract analysis thanks to not being mislead by script, as they operated 
directly with the sound of the language. All the scripts consequently 
inherited this alphabetical arrangement deviced _for the language_

> To take one instance [in fact the one that started this thread]: our modern
> habit of marking word boundaries with a space [as opposed to the devanAgarI
> habit of overlooking them].  Our habit compels us to seek word boundaries
> and to mark them.  A writer [or reader] using devanAgarI is not so
> compelled.  As a result, with our writing system, we operate with a more or
> less "padapATha" image of text, whereas with devanAgarI, we at least have
> the option of visualizing a saMhitA text, an uninterrupted flow.  

This is a very correct observation which some scholars doing a 
research in religion, philosophy and unfortunately even literature do not 
realize which results in taking the word boundaries in a text edition for 
granted. That is why, recently, I called for texts being available in 
totally unanalysed form (even without word boundaries) besides an 
analyzed or half-analyzed (i.e. the usual) one. This would result in 
seeing the text as it is heared - sentence as a basic unit. 

The mentioned sentence-basic-unit-ness (sorry:-) is also reflected in the 
fact that even slight changes of sounds on word boundaries were very 
sensitively noticed and their regularity described into what we have as 
sandhi rules. There is "sandhi" between words in all languages I know, we 
just do not write them and are not so conscious about them. 

Jakub Cejka

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