[Indo-Eurasia] **The Farmer-Sproat-Witzel Model

George Thompson gthomgt at COMCAST.NET
Thu Feb 8 03:16:40 UTC 2007

Dear Indologists,

Let me explain why this post from me was sent to the Indology list.  I. 
Mahadevan has recently published an argument against the view of Farmer, 
Sproat & Witzel that the signs of the IVC are not a script.  While I 
myself am not persuaded by Mahadevan's argument, I think that his 
argument should be considered seriously, since, as we alll know,  he is 
a good scholar who has already made significant contributions to 
Indology.  He deserves to be listened to, in his own words.

He has recently been invited by Farmer et al., to debate with them about 
this matter.  Farmer et al. propose to offer him an open medium where 
this matter could be discussed rationally and openly.  But I doubt that 
this proposal should be taken seriously, and I would recommend to 
Mahadevan that he should avoid this poisoned invitation.

The Farmer list is in fact not a typical academic research list.  It is 
a list devoted to one person's research interests, encouraged by friends 
and research money from exploitable ideologues.  Look at at  his 
excessive talk of prize money, offered to those that please him and his 
money-sources.   This is not scholarship.  It is a game of money-gathering.

Look, when I sent my earlier post to this list, I told you all to expect 
that a discussion with Farmer would amount to little more than a brief 
note from some list member, framed by a Farmer moderator's note and 
enclosed by a Farmer refutation. Instead, what we got  from him in this 
case was a tell-tale silence.

In such an environment, only one person wins the debate, and his name is 
always Steve Farmer.

Well, as long as I can speak to you directly, this fraud will not go by 

George Thompson
George Thompson wrote:

