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Kashmiri Pandit Network

Kashmiri Music

Languages, Scripts and Sharda
- Dr. R.L. Bhat

Language and culture-speech and society-are the two essential of being human. Language precedes culture being coeval with the origin of man. Probably, it has taken man the whole of the 10 million years, he has been around, to pattern and modulate his speech into language, but the effort has been spectacularly fruitful. Man, has accumulated a rich inventory of languages whose number is reckoned at 2796. And, this number is the accepted minimum while the maximum number of tongues is put close to 5000. Many of the languages are spoken by very few people, and then over half of the languages may be actually dead!

In the classification of languages  the distinction between the language and dialect is very crucial. Even seemingly uniform language, includes subtle variations from region to region. It is said that a language changes after every 50 km. Many would call these 50 km variants dialects. Thus the Chinese, which claims a sixth of the humans as its speakers is actually an aggregation of numerous dialects, many of which have a claim to be called languages in themselves. So is the case with Hindi. These variation are important from the points of view of understanding Kashmiri language and its script, in that they underline the fact, that minor variations in life-style, group behaviour culture, even geographic situation leads' to subtle changes in intonations. The stress on certain portions, sounds, is emphasised, while that in other parts is overlooked. Nuances of synatax change, and expressions assume peculiarities. In the course of time, the language takes a new form. It becomes a new language. Thus through a number of changes (approximately four) the language of vedic aryans has given birth to the scores of languages now spoken from Assam to Athens on to America. And everywhere these have spawned types and sub types.

So did the scripts. Technically, anything that is capable of being a medium for expression of a language is a script. It may even be a body gesture, knots upon a rope (used in certain South American languages) pictograms (the famous Egyptan heirlogyphics) figures (the chutches of 0 and 1 and used in computer language) and of course, the familiar alphabets. Like languages, the scripts developed by man for denoting languages, attest to the fecundity of human ingenuity. It has been said that all the languages are equally old. That is to say that all the root-languages have developed around the same time. They must have, for any animal that was human was to have a language. It would not be plausible to say, for example, that the Aryan language, is older than that of a tribal group who lived upon an isolated Carribbean island, because humans belong to a single zoological species and are an interbreeding group. The same, however, cannot be said of scripts. Some linguistic groups, developed scripts, which in turn spawned new scripts while some languages and still without a scripts.

The scripts in use at present can be classed into three broad classes: Chinese, Semitic, and Brahmi. Chinese is the script used for Chinese (Mandarin) Japanese and Korean group of languages. This is an abstracted pictorial script, in which word-concept complexes are represented by a specific shape called character.

Unlike the Semitic and Brahmi scripts, Chinese script is not alphabetic. The symbol character is a notation for a full word. Two characters, can however, be joined, and written in association to denote a different concept. Semitic and Brahmi scripts are alphabetic scripts. The symbol-i.e. alphabet is given a certain sound and words are then denoted by associating together the appropriate sound-bits. The alphabets by themselves are meaningless. They become meaningful only when joined with others, to denote a word. This is important from our stand point in that, the alphabets that are joined to denote a word, must actually express the intended sound bits or it becomes an incorrect representation. Thus though English and Russian scripts are of the same origin, it is not feasible to write the latter in Roman script because the sound bits peculiar to Russian tongue are not present in Roman script. Nor can the Russian scripts be a correct medium for English and Italian languages.

It is still a moot point, which of the two scripts is older. Semitic group, has been considered older because the earliest  recorded sample script date to around 1500-BC, while that of Brahmi are of about 500 BC. But that is fragile evidence. Rigveda records that figures from one to eight were written on ear-flaps of cows. Semitic script originated in Israel. It passed through two branches, the northern and the southern. The northern semitic, spread to Syria, Pheonicia etc, and gave rise to three important types, Aramaic, Hebrew and Pheonician. The Pheonician around 800 BC spread to Greece and there gave rise to the Greek script, which became the base scripts for the Latin (Roman) and other present day European scripts. The southern branch (which some consider an independent line), spread to Arabian peninsula and on to northern Africa. The Arabs however, adopted the Aramaic scripts around the first century AD. From it developed two scripts Kofi and Nasakh. Around the beginning of Christian era, Nabti tribe, living in the northern Arabia, adopted Aramaic script. This is called Nabti. From another branch of Aramaic rose modern Hebrew. Nabti scripts developed into Kofi and Nasakh scripts, which were to become mother scripts of half a dozen scripts including Arabic and Nastalique.

