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Devanagari - a script without a language?

asked 2015-07-10 05:10:01 -0400

A S Sundar gravatar image

updated 2015-07-10 10:54:48 -0400

usagi5886 gravatar image

The Indic branch of IE Family of languages consists of 3 dead languages (Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali) and more than a dozen living languages. It is believed that all these languages use a script called "Devanagari" script. This script is a fully developed script with vowels and consonants structured in a perfect manner.

Linguists are aware that in a natural language speech develops first, followed by development of script, perhaps, after sufficient period of cultural and intellectual progress. Many languages do not have a script at all. While 'script' is not a must for a language, a sufficient phase of 'spoken language' is a condition precedent for formation of script based on phonology. This is so because the 'script letters' represent the sounds of the spoken words, in phonetic languages. (However in non-phonetic languages, the chances of 'pictographic script' developing prior to 'speech' cannot be ruled out.)

Indian History or World History does not have any evidence to prove that there was a language called 'Devanagari' and it was spoken by any people, for a significantly long period. Then, the question that arises is 'How did this script develop?'

I proceeded to solve this problem on the following lines. I examined all the possibilities and my findings are:

  1. Possibility: The script could have been borrowed from any IE language.

  2. Findings: Ruled out as no basic similarity is evidenced. Even the construction of vowels and consonants are unquestionably different. The number of vowels and consonants do not agree, after allowing a margin of, say, five for possible additions.

  3. Possibility: The script could have been borrowed from an established language spoken in the geographical area where Indic languages were spoken.

  4. Findings: The only other language family with established presence in India, is the Dravidian family of languages. The lead language of the family, Tamil has a history of at least 2000 years and evidence of having been spoken widely in major parts of Indian sub-continent. As Tamil literary works dating circa 500 BC are available, the 'speech' should have been pretty old. Tamil has a perfect script which could not have been borrowed, considering its history of independent development and the geographical insulation of its command area. Considering these factors, Tamil appears to be the prima-facie possible source of the 'Devanagari script'.

I sat down to confirm the position. Here is my comparative analysis, taking Hindi script as a representative for the purpose.

  • Vowels: Tamil has 12 vowels. Hindi has 13. Certain Tamil vowels are absent in Hindi. Additional vowels in Hindi are 'ru' and 'am'. It may be observed that the additional vowels in Hindi are not pure vowels but a combination of vowel and consonant sounds. As such it could have been additions, necessitated by certain sounds prevalent in Sanskrit but not prevalent in Tamil.

  • Consonants: Tamil has 18 consonants whereas Hindi has more than 30 in number. It may be observed that the additional consonants in Hindi are nothing but sound variants of the 18 consonants of Tamil only. For ...

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answered 2017-04-11 09:51:25 -0400

Devanagari is derived from the word Nagari, Nagar were ancient Tamil race who were important artisans, warriors who inhabitated in today's TamilNadu and Ancient Ceylon. Sri Lanka in ancient days was called Naga Dweepa. Recent Discovery of Tamili Scripts dates back to 500 BCE which proves the presence of Script in Tamillakam.

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Asked: 2015-07-10 05:10:01 -0400

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Last updated: Jul 10 '15