The British Library’s Asian and African studies blog is always worth a look; a couple of years ago I posted about a unique Judaeo-Urdu manuscript, and now Bathrobe sends me a link to Naskhi-divani: a little-recognized sultanate script:

The art of the book in sultanate India, particularly of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, is notable for its eclecticism. Because of the sultanates’ evolving political terrain, the search for a coherent narrative of manuscript patronage and production is a challenge. In comparison to painting, one relatively overlooked feature of sultanate books is calligraphy. Here, we examine a script found in sultanate manuscripts that scholars have started to call naskhī-dīvānī.

Appearing in the late fourteenth century, two styles of writing seldom seen outside of India are bihārī and naskhī-dīvānī. Bihārī is characterized by thick horizontal strokes specifically in terminating letters and thin verticals; diacritical markers are horizontal, rather than at a slant. […] Even less understood than bihārī is naskhī-dīvānī. Naskhī-dīvānī, as the name implies, is a combination of a standard naskh and a dīvānī script often used for chancellery documents.

There are gorgeous illustrations. Bathrobe says the BLAAS blog “actually has quite a few interesting articles… Going from here, I found this … digital copy of the Heike Monogatari printed on the Japanese island of Amakusa by Jesuit missionaries using a movable-type printing press in late 1592/early 1593.”

One of the most important items in the British Library’s Japanese collections is a small, rather ordinary-looking, leather-bound volume, generally known as Feiqe monogatari (BL shelfmark Or.59.aa.1). Despite its appearance, it is, in fact, a remarkable work in a number of ways. Firstly, it was one of the earliest books printed in Japan using movable type rather than the traditional woodblocks, secondly, it is the first non-religious text printed in colloquial Japanese transcribed into the Roman alphabet, offering valuable insights into the phonology of the Japanese language in the 16th century, and thirdly, it is the world’s only extant copy.

Thanks, Bathrobe!


  1. Bathrobe says

    The Amakusa edition of the Tale of Heike should be of interest of all aficionados of Japanese. Despite the Portuguese spelling it is veryrecognisable as Japanese.

  2. Seeing the “Feiqe” spelling gave me a little thrill!

  3. Bathrobe says

    One aspect of the Amakusa version that I found of particular interest was word division. Since Japanese is a language in which word division is indeterminate (to say the least), the decisions adopted at this time of early European contact offer a new perspective on this issue.

  4. David Marjanović says

    What is ǒ, and why is there a word beginning with vy-?

  5. Rodger C says

    David: Insofar as I know any Japanese, the breve seems to be a macron. vy-, I suppose, renders /uy/-.

  6. David Marjanović says

    the breve seems to be a macron

    But there’s plenty of ô in the text, too.

  7. Maybe something to do with pitch accent?

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