Kofi/Nasakh did not employ any dots in the beginning. Dots were introduced around 500 AD to represent some more sounds. These closely resembling scripts, spawned further script patterns. Kofi, developed into Salas, Toqeh, Rakah, Mahqeq, and Rehan. Nasakh became florid and embellished as Gulzar and Gubar. Around 1000 AD, Toqeh and Mahqeeq, were combined to yield Taliq scripts. Around the time of Timur, Nasakh and Talique scripts were intermixed to yield Nastalique. At the same time four more alphabets 'Pey', 'Cheem', 'Tsey', and 'Gaff' were added to it. The original Aramaic contained only 22 alphabets; with dots, the number in Kofi/Nasakh was raised to 29, which is the alphabet number in Arabic. Nastalique contained around 37 alphabets, and scope for some more derivatives to denote aspirated sibtants. This Nastalique, is the script, which is used for Persian and Urdu languages. It has been adopted with a few modifications as a script for Kashmiri tongue, though Kashmiri had an appropriate and precise script of its own in Sharda, which was developed, along with the language, from Brahmi script.

Brahmi, is the script that evolved in Indian subscontinent. As mentioned earlier, its earliest samples were dated to 5-6th century AD. The reference, in Rigveda, takes it a thousand years back, to the just a little anterior (1500-2000 BC) to the time assigned to the origin of Semitic scripts. That makes Brahmi contemporarneous, if not antecedent, to the semitic script. Brahmi, however, is a much advanced script. Phonetically the alphabet is very apt, and precisely classified into different sound clutches emanating from a particular oro-pharyngeal region. Its vowels are well classed, very advanced and appropriate. As a result it has always been believed that it must have originated from some more primitive form. In absence of any other script, a loose conjecture placed semitic as its base,but every naunce of linguistics refuted the supposition. The question was left open. It is still open, but the recent decipherment of Indus Valley seals has changed the whole picture and perspective, not only of the Brahmi script, but also the ancient Indian history. The inscriptions upon the seals have been found to be vedic language, which makes Aryans and Indus Valley people blood-brothers not antagonistic foes. For the Brahmi script, it gives a possible origin, which would now date to the days of Egyptian heirogyphies oreven earlier to 3000-5000 BC!

Indus seals could also possibly give a better explanation of Khroshti script. Khrosti script, belongs to the same period as Brahmi. It had 37 letters of which 24 resembled Brahmi. Of the rest, a few (supposedly 3) seemed to resemble the Semitic script, on which basis it was classed as being derived from Semitic. Kroshti, did not flourish and shrank. Brahmi, is the script of rock eddicts of Ashoka. Around the time of the  birth of Christ, Brahmi evolved into five man branches; Northern, North-Western, Western, Southern and Eastern. These became the mother scripts from which the modern Indian scripts developed during the next thousand years. These branches largely corresponded to the Upbramshas  that were spoken in these different geographical areas about the time of Gupta kings. Upbramshas, was the 'corrupted, impure' language into which the earlier Prakrit had 'degraded.' Prakrit itself was a the language, into which the earlier tongue Palli had 'degenerated' about the time Christ was born. Palli, of course, was the off spring of Sanskrit that had replaced the latter as language of the people around Buddhas time. Thus linguistically Sanskrit, moulted and moulted, to give rise to Upbramashas, while the Brahmi script diversified into five regional variants.

Upbramasha that was spoken in the North-Western regions of India, (Punjab, Jammu, Himachal and the Northern parts of present day Pakistan) gave rise to the languages spoken in these areas now North Western Brahmi was the script in which this Upabramasha (and the earlier Sanskrit, Palli etc) of these areas was written. Around 10th century AD the languages Kashmiri, Dogri, Punjabi etc began to evolve in the different parts of this area. During this time the N-W Brahmi also changed shape and gave rise to a slightly different , and advanced, form called Sidd-matrika. (Sidd-matrika, was the lipi, used in Kashmir during Lalita Datta's (699-736AD) time).  This, latter half of the first millenium AD is the time when the modern Indian languages were evolving. With the linguistic evolution, they were remoulding reshaping and adapting the regional variants of Brahmi to fashion appropriate phonetic symbols for their respective spoken tongues.

