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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sanskrit punctuation and related matters


How to punctuate a Sanskrit text?

If you use an Indian script, such as devanāgarī, you can stick to the conventions of this script.
If you have to transliterate into Roman alphabet, then, these are my rules of thumb:

  1. 1. You need to distinguish between what is typical of devanāgarī (or other Indian scripts) and what is typical of Sanskrit as a language. Skip the first and keep the second. E.g., writing sambandhaśca instead of sambandhaś ca does not make sense in Roman alphabet (although it makes much sense in devanāgarī, where a beautiful grapheme for श्च is available). By contrast, writing ceti instead of ca iti makes sense, insofar as it corresponds to a feature of Sanskrit as a language, namely the use of sandhi.
  2. 2. For the same reason, before using daṇḍas in your transliterated text, ask yourself what they should mean. If they indicate a pause, use full stops (and commas, if you like), which have in fact the purpose of indicating a pause in Roman alphabet. There is no point in using a devanāgarī punctuation within a Romanised text. If, by contrast, you are using daṇḍas to indicate a metrical structure, then you could consider using slashes (//) which are commonly used in English (etc.) texts to indicate verses. However, a strong convention among Indologists suggests the use of daṇḍas for indicating verses (| at the end of the first hemistich and || at the end of a verse).
  3. 3. Remember that Sanskrit texts as we received them usually express through words what we would  express through punctuation. This makes the use of additional punctuation redundant. For instance, if a sentence begins with kaḥ, kadā, kutra, kim, etc., there is no need to add a question mark at the end (unless you are preparing a text for beginners, who might need additional help).
  4. 4. More important: be consistent. Don't use first full stops in verses, then slashes and last daṇḍas.

What are your rules of thumb? Do you transliterate Sanskrit? Do readers expert in Pāli (or other classical Indian languages) have something to add?

On a related topic (translation of Sanskrit texts), see this post.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I never transliterate Sanskrit, but I think that some marks of the Roman script can profitably be used in writing Sanskrit in Devanagari. In Indian-printed Sanskrit you often see question marks and exclamation marks. This seems reasonable; after all, even if you read modern Sanskrit texts in Devanagari, they don't look anything like texts in manuscript or whatever other bogus standard of authenticity you can think of. Might as well not pretend we're living in the fifteenth century. Recently I began thinking that it's really very nice to add emoticons to Sanskrit texts, if you're using the computer or sending verses by SMS -- and even if you're not you can draw them in. (Filippo)

elisa freschi said...

Much depends on what you are aiming at. If —as you seem to imply— your purpose is communicating in a modern world, question marks etc. (until emoticons) might be useful. Who has the time to read a sentence more than once? It is thus much easier to identify immediately questions and exclamations.
By contrast, the situation is quite different in case you are editing a classical text. This is probably enough obscure to demand time and energy from its readers. In these cases I would recommend avoinding redundancy (no question marks, then, if the sentence starts anyway with kiṃ or the like). This is also due to the fact that every edition is tentative and I would like to intrude as less as possible in the text, in order for future readers to be aware of other possible readings of the text.

Anonymous said...

You're right, this makes total sense. I'm actually more of an authenticity freak than I let on. Sai, faccio spesso il scherzoso solo per stimolare la discussione! The edition of Mahabharata that I've been reading for years is a reprint of a nineteenth century edition whose pages were laid out in imitation of palm-leaf manuscripts, with no spaces between words and just one big block of text, the verses not arranged in columns. I wouldn't want emoticons there, I have to admit, nor even question and exclamation marks. A time and place for everything, no?

Anonymous said...

I really do recommend adding emoticons to Sanskrit texts, though. It's fun and it's another kind of close reading of the text. Sanskrit SMSing is fun too, but I guess you can't get phones with Devanagari outside of India. I think an emoticon-enhanced Gita could be a runaway hit, though of course some sena might also go bonkers over it. You never can predict, nowadays.

Anonymous said...

It has got amazing rules & very intelligently removes redundancy in the sentences.

For discussion on Sanskrit, you can visit to

http://sanskritforums.tk/

अश्वमित्रः said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
अश्वमित्रः said...

You're right, this makes total sense. I'm actually more of an authenticity freak than I let on. Sai, faccio spesso lo spiritoso solo per stimolare la discussione. The edition of Mahabharata that I've been reading for years is a reprint of a nineteenth century edition whose pages were laid out in imitation of palm-leaf manuscripts, with no spaces between words and just one big block of text, the verses not arranged in columns. I wouldn't want emoticons there, I have to admit, nor even question and exclamation marks. A time and place for everything, no?

I really do recommend adding emoticons to Sanskrit texts, though. It's fun and it's another kind of close reading of the text. Sanskrit SMSing is fun too, but I guess you can't get phones with Devanagari outside of India. I think an emoticon-enhanced Gita could be a runaway hit, though of course some sena might also go bonkers over it. You never can predict, nowadays.

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