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Brahmi

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Brāhmī refers to the pre-modern members of the Brahmic family of scripts, attested from the 3rd century BC. The best known and earliest dated inscriptions in Brahmi are the rock-cut edicts of Ashoka. This script is ancestral to most of the scripts of India and Southeast Asia, Tibet, and perhaps even Korean Hangul. The Brahmi numeral system is the ancestor of the Hindu-Arabic numerals, which are now used world-wide.

Brāhmī is generally believed to be derived from a Semitic script such as the Imperial Aramaic alphabet, as was clearly the case for the contempory Kharosthi alphabet that arose in a part of northwest Indian under the control of the Achaemenid Empire. Rhys Davids suggests that writing may have been introduced to India from the Middle East by traders. Another possibility is with the Achaemenid conquest in 500 BC; however, Harry Falk believes Brahmi was most likely created during the Mauryan Empire. It is often assumed that it was a planned invention under Ashoka as a prerequiste for the Edicts of Ashoka. Compare the much better documented parallel of the Hangul script.

A glance at the oldest Brahmi inscriptions shows striking parallels with contemporary Aramaic for the half of the phonemes that are equivalent between the two languages, especially if the letters are flipped to reflect the change in writing direction. However, Semitic is not a good phonological match to Indic, so any Semitic alphabet would have needed extensive (and perhaps planned) modification. Indeed, this is the most convincing circumstantial evidence for a link: the similarities between the scripts are just what one would expect from such an adaptation. For example, Aramaic did not distinguish dental from retroflex stops; in Brahmi the dental and retroflex series are graphically very similar, as if both had been derived from a single prototype. Aramaic did not have Brahmi's aspirated consonants (kh, th), whereas Brahmi did not have Aramaic's emphatic consonants (q, ţ); and it appears that Aramaic's extra emphatic letters may have been used to fill in Brahmi's missing aspirates (Aramaic q for Brahmi kh, Aramaic ţ for Brahmi th). And just where Aramaic did not have a corresponding emphatic stop, p, Brahmi seems to have doubled up for its aspirate: Brahmi p and ph are graphically very similar, as if taken from the same source. The first letters of the alphabets also match: Brahmi a looks a lot like Aramaic alef.

A minority position holds that Brahmi was a purely indigenous development, perhaps with the Indus script as its predecessor. This is especially true in India itself, where the idea is bound up with Hindu nationalism.

Literature

  • Kenneth R. Norman's, The Development of Writing in India and its Effect upon the Pâli Canon, in Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens (36), 1993
  • Oscar von Hinüber, Der Beginn der Schrift und frühe Schriftlichkeit in Indien, Franz Steiner Verlag, 1990 (in german)
  • Harry Falk, Schrift im alten Indien: Ein Forschungsbericht mit Anmerkungen, Gunter Narr Verlag, 1993 (in german)
  • Gérard Fussman's, Les premiers systèmes d'écriture en Inde, in Annuaire du Collège de France 1988-1989 (in french)

External links

id:Aksara Brahmi sv:Brahmi

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