In the evolution of the languages and at of scripts, it is pertinent to note that while languages evolve naturally helplessly without any will or determination on the part of their speakers, the scripts are fashioned actively by the speakers of the language, and constantly modified to come up with the most appropriate medium. During this developmental journey, the scripts are altered bit by bit, little by little. They continue to resemble the original ones, till the accomulated atterations become great enough to give them a distincts designation. At that stage, it is given a distinct name. Sidd-matrika, continued to be the script in Kashmir in the 10th century. It continued to change. By the turn of the millenium it had been transformed to Sharda. By the turn of the millenim the languages spoken by the people of Kashmir had also become distinguishable as Kashmiri. About the time, that NW Brahmi in its Sidd-matrika avtar was being transformed into Sharda, Devnagri was being fashioned from Northern Brahmi, and Oriya, Bengali, Assamese scripts were being moulded from Purvi-Brahmi scripts. Having been derived from the same root, they retained a broad similarlity, but the phonetic designation of the alphabet varied. The N-W. Brahmi, evolved into Sharda Gurimukhi, and Lunda scripts. These resembled the alphabets of the scripts of farther regions, but the resemblence amongst themselves was greater. Yet they were different. Though the morphiums, i.e. the shape of alphabate, resembled the phonetic designation of the alphabet differed. This difference was vastly greater in case of sounds assigned to the svars or vowels. These latter, infact, give these scripts their characteristic distinctiveness.

Though both Semitic and Brahmi (and the respective scripts derived from them) are alphabetic, there is a sea of difference between them. The former is a confused clutch where the vowels and consonants are jumbled together. More imporantly, the consonants in Semitic, and its derived scripts, are not pure sounds. 'Aay, Bee, Eff, Pee, Dubliew, Alif Cheem,' do no carry this sound'-desingation into the word, but only a part of it. Thus 'Cheem', gives only, 'che' sound to the word, and 'eff' gives only 'fe' sound. On one hand this sound can't be further shortened, and secondly the vovel added becomes an addition not a root modifier. Like 'F+A+T= fe+ae+te=fat'. Generally, the consonents represent a single sound-bit, but the phonetic value characterised by the same vowel may take many different sounds eg the 'a' in words 'fat, fate, far, fare, fall'! In an established script say English in Roman script, this variation has got fixed through long usage, but the problem becomes alarmingly confounding when, say you begin to write (anew) Kashmiri in Roman  script: which 'a' to use for what sound'

The phonetics of Brahmi and its derived scripts is scientific and precise. The vowel sounds are fixed, unchanged. One sign designates one and only one sound. Its consonants by themselves are soundless, and get sound only when svar (vowel) is added to them. As such each vowelled 'vengen' is precise in intonation. This scheme is carried into Sharda. Sharda, however has its svar-mala pecularised to the Kashmiri intonation, since it has been developed as the Kashmiri language evolved eg. the (Aa) of Sharda is shooter, its (Oow) is vov.' Kashmiris do not say 'Omkar' they say 'voimkar'. They don't say  'ustad' (as the Persian/Urdu word is) but 'Vustad', 'Eh-San' becomes 'yeeh-saw'. Good or bad that is a linguistic pecularity. No scripts other than Sharda takes these pecularities into account. Nor can, because its sound assignations are different. Sharda in turn would not represent the phonetic characteristics of say Punjabi or Sanskrit with any accuracy.

It is wrongly believed by some people that Sharda is a script of Sanskrit. Sharda evolved when the language of Kashmir was passing into Kashmiri, with its peculiar intonations, variations and sounds. As a result, Sharda got imprinted with these vocal pecularities. And, became unfit for Sanskrit. Sharda, however, continued to be used for writing Sanskrit in Kashmir. But Sanskrit is a language that lays emphasis on the sound of each alphabet. The Sanskrit of Sharda script, became a different Sanskrit, understood in, writing but un-understandable in speech. No Kashmiri can prounce Sanskrit correctly, unless he/she takes special instruction in Devnagri script. Because, Sharda is not Devnagri.

Apart from its mis-use as a lipi for Sanskrit, Sharda has suffered another handicap. The long centuries, of Persian speaking Moghul rule and pushto spewing Afghan enslavement, forced Kashmiris to love and like the foreign Semitic scripts and to abhor Sharda script for writing Kashmir. Till 14th-15th Century  AD even Tombstones wer inscribed in Sharda. People irrespective of relgion spoke Kashmiri and signed their names in Sharda, as the 15th century, will of Makhdoom Sahib bears witness to. By the end of 16th century Kofi and Nasak variants of Aramic script had nugded in, into the tombstone inscriptions, though Sharda still existed side-by-side. That was the beginning of Moghul rule. Sharda, was pushed under and people Hindu and Muslims, learnt, read and wrote in Nasak, Nasatlique and other offshoorts of the Semitic scripts to ingratiate themselves with the rulers. None of these is suited to writing of Kashmiri, but the slanted visions have willed these inappropriate scripts upon the Kashmir tongue. That, it results in misleading scripts and mis-reading of manuscripts, unfortunately, seems to bother none.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel


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