linguistics (was: Tamil words in English)

Lars Martin Fosse lmfosse at ONLINE.NO
Sat Feb 21 10:58:25 UTC 1998

Dear Prof. Sharma,

I am sorry this answer comes a bit late, but I hope you don't mind getting
an answer nevertheless:

>Once more, this is significant, and this time I am quoting from
>Websters Dictionary :
>Humainities - Those subjects, as philosophy, literature, and the fine
>arts, that are concerned with human beings and culture
>Social Science - gen held to include sociology, psychology,
>anthropology, economics, political science and history.

As it happens, there are several definitions of the "Humanities". I have
found another one in another dictionary. The main point is this: AFAIK, at
all Western universities the subjects belonging to he Faculties of Arts are
collectively referred to as the "humanities". Since history and Indology
both belong to the faculties of arts, and not to the faculties of social
sciences or natural sciences, they belong to the humanities.

>Furthermore, and curiously enough, does biology, management, engg.
>etc prepare a person to contribute to 'humanities' as 'math-physics'
>does not ?

I think think that math could contribute to the humanities, and does so. I
used statistics in my thesis, and I know that others are using statistics
treating certain linguistic problems. But the scope for math is limited. Not
all problems that the humanities deal with are quantifiable and therefore
have to be dealt with through other methods.

> If Indology is just 'Humanities', history and  chronology is not in
>its domain and the debate is moot in this forum. This is
>operationally not the case. This is a severe contradiction.

This is counterfactual. Indologists and historians have dealt with various
kinds of chronological problems for many, many years. Therefore, chronology
is part of their agenda.

> If indeed Indology ligitimately involves historical science (which
>it does) then it involves the scientific method as well. This is a
>legitimate domain for scientists to comment; the nature of the
>evidence , the underlying assumptions and  on any empirical data.
>Models have to stand up to falsifying data as well.

There is no reason why scientists shouldn't comment. But evidence from
natural science must be treated like other evidence. If you are dealing with
text history and the relative chronology of texts, there is little that
science can contribute except the use of statistics in connection with
certain kinds of problems. The use of astronomical evidence is far more
complicated than many seem to think.

>  I realize that Indology has been dominated by historical linguists
>who have constructed chronologies on this basis, which many deem
>absolute (ie onset of Aryan 'invasion' ~1500 BC etc). These have to
>be consistent with the new evidence and the old unexamined evidence
>to and this procees in incomplete.

I don't think linguists deem chronologies absolute. They try to create
relative chronologies for various events on the basis of probabilities (here
not used in the strict statistical sense). But the debate between linguists
do not show a consistent set of ideas supported by all. There is room for

> I think that AIT is indeed sputtering (aryans 'invaded' India  in
>1500 BC); Aryan migrations picture needs more construction. I have no
>quibble with Aryans migration in/out or neither/both. How does this
>ancient major river and the settlements factor in ? There is a
>complete silence on this matter  and is indicative of the answer
>not being known (as yet). The lack of discussion is however
>interesting. And models being able to withstand Popperian
>falsification  are more believeable.

There is a problem with Popperian falsification here, which pertains to all
kinds of scholarship dealing with the past. We cannot make experiments with
the past, we cannot change things in the past. Therefore, we have to base
our arguments on interpretation of available data. The interpretation can
sometimes be definitely falsified if new data turn up, but very often the
data allow for several possible configurations that cannot be definitely
falsified or proved. Which is why people in the humanities sometimes tend to
walk around in circles.

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse Lars Martin Fosse
Haugerudvn. 76, Leil. 114,
0674 Oslo

Tel: +47 22 32 12 19
Fax: +47 22 32 12 19
Email: lmfosse at
Mobile phone: 90 91 91 45

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