The Bar in Devanāgarī etc

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The Bar in Devanāgarī etc

Postby sokuban » Thu 11 Aug 2011 3:09 pm

So I always wondered about the upper bar in scripts like devanāgarī and such. Is it written after the whole word or after each letter?

It always looks so straight, so sometimes I think it's written after the word, but sometimes it looks thicker at the start and end of each letter which makes you think the pen might have been lifted in between.

Or do some people do it either way?
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Re: The Bar in Devanāgarī etc

Postby kiwehtin » Thu 18 Aug 2011 5:34 pm

Historically, it's a bit of a complex story because of the way the headstroke evolved out of an original brushstroke serif at the top of certain letters in Gupta script. (The same kind of short stroke evolved in different ways in southern India and Southeast Asia.) In earlier Devanagari, the headstroke extended over individual letters, any preceding conjuncts, and any preceding or following vowel matras, in other words, whatever together made up an aksara. Later on these headstrokes came to be joined together, without any distinction of word boundary, so they extended across the page. In informal Devanagari styles, where the original headstroke was usually reduced to a short dash at the top left of letters, you would often find a horizontal headline drawn across the page, and the letters then "hung" from it, often with some kind of separator — an interpunct (midline dot), a dash, or short double danda across the headline, similar to our double quotes — separating words. You can see this in examples of Kaithi and early Gujarati script.

Nowadays, since words have come to be separated by spaces {a convention borrowed from Latin script), headstrokes don't extend beyond single words. Sources I see say to draw the headstroke after you have written the body and stem (if any) of a letter or matra, but I suspect this is a limited way of seeing things.

If you look at examples of handwritten Devanagari as people actually write it, you can see that most often the headstroke seems to be added after a whole word is written or, alternatively, after a group of headstroke-bearing letters is written. There is an excellent set of examples put online at Flickr by the Indian Type Foundry as part of a study of how Devanagari is written by hand:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/indiantype ... otostream/

You can see this in differences in stroke weight from beginning to end (especially in one sample written in pencil) and also how, just like the cross-stroke on 't', the stroke often actually begins to the right of the first vertical stroke it is really supposed to begin above. Just like with almost anything else connected with language, there is variation between individuals. You can also see how different people actually draw a given letter in different ways. There are several dozen samples in the ITF Flickr album, and there is a lot to be learned about how the script is actually written just from observing what the different writers do.

Enjoy!
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Re: The Bar in Devanāgarī etc

Postby kiwehtin » Thu 18 Aug 2011 5:37 pm

A short ps:

The link in my response is to the first of a series of Devanagari samples. The images before the one at this URL are all from an accompanying set of samples of Gujarati handwriting.
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Re: The Bar in Devanāgarī etc

Postby sokuban » Sat 20 Aug 2011 8:24 am

Thanks, those were some interesting samples.

You say sources say that the line should be after each letter/matra (sorry I'm not familiar with the terminology for these scripts, and wikipeida only says: "matra, a horizontal line found in Devanagari and other members of the Brahmic family of scripts."), but in about all those examples the line was clearly drawn after each word/group of letters that's supposed to have the line.

I guess doing the stroke after each letter is a more printing way of doing it and not included in the handwriting examples? Or is it a historical practice only that doesn't happen today?

(Having said that, the first image was probably the most cursive; all the images seem to be printed. I guess there is no real tradition of cursive writing for this script.)
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Re: The Bar in Devanāgarī etc

Postby kiwehtin » Sun 21 Aug 2011 12:17 pm

Hi,

I was a bit surprised to read that Wikipedia describes matra as a horizontal line. This probably refers to the headstroke itself, and the only term I've seen for that is shirorekha. If you do a web search for "Devanagari matra", you'll quickly get a provision of links that point to the usual meaning, the various signs for vowels, nasality, and extra consonants. In the French Wikipedia article on Devanagari there is a nice illustration of all these signs, where they are clearly described as matras.

A good place to illustrate the standard stroke orders is here:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Categ ... roke_order

If all the gifs don't display a moving image of the letters being drawn, then you'll have to click on each individually. You can see how in all the letters with a headstroke, the head stroke is drawn last. I think they are taught this way because at this stage people are concentrating on individual letters and not on writing words as a whole. But as you can see in the ITF images, nobody writes the headstroke separately over each individual letter.

As for the non-cursive appearance of Devanagari, the Devanagari we know has always been a formal script variety. Over five centuries ago, people already used informal handwriting varieties where they formed the letters much more loosely, writing the headstroke first, shortening it to a short dash at the top left of the letter and later on even dropping it, joining strokes loosely by "stretching" parts of the body of the letter together or up to the headstroke or by drawing transitional strokes instead of lifting the reed/pen, and making a smooth curve joining the body of the letter to the top of the stem on the right, instead of a sharp, clear join near the middle of the stem.

These cursive, informal ways of writing Devanagari gradually evolved into distinct regional and mercantile scripts across northern India, like Baniauti, Sarrafi, Mahajani, Kayathi and so on, some of which developed into distinct regional scripts like Kaithi, Modi, Sylhet Nagori and Gujarati (reincorporating formal elements from Devanagari along the way.) Meanwhile Devanagari remained the formal, traditionalist writing style that had taken its basic shape about millennium ago. It was the script associated with Hindu religious texts and partly because of this fact, a politico-religious movement in the 19th century campaigned, in most cases successfully, to replace regional scripts with Devanagari as a symbol of "Hindu-ness" and a single Hindu Indian identity. Gujarati is about the only descendant of informal cursive Devanagari that survived this script replacement policy.

So that's basically why Devanagari has no real cursive style: the cursive styles that developed naturally over the centuries were essentially wiped out and replaced by a stilted, formal style. It's as if ordinary cursive Latin script styles were replaced by a book style where everyone was taught to form their letters exactly as they appear in typographic printing, including the unusual printed shapes for g and a, and to make sure to write all the serifs "correctly".
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Re: The Bar in Devanāgarī etc

Postby kiwehtin » Sun 21 Aug 2011 7:44 pm

In the first paragraph above, that should be "a profusion of links", not "...provision...". It seems autocorrect thought it knew better than me and substituted from its more limited vocabulary...!
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Re: The Bar in Devanāgarī etc

Postby sokuban » Tue 23 Aug 2011 3:20 pm

I dunno what either of those words mean anyways so it didn't really make much a difference for me. XD
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