Monday, May 25, 2015

More on the Sanskrit Script

Ever since I wrote that old post on the structure of the Sanskrit script, one question has been nagging me.

If you were creating the structure of the script, why would you make it phonetic? A script is for writing. I would group it by the shape of letters, or any other way that learning the writing is easier. Why make it phonetic? Phonetic is the opposite of Written - it focuses on listening.

And then it hit me: The Vedas are called "Shruti" because they were passed down orally - they were heard before they were written. They had to be committed to memory. To ensure that the meaning is also passed down accurately, the pronunciation and enunciation had to be near perfect.

THAT'S WHY ITS PHONETIC - because it was NOT the structure of an alphabet at all - it was the structure of a language - the writing came later - much, much later.

The language was scientifically structured long before people thought of even writing it. The script, when it appeared, was simply adapted to the spoken alphabet.

Why is that revolutionary? Because the alphabet of any language is the core of the script. Popular thinking says that we need the alphabet for writing. Dialects like Tulu, Magadhi etc have no alphabet. They are simply learnt by speaking.
Creating a structured set of sounds that are relevant, then breaking it down into vowels and consonants, separating the consonants further by their phonetic relevance, is the work of an extremely scientific community. One that required intelligence and ingenuity. They were people to whom, for some reason, it was important to ensure that all relevant sounds are codified and memorised exactly.
So why would such an intelligent civilisation not consider writing?

I can think of 2 possible reasons -

1., That in their circumstances, they were unable to procure writing material - papyrus or other paper material, quills, ink etc.

2. They were a nomadic civilisation. They needed to be on the move and could not have carried their vast and bulky knowledge resources with them. Therefore, knowledge was committed to memory and passed from generation to generation.

I have, in connection with the Indus Valley civilisation, come across a very interesting hypothesis that states that perhaps the Indian peninsula was the birth place of the Aryans, and they went everywhere from here. This would lend credence to that idea - but a nomadic civilisation that is running away from India is not likely to completely forget its alphabet.
This indicates that the structuring of language, the research and scientific work was done by the Aryans of India, presumably after the migration of the other Aryans.

Your thoughts?


Onkar said...

very interesting and profound

How do we know said...

Onkar sir: I am still thinking.. its one of those conundrums that holds one's attention..

Manish Raj said...

Guess it is more of less established now that Aryans came in India from Europe..