Historical Development of
Sinhala and Scripts
I am responding to a post sent by LankaWeb in which I was asked to
comment on an article entitled "Historical Development of Sinhala
and Scripts". This article seems to deal only with scripts whereas
what I had been talking about was the development of language. Scripting
is a much later stage in linguistic development and most early languages
did not have scripts and later adopted scripts from whatever source
The article states that Sanskrit was the "first stage".
In fact Sanskrit itself developed out of the Indic stream of the Indo-Iranian
branch of the Indo-European family of languages. It was itself the
heir to a linguistic heritage which had many parallel streams to itself.
The article deals only with the development of scripts in India and
these all developed out of the proto-Brahmi script which itself is
a development coming long after much literary material was composed
in Sanskrit, Maghadi and other languages all maintained in an oral
tradition. The earliest piece of Brahmi writing discovered does not
date prior to the era of the Buddha. By this time many languages stemming
from the Indic stream of the Indo-Iranian family were well established
in India and had many compositions of a religious and literary kind.
Because the diagram attached to the article shows the Tamil script
as having evolved from the original Brahmi writing it might give the
misleading impression that Dravidian languages are also related to
the Indo-Aryan family of languages. Even though the origin of the
Dravidian language has not been established it is quite clear that
Dravidian has no connection with Indo-Aryan and was an independent
linguistic development. Some Tamils even claim that Dravidian is earlier
than Sanskrit and Indo-European and even claim that that the Indus
Valley civilization was Dravidian. A Tamil professor even traced Tamil
writing back to Sumerian writing. This is however the usual Tamil
hyperbole and no scholar of repute accepts these claims.
In fact the earliest Tamil texts are dated to the 1st Century of the
Common Era (CE). The language has changed very little and it is said
that even classics like Kurukkal can be understood by children learning
the language today. The earliest script employed by Tamil was in the
Southern branch of the Brahmi script called the Grantha script. The
modern Tamil script came into vogue only in the 8th Century CE and
was based on Brahmi and Sanskrit. Thus the Tamil alphabet was the
same letter-order as the other Indian languages. But this does not
make it part of the Indo-Aryan family of languages.
I hope the above comments address the principal issues which interest
the LankaWeb writer.