Bīrūnī, Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad, Alberuni's India (v. 1)

(London :  Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co.,  1910.)



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  Page 172  

172                        ALBERUNPS INDIA.

alphabet of fifty letters by an inspiration of God. A
letter is called akshara.

Some people say that originally the number of their
letters was less, and that it increased only by degrees.
This is possible, or I should even say necessary. As for
the Greek alphabet, a certain Asidhas (sic) had formed
sixteen characters to perpetuate science about the time
when the Israelites ruled over Egypt. Thereupon
Kimush (sic) and Agenon (sic) brought them to the
Greeks. By adding four new signs they obtained an
alphabet of twenty letters. Later on, about the time
when Socrates was poisoned, Simonides added four
Page 82. other signs, and so the Athenians at last had a complete
alphabet of twenty-four letters, which happened during
the reign of Artaxerxes, the son of Darius, the son of
Artaxerxes, the son of Cyrus, according to the chrono-
graphers of the West.

The great number of the letters of the Hindu alpha¬
bet is explained, firstly, by the fact that they express
every letter by a separate sign if it is followed by a
vowel or a diphthong or a hamza (visarga), or a small
extension of the sound beyond the measure of the
vowel; and, secondly, by the fact that they have con¬
sonants which are not found together in any other
language, though they may be found scattered through
different languages—sounds of such a nature that our
tongues, not being familiar with them, can scarcely pro¬
nounce them, and that our ears are frequently not able
to distinguish between many a cognate pair of them.

The Hindus write from the left to the right like the
Greeks. They do not write on the basis of a line,
above which the heads of the letters rise whilst their
tails go down below, as in Arabic writing. On the
contrary, their ground-line is above, a straight line
above every single character, and from this line the
letter hangs down and is written under it. Any sign
above the line is nothing but a grammatical mark to
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