LINGUIST List 7.1173

Mon Aug 19 1996

Sum: Indic scripts in SE Asia

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. "david b. solnit", Sum: Indic scripts in SE Asia

Message 1: Sum: Indic scripts in SE Asia

Date: Mon, 19 Aug 1996 08:59:15 EDT
From: "david b. solnit" <>
Subject: Sum: Indic scripts in SE Asia

I would like to thank the following who responded to my inquiry about
Indic scripts in Southeast Asia:

Richard S Cook
Peter Daniels
Gerard Diffloth
Lars Martin Fosse
John Hartmann
F K Lehman

original query:
> 2. Most of the writing systems of Southeast Asia are of Indic origin:
> Mon, Burmese, Shan, Thai, Lao, Khmer, Tai Nuea, White Tai, Black Tai,
> Tai Lue, Kavi, etc. I have seen a reference to the Thai script as
> being descended from the Devanagari script of India, but I'm pretty
> sure this isn't right. Florian Coulmas in _The Writing Systems of the >
 World_ (182, 191) states that all of the Southeast Asian Indic-based
> scripts are derived from 'the Pali scripts', which are, along with
> Nagari, derived in turn from the Gupta script. I'd like to know if
> there is consensus on this, and in particular if 'Pali script(s)' is
> an accepted and accurate designation.

1. No SE Asian script is descended from Devanagari. Extant Indic
scripts are divided into Northern and Southern groups, and D. belongs
to the Northern group of Indic scripts, along with Bengali, Nepalese,
Gujarati, Tibetan and others. But the SE Asian scripts all belong to
the Southern Indian type, in particular they descend from the Grantha
script (the term Grantha is used by some as a synonym for Southern
Indic scripts in general, but others distinguish it from e.g. Kannada
and Telugu).

2. There are hints that there may be a single prototype for all SE
Asian scripts: Hartmann cites Coedes who names a Southern Indic
'makot' or 'khreun'; Lehman points out that

'One clear fact of all these systems is give-away evidence of their
descent. I mean the odd habit of writing the vowel /o/ with the
digraph combining the simplex sign for /e/ (coming BEFORE the initial)
with that for the 'long' /a/ (coming after).'

Note that this /o/ is /aw/ in Thai and others.

3. There is no 'Pali script' as such. Pali is the language of the
Therevada Buddhist canon and has been studied and used over a wide
geographical and temporal range, during which it has been written in
various scripts (mostly Indic, but including Roman).

4. The Thai script is closely related in graphic form to Khmer and
several others: the letters tend to be square in contrast with the
round shapes of Mon, Burmese, Shan, Lue and others. This and other
evidence is consistent with the Thai script having originated in an
adaptation of the Khmer.

David Solnit
Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
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