Norman Zide

Professor (emeritus) University of Chicago




A Fourth Munda Script (for Kharia)


The middle of the twentieth century was a time when many new scripts for the various Munda languages were devised. India is a multiscriptal area; the feeling of a sizable number of important people in some of the various Munda-speaking communities is that every respectable language should have a script of its own.Some parts of India (e.g. the Chota Nagpur area, the home of several North Munda languages) are more multiscriptal than others. For instance,a small pamphlet on Santali gives five scripts for that language: Devanagari (Hindi), Bengali, Oria, Roman, and their own Ol (Ol Ciki or Ol Cemet) script.The one common script of the area, the Perso-Arabic script used for Urdu, had no attraction for speakers of these languages. Several languages had more than one script devised for them. Most of these new scripts didn't survive - for various reasons. In certain parts of the Munda area (eastern and central India) the speakers of such languages as Korku and Gutob (Gadaba) were satisfied to adopt the dominant script of the area, Devanagari for Korku, Oria for Gutob.The smaller languages didn't invent their own scripts.

I have written previously about the three most interesting - and durable - of the scripts, the Santali Ol, the Ho script of Lako Bodra (both of which are going strong in certain sections of their communities ), and the Sora Sorang Sompeng script which still has some users. Lako Bodra's followers use his script. A large section of the Ho community (including the Catholics) use Devanagari.

Among the interesting features of these scripts are their origins: the invention - in some cases revelation (the script as god-given, revealed after days of preparation, prayer, fasting, etc ). Also note

  1. the cultural packaging and meanings of the script. These scripts were not simple - efficient - tools, but integral parts of new cultural programs, going along with socio-religious programs, even with a newly invented literature, etc. 2 The devising of letter/character/syllable shapes - graphemic system and (this usually owing something to Sanskrit and Sanskrit-derived systems) the arrangement of the characters reflecting phonological system. For the Ol script considerations of learnability also came in. The shapes of the characters can owe something to objects from which the letter shapes were derived. 3. There are - certainly for Lako Bodra's original dictionary -various esoteric associations of the characters, e.g. with body parts, various physical and celestial objects, etc
  2. The Kharia script which I have some but not much information on - I do have the characters with the sounds they represent - seems the least interesting, least ingenious - least original - of these systems, but I know nothing of its contextualization, special uses, etc