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Last week I visited Typography …

June 3, 2013

I began the study of Greek and Latin many years ago without the use technical devices more than a  pencil, sharpener and eraser and copious reams of paper.  Also we didn’t expect more than a fair copy of printed text to translate from.  I never progressed to original text, so the published works were usually user friendly enough and the grammar and reading aids were never difficult to read.  It seemed the printers were able after many decades to adapt the fonts and devices to suit the needs of discerning scholars.

Much later I began to learn to read Sanskrit; just as I began my journey with a laptop and a very shaky internet connection. Also the use of a Devanagari keyboard which was more trouble than it was worth.

In many ways it would have been easier to learn Sanskrit using transliterated text but my teacher; a ‘purist’ and very ‘old school’ was strictly against it.  Transliteration does contain all the components to reproduce Sanskrit speech.  As it uses Roman letters it does make it a little easier for beginners.  Nonetheless for a student to progress at some point she must learn the Devanagari script and it pronunciation. As students with the existing impressions of the sounds of the our native Roman Alphabet we will not become fluent and enjoy  developed learning experience.

Also the Sanskrit scholar does not have the joys of a well printed books.  When I began my studies I was using very poorly produced texts; the font was small and unclear, the paper flimsy and binding inadequate.  There was one consolation; the books were not expensive,  postage was kept to a minimum and often the required works were supplied almost by return from India.

So with the limited ‘technical’ resources the students carried on much as we did in the Dark Ages; relatively speaking of course with pen and paper.

I am not an expert as regards the production of print, but I assume while mechanically producing Devanagari letters for a press, although time consuming was no different that making Roman letters. However now technology has moved on and type is produced in ways that I could not images let alone expound here.

So this week I paid a visit to the Typography Department, here at University of Reading to find why it is easier to find text in other Devanagari ‘languages’ such as Marathi, Hindi and Nepali; you only have to look at the newspapers in the corner shop to see that the fonts are really quite modern, sophisticated and pleasing.    

Although Sanskrit uses the same Devanagari text it has a larger number of conjuncts consonants or ligatures than its modern vernacular counterparts.  While it considered acceptable for the modern fonts to have half-consonants or halants; in Sanskrit they are called Viramas and traditionally have required more complex representations and these change also depending on the Sandhi rules which can only be untied or not with a large pot of tea and some biscuits … and not so much with a technical device.  

So while these images represent some of the work done recently to perfect the Devanagari font in particular Sanskrit, for which I am grateful … I will leave it to the experts to explain.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2013 7:47 am

    wow is all I can say – one year of Sanskrit at uni a million years ago so I salute you 🙂

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