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LRC Blog

May 31, 2007

Karen Thomson

Re: Devanagari Script

N.B. The email exchange below may have been edited, e.g. to remove content not essential to the main point(s) or to standardize English spelling/grammar.


Dear Sir/Madam,

I have come across your 'Ancient Sanskrit' lessons on the utexas website, and I'm sure I will enjoy going through the material you have made available.

However, right at the start, I came across something that I wanted to bring to your attention. This is a practice that has been, and continues to be amongst scholars in the 'West' and amongst Westernized Indian scholars, something that is accepted with such ease that it has become as unnoticeable as the air we breathe. I'm referring to the fundamental disrespect shown Sanskrit in the all-too-frequent Romanizing of its texts.

Lesson 1 of 'Ancient Sanskrit Online' continues this tradition. ... Amongst all the cultures of the world, it's widely acknowledged that Indian linguistic science was the most highly developed, as expressed most specifically in Sanskrit. Without having a very lengthy discussion, I would urge you and any scholars you work with to promulgate the use of the Sanskrit alphabet, whether in papers written or in restored texts. This is the smallest, and yet a large, sign of respect.

Thank you your work, nevertheless.

Regards, H. P.


Thank you for your message, and for expressing interest in our course, 'Ancient Sanskrit Online'.

I'm glad to be able to tell you that there was certainly no disrespect intended in the form in which we made the Sanskrit available online. All the courses in the series are written by the lesson writer (me, in this case) using a standard keyboard to input the foreign characters required according to a previously agreed code. This code is then 'translated' by software to appear on the website in a range of forms that students can read, depending on the sophistication of the software they are using.

The system designer, Jonathan Slocum, was in fact very keen to have a Devanagari version, and took some persuading that it would simply not be possible to encode all the conjuncts of the script given the limited number of keys available to me. Fortunately, as the development of Devanagari postdates the composition of the poems of the Rigveda by two thousand years or so, it did not seem inappropriate to use other representational conventions.

I hope this sets your mind at rest.

Best wishes, K. T.