Page:A history of Sanskrit literature (1900), Macdonell, Arthur Anthony.djvu/29

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Semitic symbols the full Brāhmī alphabet of forty-six letters. This complete alphabet, which was evidently worked out by learned Brahmans on phonetic principles, must have existed by 500 B.C., according to the strong arguments adduced by Professor Bühler. This is the alphabet which is recognised in Pāṇini's great Sanskrit grammar of about the fourth century B.C., and has remained unmodified ever since. It not only represents all the sounds of the Sanskrit language, but is arranged on a thoroughly scientific method, the simple vowels (short and long) coming first, then the diphthongs, and lastly the consonants in uniform groups according to the organs of speech with which they are pronounced. Thus the dental consonants appear together as t, th, d, dh, n and the labials as p, ph, b, bh, m. We Europeans, on the other hand, 2500 years later, and in a scientific age, still employ an alphabet which is not only inadequate to represent all the sounds of our languages, but even preserves the random order in which vowels and consonants are jumbled up as they were in the Greek adaptation of the primitive Semitic arrangement of 3000 years ago.

In the inscriptions of the third century B.C. two types, the Northern and the Southern, may be distinguished in the Brāhmī writing. From the former is descended the group of Northern scripts which gradually prevailed in all the Aryan dialects of India. The most important of them is the Nāgarī (also called Devanāgarī), in which Sanskrit MSS. are usually written, and Sanskrit as well as Marāthī and Hindī books are regularly printed. It is recognisable by the characteristic horizontal line at the top of the letters. The oldest inscription engraved entirely in Nāgarī belongs to the eighth, and the oldest MS. written in it to the eleventh century. From the Southern