Indus signs discussion

Asko Parpola asko.parpola at HELSINKI.FI
Wed Feb 14 05:40:33 EST 2007


Personally I have not been too eager to have a "High Noon on the Harappa 
Lane", as Harry Falk so aptly characterized the duel to which Michael has 
been inviting me. I also think that these controversies will be decided in 
the law court of time, en dikeei khronou. But I had to reply to Michael's 
challenge and to set right his implications ("personal remarks"), although I 
anticipated that this sort of exchange of messages will not be welcomed by 
many subscribers of the Indology list. As Harry has confirmed my impression, 
I intend to withdraw from this discussion as an active participant and to 
remain an attentive listener. My position and theses have been set forth in 
my 1994 book, and I have tried to summarize them -- and to reply to the "no 
script thesis" -- in my 2005 paper, so I refer the prospective discussants 
to these publications for my views. But I very much value the expertise of 
the list members and will be most grateful for an informed discussion of the 
factual issues, if such a discussion gets going.

In the end, I merely want to reply to the question about the third volume of 
the Corpus of Indus seals and Inscriptions, which indeed has been too long 
in the making. It will come out in two parts, and the first part, limited to 
(old and new) material from Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, will appear in 2007; 
the second part, comprizing fairly comprehensively all the remaining 
material, will appear as soon as possible thereafter, tentatively in 2008. 
There is a lot of interesting new material, of course important for the 
study of the Indus script, but nothing radically different from what is 
already known (except for the well-known monumental gate inscription from 
Dholavira).  

Asko Parpola
Institute for Asian and African Studies
POB 59 (Unioninkatu 38 B)
FIN-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland

Quoting Antonio Ferreira-Jardim <antonio.jardim at GMAIL.COM>:

> Dear all,
> 
> Please forgive me for wading into this controversy.
> 
> I find the work of both Professor Witzel and Professor Parpola in this
> field fascinating.
> 
> That said, without sounding trite, I think it would be good if a more
> rigorous methodology for approaching this issue was adopted.
> 
> It seems to me that on the basis of the established materials that
> Professor Parpola's primary hypothesis is that:
> 
> 1) Certain Indus signs exhibit an underlying rebus principle. The
> uncovering of the approximations of the sounds underlying these "rebus
> signs" aids towards the interpretation of the sign seal sequences. The
> fact that "rebus signs" exist shows that some sort of "writing system"
> was intended here.
> 
> Professor Parpola's secondary hypothesis is that:
> 
> 2) The underlying language "unlocking" the "rebus signs" is
> proto-Dravidian.
> 
> On the other hand, Professor Witzel et al do not seem to me to offer a
> counter-hypothesis. Nor should they necessarily be expected to. Part
> of the scientific process involves hypothesis generation and then
> subsequent testing of both materials and methods.
> 
> Rather, they conclude on the basis of sign frequency calculations,
> total sequence length and other statistical calculations that:
> 
> 3) The Indus signs do not encode ideograms, grammar, speech or sounds.
> Therefore they cannot be considered a writing system.
> 
> On this basis, I guess I have four questions then:
> 
> 4) Is this very brief characterisation of both Professors arguments
> and methods accurate?
> 
> 5) Is it methodologically appropriate or rigorous enough to rebut the
> "rebus" hypothesis on statistical or sign sequence length grounds?  If
> so, can other cases be cited?
> 
> 6) Even if the Indus signs do not encode a form of proto-Dravidian
> (ie. the secondary hypothesis), does this weaken the "rebus"
> hypothesis (ie. the primary hypothesis)?
> 
> 7) When will the third volume of seal images appear and are there any
> new finds therein that may affect either hypothesis?
> 
> I do believe that this is a very important field of research but it
> makes no point even discussing the matter unless both sides are
> represented accurately and an attempt is made to engage with the
> issues in a relatively open and informed forum.
> 
> 
> Kind regards,
> 
> Antonio Ferreira-Jardim
> University of Queensland
> 
> On 2/14/07, Harry Falk <falk at zedat.fu-berlin.de> wrote:
> > Dear all,
> > I have the feeling that discussing this topic is again getting very
> > personal and will us lead nowhere. Time will tell if the
> > no-script-theory holds good or if there is anything of value in Asko's
> > work. I for one think that his book "Deciphering the Indus Script"
> from
> > 1994 provides the best reading on how to look at these signs,
> > irrespective of the Dravidian model he advocates personally.
> > Academic results don't arise from instant judgements; we have to keep
> > all arguments in mind, pro and contra, for years, or decades, who
> knows.
> >   One day there will be a result, or not.
> > High-noon on Harrapa lane is not what most of us readers look for on
> > this page.
> > Harry Falk
> >
> >
> >
> > Asko Parpola schrieb:
> > > Dear Michael,
> > >
> > > As I told you, I was asking you to publish a pre-print version of my
> NASATYA
> > > paper in the Electronic Journal of VEDIC Studies, and would still be
> very
> > > happy to get critical comments on that paper.
> > >
> > > I did make my INDUS paper available in the internet, not just a few
> days ago
> > > as you suggest in your previous message, but soon after its
> publication,
> > > about a year ago, at the best-known site on the INDUS Civilization:
> > > www.harappa.com.
> > >
> > > I welcome open discussion and frank criticism, which I appreciate as
> a
> > > fundamental way to advance knowledge. My own research has much
> benefited
> > > even from very negative and polemic reviews, in spite of their being
> painful
> > > reading, as I felt many of them justified.  This concerns especially
> my
> > > early publications on the Indus script in 1969-70 written all too
> self-
> > > assertingly and incautiously. I have tried to make amends by openly
> > > admitting my blunders (in the preface to my 1994 book and on p. 43 of
> my
> > > 2005 paper), abandoning views which I believe have been proven wrong,
> and
> > > seeking for better formulation and additional evidence where I feel I
> am on
> > > the right track.
> > >
> > > You seem suggest to such readers of this list who have not read my
> Indus
> > > paper that it contains more personal remarks than evidence.  I think
> the
> > > only "personal remarks" concerning Farmer, Sproat and Witzel are on
> page 35,
> > > and the only remark that I have made myself here is when I call Dr
> Sproat "a
> > > noted computer linguist" (according to the Collins English
> Dictionary, noted
> > > = distinguished; celebrated; famous).  I refer to Michael Witzel as
> > > "Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University" and
> in
> > > addition quote your own words reported in the "Science" journal,
> saying you
> > > were shocked and very skeptical when first hearing Farmer's
> contention in
> > > 2001.  When Andrew Lawler published his non-committal review of your
> paper
> > > in "Science" in December 2004, he felt the need for a page-long
> > > characterization of the main author Steve Farmer, and all I did was
> to
> > > summarize Lawler in 8 lines, including Farmer's own confession that
> "I
> > > did'nt know anything about this stuff" when he turned his attention
> to India
> > > in 1999.  Quoting Lawler's heading, according to which Farmer "revels
> in
> > > breaking academic taboos" (he quotes other cases besides the Indus)
> is in my
> > > opinion also relevant information.  You have no qualms in referring
> to
> > > Lawler's review on your homepage, where it could be even downloaded
> in 2005
> > > (but no more!) -- why such a cry of "personal remarks" now when I
> just quote
> > > Lawler?
> > >
> > > I do admit calling the title of your paper "provocative" (p. 35), but
> is it
> > > not? "The collapse of the Indus-script thesis: The myth of a
> literate
> > > Harappan Civilization."   I also once call the argumentation
> "vociferous",
> > > but I trust this is borne out by the quotations in that context (p.
> 36-37).
> > > Does this make the paper "rather polemical"?
> > >
> > > I have twice participated in a roundtable discussion on the Indus
> script
> > > where Dr Farmer has been a participant, and as a result of these
> experiences
> > > I did not want to join the Indo-Eurasian list when it was created,
> nor do I
> > > feel tempted to do so now. I much prefer to receive your (and, I
> hope, also
> > > others') detailed comments on the INDOLOGY list, if this is
> acceptable to
> > > the members of this list, and if you find the time give them. I
> really look
> > > forward to getting some feedback also on my own -- largely
> INDOLOGICAL --
> > > work on the Indus script. Subtracting the "personal remarks"
> mentioned
> > > above, my paper still has about ten pages of detailed critique of
> the
> > > Farmer-Sproat-Witzel paper (pp.34-44), while Farmer, Sproat and
> Witzel
> > > bundle me with several other scholars and push all of us aside in one
> empty
> > > phrase, speaking of "the failure of the Dravidian model to generate
> > > verifiable linguistic readings of a single Indus sign" (p. 21 -- see
> my
> > > comments on page 43-44).
> > >
> > > With best regards, Asko
> > >
> > > Asko Parpola
> > > Institute for Asian and African Studies
> > > POB 59 (Unioninkatu 38 B)
> > > FIN-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland
> > >
> > > Quoting Michael Witzel <witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU>:
> > >
> > >> Dear Asko,
> > >>
> > >> Thank you very  much for the Indus-related messages.  Sorry for the
> > >> delay: I'm busy with the new semester, besides deadlines. You said,
> > >> among other items:
> > >>
> > >>> I regret that I did not notify Michael when deciding not send my
> paper
> > >>> to the EJVS, that I missed the chance of getting a "CA"-like
> [Current
> > >>> Anthropology] treatment (he undoubtedly offered this, but I
> somehow
> > >>> missed it during our conversation, which took place in the rush of
> > >>> workshop dispersal)
> > >> Actually, I have suggested the Current Anthropology format at least
> > >> twice, via email. The idea was to discuss your paper, minus the
> > >> personal remarks, and the Farmer-Sproat-Witzel paper in the Current
> > >> Anthropology format -- just focusing on the evidence.
> > >>
> > >> We think that a consensus could be reached quickly using this kind
> of
> > >> format, since we think your paper does not really cover our best
> > >> arguments adequately. As mentioned, you were to get the final word.
> > >>
> > >> We like this point-by-point discussion, with immediate feedback,
> since
> > >> this issue really needs to be resolved, due to its general
> importance
> > >> in Indian history. We think this can be done in an orderly way
> online,
> > >> as we try to do on our list. Are you willing to do it?
> > >>
> > >> All of us, maybe also Iravatham Mahadevan, will of course have a
> chance
> > >> finally to discuss these issues with a very large group of linguists
> at
> > >> the upcoming  Stanford conference on July 11th:
> > >>
> > >> <http://serrano.ai.uiuc.edu/2007Workshop>
> > >>
> > >> But it would even be better, I think, if we could have a broad
> public
> > >> discussion that includes Indologists and others, due to  the
> importance
> > >> of the issue.
> > >>
> > >> Do you accept this proposal?
> > >>
> > >> Best,
> > >> Michael
> > >>
> > >> C/C Indo-Eurasian-Reearch  @ Yahoo
> > >>
> > >> Michael Witzel
> > >> Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University
> > >> 1 Bow Street , 3rd floor, Cambridge MA 02138
> > >> 1-617-495 3295           Fax: 496 8571
> > >> direct line:       496 2990
> > >> <http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~witzel/mwpage.htm>
> > >> <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/compmyth>
> > >> <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Indo-Eurasian_research/>
> > >> < http://users.primushost.com/~india/ejvs/>



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