Tamil-Brahmi — 400 BC?, India

Early Tamil-Brahmi "ma"

The Brahmi script had two major branches: a northern branch (frequently called Ashokan Brahmi, after the king who put up the Edicts of Ashoka) and a southern (frequenly called Tamil-Brahmi).  So far, all the Brahmi-derived scripts that I have described were from the Northern branch, with the possible exception of Oriya.

Tamil-Brahmi is a bit different from Ashokan Brahmi.  It has characters for sounds not found in Ashokan Brahmi; it went through three different phases trying to deal with terminal consonants.

The first attempt was alphabetic: the inherent vowel didn’t exist, and if you wanted a vowel, you needed to put a diacritic.  The second thing they tried was to make the reader figure out if there was a vowel there or not.  The third thing — and what they stuck with — was to use a pulli, which is just a different name for virama.

There is evidence that literacy in Tamil-Brahmi was higher than Ashokan  Brahmi.  A strong bardic/poetic tradition, local rule (in the local language, instead of a foreign elite’s language imposed upon them), and extensive seafaring trade from their long coastline all contributed to making literacy more common.

Links: Wikipedia Tamil-Brahmi, Wikipedia Tamil history, Ponniyin Selvan I, II, and III, Saigan

Update: Ooops, I said that all the previous posts were Southern Brahmi scripts, while I meant to say Northern.  Fixed.

Update2: Found out more about how Tamil-Brahmi handled terminal consonants.

About ducky

I'm a computer programmer professionally, currently working on mapping applications. I have been interested non-professionally for a long time in the effect on society on advances in communications technology -- things like writing, vowels, spaces between words, paper, etc.
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