Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Transcriptions from Devanagari (etc.) into Roman alphabet

Apart from whimsical transcriptions linked to the prehistory of Sanskrit studies or to their periphery, Sanskrit is usually transcribed in a standard way, e.g.:

pramāṇato 'rthapratipattau pravṛttisāmarthyād arthavat pramāṇam || NS 1.1.1 ||

Interestingly enough, however, transcriptions still widely differ as for the word-boundaries. Personally, I tend to separate as much as possible, since this procedure seems to me reader-friendlier. Other authors, prefer instead to reproduce in the Roman alphabet the scriptum continuum typical of Devanagari and other Indian alphabets. For instance,

What are the advantages of this usage? I can easily imagine some textual-critical advantages:
  1. 1. it makes readers aware of the text as it looked like in the manuscript,
  2. 2. it avoids influencing readers with the editor's understanding of the text.
However, apart from the case of diplomatic editions, the influence of the editor is explicit, especially so in studies. And why should one make life more difficult to readers?
In many cases, for instance when a neutrum term could be considered as part of a compound or as a nominative/accusative, the difference might be significant. For instance:

arthe 'nupalabdhe tatpramāṇam bādārāyanasya anapekṣatvāt

is quite different than:

arthe 'nupalabdhe tat pramāṇam bādārāyanasya anapekṣatvāt (end of MS 1.1.5)

What do readers think? Are there further reasons for the scriptum continuum also in Roman transcriptions I am missing?


Vidya Jayaraman said...

I somehow expect a commentator/ the author of a bhāṣya/ṭīka to split words with an interpretational slant and an editor to render text as-is. And if the editor does have a good reason to split, it is easy enought to include a separate pāṭhavimarśa section that marks out any interpretational splitting and reason behind not rendering a word as a compound or alternate vigraha vākya-s. In the absence of such a section, it just gives a reader a notional feeling of "increased reliability" to see an as-is transcription.

As they say there are splitters and there are lumpers, perhaps it applies to transcription too :)

Jayarava said...

I remember Vincenzo saying that when a really skilled Pandit reads Sanskrit aloud, they dissolve all those scriptum continuum sandhi as they go.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks Vidya and Jayarava,
I am surely a splitter (=analytical tendencies).
Hence, I keep on thinking that what you say applies nicely to an edition in Devanagari (or related alphabet). A transcription in Roman alphabet is a very different case. What is the advantage of having niyamaśca instead of niyamaś ca?
A skilled reader will not be hindered by that, but what about "normal" readers and students? And since Sanskrit texts are usually difficult enough, why wasting time and energy just to distinguish word boundaries in a single string?
Again, what I say only applies to Roman alphabet.

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