Indian languages

The language of JAINpedia is English, mainly to allow as wide an audience as possible for the website. Concepts and phrases have been translated into English where possible.

However, as the Jain faith first developed in India, several Indian languages have been used over its history to describe various religious and philosophical concepts and cultural practices. As a living religion, Jainism also has several key concepts or customs that use terms from more modern Indian languages.

Indian words used in JAINpedia are transliterated. This means the Indian letters are changed into equivalent letters or combinations of letters in the Latin or Roman alphabet, which is used in English and other Western European languages. Indian words that have become part of the English language have been kept, even if the English meaning is not exactly the same. Examples include 'guru' and 'karma'.

The main Indian languages of historical Jainism are Sanskrit and Prakrit. Sanskrit was the literary language widespread in ancient and medieval Indian civilisations, as Latin was in Europe for centuries after the Roman Empire. Now a dead language, Prakrit was used by ordinary people in ancient and medieval India and various forms were used to write down sacred texts in the Jain faith.

Though a few thousand individuals speak Sanskrit in contemporary India, it is commonly thought of as a sacred language. Expressing religious and philosophical ideas, Sanskrit is used in the rituals of religions that originated in India, such as Jainism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.

When Indian words and terms are used in JAINpedia, the language is usually Sanskrit. If it is not Sanskrit, it is usually identified. The next most commonly used Indian language on the site is Prakrit and then Gujarati and Hindi.

Translation

To reduce any possible intimidation that may arise from encountering a long compound word in an unfamiliar language, Indian words are not used heavily on JAINpedia, except for names and titles.

The first time a Jain or Indian concept is mentioned in an encyclopaedia article in one of the Themes or a manuscript description, JAINpedia frequently gives the word or phrase in the appropriate Indian language. Then, in line with the approach of making JAINpedia easily understood for people who cannot read or speak Indian languages, standard English words are used instead of the Indian word or a literal translation of the original. An example is using ‘temple’ instead of one of the many Jain terms for a place of religious worship.

The rule of thumb is to use the equivalent English word or phrase instead of the Indian word. But using English equivalents for Indian concepts is tricky as there is often no direct equivalent of a concept or one that captures all the nuances and complexities of the original. This is particularly so with words for religious ideas. Examples are the words 'monk' and 'nun'. In English they have strong connotations of Christianity and do not entirely take in the idea of Jain ascetics. However, JAINpedia has come up with two ways to help website visitors get a clear idea of such words and phrases. Firstly, there is the glossary entry that appears when visitors move their cursor over a glossed word or phrase. Secondly, there are hyperlinks to relevant articles on which readers can click. These should make it clear enough that the words as used here should not be understood as direct equivalents of the Christian notions of ‘monk’ and ‘nun’.

If there is no equivalent English word or phrase, or it produces a complicated phrase or one that’s essentially meaningless, then a new phrase or translation is coined. Ending up with a complex name in translation is especially true of philosophical concepts such as anekānta-vāda. This is often translated as the ‘Doctrine of Non-Onesideness’ and the ‘Doctrine of Non-Exclusivity’. These are confusing phrases, particularly when the reader is encountering the concept for the first time. Other common translations are ‘Doctrine of Scepticism’ and ‘Doctrine of Non-Absolutism’. These are more easily understood but we feel they do not fully capture the core idea. Therefore we have translated it as the 'Doctrine of Truth from Many Viewpoints'. Although it's not a literal translation, we believe it gives a better idea of the concept.

Transliteration

JAINpedia does not use Indian scripts for Indian-language words. Instead, we use the standard academic method of transliterating Devanāgarī and other Indian scripts so the resource is open to visitors unfamiliar with Indian writing.

Devanāgarī is a script frequently used to write several Indian languages, including Sanskrit and Prakrit. In Devanāgarī each letter has a horizontal line above it. There are distinctive features in the manuscripts produced by Jains so the name 'Jain Nāgarī' has been given to this style.

Indian scripts are transliterated on JAINpedia using the diacritics that are routinely used in scholarly works. Diacritics are small symbols attached to letters in the Latin alphabet to indicate how they are sounded. Examples you will see in JAINpedia include symbols:

  • over the A and I in the word Devanāgarī
  • over the letters A and S in the word Pārśva
  • under the letter M in Tīrthaṃkara
  • under the letter S in mokṣa.

You can find out how to say letters with diacritics in the JAINpedia pronunciation guide. This demonstrates transliteration and pronunciation using the International Phonetic Alphabet plus examples of commonly found Indian words and similar English sounds.

Contemporary languages

Reconciling different scholarly approaches and contemporary and historical Jainism has led to apparent inconsistencies in how certain transliterated words and phrases are treated.

Modern Indian languages commonly omit the final syllable of certain words in pronunciation. For example in Hindi:

This therefore affects the transliteration into English.

The usage on JAINpedia varies slightly according to the context, so that the:

  • formal, full form appears in discussions of historical or literary concepts and names
  • contemporary, shortened form is used in discussions of contemporary practices.

For example, the article on soḷ satī is written chiefly from a sociological point of view. Here, present-day social and religious practices are described. However, the article on story literature takes a more literary approach. When the concept is discussed in this piece, the more formal term 'soḷa satī' is used.

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