Language of Harappan Civilization; funerary pottery eviden

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Sun Mar 7 14:00:17 UTC 1999

Dear Dr.Kalyanaraman,
thanks for  your various postings re;Indus language. Perhaps you noticed
that people do not respond (me included). The reason is *methodology.* As
we have discussed before your visit here.

I think, if you want an echo from indologists, a slight change in approach
would be necessary.
I will be very frank now, since I think that you have done much valuable
work in the field and are on the right track in identifying certain archaic

As I said then, the method of comparative linguistics has been worked out
so well over the past 200 years that they can make *predictions*, and in
the case of Mycenean/Cretan (archaic) Greek and Hittite , these predictions
of certain sounds and forms  have been vindicated as soon as these
languages were deciphered...

So I suggest to read up on methodology (2 books by Raimo Anttila and
H.H.Hock would do well)
and especially NOT compare *modern* forms with Sanskrit or Old Tamil...
Since all languages change over time, the modern forms can be completely

For example,  modern  Engl.  five :  German fuenf :  Irish coic:  Bretonic
pemp- : French cinq : Albanian pese : Lithuanina penk- :  Slavic pyat/pet
etc. : Hindi panc
do not look very much related ...

But if you take  the OLDER forms, Gothic fimf, Latin quinque, Oscian pomp-
(Italic), Greek pente, Hittite panta, Tocharian pen~, Sanskrit panca, and
know a few rules of sound change you can see that that all go back to
Indo-European *penkwe

Or to use modern filmi Hindi, "o mere dil, ... muhabbat ..."  Well, dil is
from Persian, Muhabbat from Arabic, but the  older Hindi word hiya  'heart"
is from  Prakrit/Pali  hadaya which is from Sanskrit hrdaya and hrd. And
that belongs to Iranian (Avestan)  zered [zRd] > New Persian dil!, Greek
kher,  IE *k'rd (as in Latin cre-do 'I put my heart' = Skt. zrad -
dhA/dadhAmi....). Again the modern forms (dil, hiya) do not allow you to
guess the relationships ( zrad-!!) and this is made worse by Persian/Arabic
loan words... :  e.g., dil : hiya??

In short, one neds to compare old forms with old forms, and modern forms
only when also giving the older ancestral ones.

In adddtion Skt., Dravidian and Munda have changed their sounds at
different rates...
So for 2000/3000 BCE, one needs a historical grammar of Indo-Aryan,
Dravidian, Munda...

Unless you do that, I fear, people will not accept your "sound-alike"

For example Greek theo-s 'god' = Aztec teo- 'god' or worse, Japanese kau <
kahu and German kaufen 'to buy'. But Greek and Aztec are not related, nor
are German and Japanese. Or, a more complex, equally unlikely example:
Ostyak  (Finno-Ugrian) sing 'sun',  Wintu (Californian Penutian, Amerind)
sin 'sun',  English (IE) sun, Santali (Munda, Austroasiatic) sing 'day',
sing bonga 'sun'. Such comparisons lead nowhere...

And I am afraid, you do similar comparisons in the South Asian field.

At 21:21 +0000 3/4/99, S.Kalyanaraman wrote:

>It has been noted in an earlier posting that the peacock connotes ji_vanji_va
>(Pali), may the life live hereafter.

This is an interesting case which we might discuss later.... It involves
the Munda word for peacock  *mara'k/mara "cryer >  peacock", later Sanskrit
maara (and Pali etc) 'death, God Death', the Munda peacock symbol = death,
and teh Cemetary H peacock pictures on urns with cremated bodies.
This may be a very old concept... But certainty is another matter.

I hope we can have a useful discussion... Yours M. Witzel

Michael Witzel
Wales Professor of Sanskrit

Dept. of Sanskrit & Indian Studies,
Harvard University                    
2 Divinity Avenue                               (Electr. Journ. of Vedic Stud.)
Cambridge MA 02138, USA

phone: 1- 617 - 495 3295 (voice & messages), 496 8570, fax 617 - 496 8571
my direct line (also for messages) :  617- 496 2990
home page:
witzel at

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