Origins of writing in India

Investigations into the origin of writing in ancient India centre on three scripts: the Indus, the Kharosthi and the Brahmo scripts. Each these writings has been subject to a wide variety of interpretation by the concerned schools of linguistics.

The earliest of these scripts, the Indus Script was discovered at a variety of Chalcolithic in the areas regarded as encompassing the Indus civilization. This civilization was recently determined to have originated from local cultures in the Neolithic stage. In the 80 years following its discovery, the numerous hypotheses have emerged in an attempt to decipher it. Scholars agree that The Indus script contains both pictograms and phonograms. As such, the Indus script is regarded as a transitional script. The scholarly views on interpretation of these signs can be categorized into two major schools of thought. There are those scholars who hold that the script contains up to 537 signs. This view is countered by scholars who believe that the script is composed of 43 basic signs, from which other symbols are derived. The interpretation of Indus scripts has been compounded by a lack of information on the language of its writers. Archeological evidence suggests that the scripts were derived from the Dravianian language. Nevertheless, some researchers argue that the scripts could have been construed from an entirely independent language, one that vanished with the Indus civilization. Another school pf scientific research holds the view that the Indus script is a form of numerical system in which each symbol represents a specific quality. These variant views are only likely to be reconciled by the discovery of a bilingual script that will enable researchers to interpret the Indus script by comparing it with known languages. Some scriptologists have made attempts at deciphering the Indus script using this method. Many of these researchers, however, fail to consider the fact that anthropological Indus civilization likely consisted of both Aryan and Dravidian speakers. This thesis is supported in Max Muller study of ancient Sanskrit literature.

In interpreting the Indus script, it is important to investigate the social, political and economic signals that accompanied its formation. Since the script has no observable semblance with scripts from other contemporary cultures, it is reasonable to conclude that the script originated and evolved within the Indus Empire. It is also reasonable to assume that the Indus script survived the empire’s demise and continues to manifest, albeit discreetly in later cultures.

The Kharosthi script was deciphered 150 years ago by Lassen and Pincep. This script predominantly runs from right to left. Though there are different views with regards to its origin, consensus is that it originated in Gandhara. Some copies of Kharoshthi scripts have been found in other regions such Kangra. These script locations are attributable to migration of Kharoshthi writers from Gandhara. Kharoshti script originated form Aramaic alphabet, itself a derivative of the Northern Semitic script. This conclusion is premised on the similarities in writing and language styles of two scripts. Geographical areas in which Aramaic was spoken also fall within the Gabdhara region. Sice Aramaeans were responsible for maintenance of the Kharoshti script, their removal by the conquering Hunas likely led to the demise of this script.

The Brahmi script remained indecipherable for centuries until Lassen and Pincep deciphered it in 1837-1838. Archeological evidence indicates that the script had been in use since the reign of Asoka the great. There are conflicting views on the script’s palace of origin. Proponents of a non0indian origin argue that Pre-Buddhist silence on writing is an indicator that Brahmi did not originate in India. Hey also highlight similarities between the script and foreign languages. These arguments ignore cultural aspects pf pre-Buddhist India that made an explicit record of writing non-obvious. The lack of comprehensive data makes it necessary to acknowledge the likelihood that competing claims are all partially true.

 

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