> Steve,
> I think that Mahadevan would be a fool to accept your offer.  This is 
> not an open list.  It is YOUR list, and you set all of the ground rules.
> What will happen is that a post from Mahadevan would appear on the 
> list -- at your leisure --  immediately prefaced by a moderator's 
> note, and then a closing refutation from you.  This is no way to carry 
> on an open debate.  You get the first word and the last word -- every 
> time.
> Instead, this debate should be conducted on an unbiased list with a 
> moderator who is not so invested in the issue.
> I agree with you that we are not dealing with a script here, but I do 
> not agree at all with  this policy of always having to have both the 
> first word and the last.
> I can think of two other lists that might serve as an unbiased place 
> where a genuine debate could occur.
> Sincerely,
> George Thompson
> Steve Farmer wrote:
>> Here is a letter that I just wrote to Iravatham Mahadevan, which I am 
>> copying as well to the Indo-Eurasian Research List (750 Members and 
>> hundreds of other daily readers).
>> It contains an invitation to Mahadevan to discuss evidential issues 
>> on the List involving the Indus symbol system, so we can resolve this 
>> issue quickly. The invitation is open to anyone else working 
>> seriously in the field as well.
>> Iravatham says in the newspapers that he wants open scientific 
>> discussion. Well, here is his chance: let's settle this issue once 
>> and for all, on strictly evidential grounds.
>> ************
>> Dear Iravatham,
>> Yesterday I read your recent article in The Hindu. The article 
>> carries the title "Towards a Scientific Study of the Indus Script":
>> http://www.hindu.com/mag/2007/02/04/stories/2007020400260500.htm
>> My initial criticisms of it are found in a post that I made last 
>> night. There is no need for me to repeat the arguments I made then, 
>> which undercut the old assumption -- and it was simply an unexamined 
>> assumption -- that the short symbol chains found in Indus 
>> inscriptions were part of a "writing system." The evidence as a lot 
>> of people
>> see it today, including many Indus researchers, suggests otherwise.
>> You'll find my criticisms from last night here:
>> http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Indo-Eurasian_research/message/6030
>> One part of any genuine "scientific study" is that it acknowledges 
>> all claimed counter-evidence against any proposed theories. This is 
>> especially important when the data you cite for your views come from 
>> studies 30-40 years old, which is true in your case. There is no 
>> substantial claim in your article that you hadn't already made way 
>> back in the 1960s and 1970s. That was a long time ago.
>> Moreover, all of those claims have already been discussed, sometimes 
>> in great detail, in the paper that Michael Witzel, Richard Sproat, 
>> and I published in December 2004 -- which was, of course, widely 
>> publicized at the time via a feature news story in _Science_ magazine.
>> Here is a link to our article again, which I know you've read:
>> http://www.safarmer.com/fsw2.pdf
>> I would like to invite you to come on our List, where you can discuss 
>> these issues publicly and at leisure with me, Michael Witzel, and a 
>> large and diverse group of historical researchers, including script 
>> experts, Indus archaeologists, linguists, etc. We can make sure that 
>> it takes place in an orderly way, point by point.
>> Open discussion of this sort is what science is all about: Science 
>> isn't conducted in newspapers, where critics don't get an opportunity 
>> to question dubious claims that have been repeated whatever the 
>> evidence for decades.
>> These issues will also be taken up at the public Workshop at Stanford 
>> University that we are holding on July 11th, in conjunction with the 
>> Linguistic Society of America (LSA), where these issues will be 
>> discussed before another body of linguists attending the LSA's summer 
>> school. Michael and I will be participants, as will Asko Parpola, 
>> Richard Sproat, and a large cast of linguists and script experts. You 
>> are welcome to attend as well, if you want: we do everything we can 
>> to facilitate open discussion.
>> Here is a link to our preliminary announcement of that Workshop, 
>> which is being funded in part by the National Science Foundation:
>> http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Indo-Eurasian_research/message/6010
>> *************
>> There is certainly a lot to discuss in relation to your studies. 
>> You'll see in our 2004 paper, for example, that the core views you 
>> have been proposing for some 40 years, and that you simply repeat in 
>> your new article, are criticized at length:
>> http://www.safarmer.com/fsw2.pdf
>> -- For example, on page 21, note 5 (see also below), you'll find us 
>> using your own evidence to falsify your claims that sign positions 
>> supposedly link the inscriptions to the Dravidian language family; 
>> Michael also underlined this fatal criticism of your work on the List 
>> earlier today;
>> -- On page 22, note 6, we deal with your anachronistic association of 
>> Indus signs with Tamil traditions from thousands of years after the 
>> demise of Indus civilization, which reflects your well-known 
>> Dravidian ideological views;
>> -- On page 28, n. 14, we discuss your misapplication of Mackay's 
>> formula as a supposed indicator of linguisticity (Sproat, 
>> incidentally, has recently shown that Mackay's formula doesn't even 
>> work for the languages to which Mackay claimed it was applicable; 
>> more on that on July 11th);
>> -- On page p. 36, and again in Figure 7, we discuss the unorthodox 
>> methods you have used to understate the anomalous numbers of 
>> "singleton" signs in Indus inscriptions, which aren't easily 
>> compatible with any linguistic model;
>> -- In Figure 12, striking examples are given of the way that you 
>> overstandardize inscriptions, which help makes mythological symbols 
>> look more like "writing";
>> -- And so on.
>> ***************
>> There are so many problems in your recent article, deriving above all 
>> from the very old studies on which you depend, that it is impossible 
>> to deal with all of them.
>> Let me just emphasize four points:
>> 1. Most importantly, perhaps, no linguist who has followed the field 
>> could possibly endorse your central view, based on very old studies, 
>> that the fact that Indus symbols have some positional order to them 
>> -- i.e., with some signs showing up more often than others at the 
>> front, back, or middle of symbol chains -- is evidence  that Indus 
>> inscriptions contain "writing."
>> That argument may have convinced people many decades ago, but today 
>> it is well-known that positional regularities in the distribution of 
>> symbols show up in virtually EVERY class of symbol systems known -- 
>> linguistic and nonlinguistic alike. You find such regularity in the 
>> order of symbols in mathematical equations, boy-scout badges, army 
>> medals, highway signs (see the amusing examples in the PDF below!), 
>> alchemical signs, god signs in Near Eastern kudurrus and seals, 
>> Mauryan symbols, Mongolian tamgas, horoscopal signs, heraldic symbols 
>> -- and everyplace else that symbols show up.
>> In this two-page PDF you'll find a reductio ad absurdum of old claims 
>> that order in Indus inscriptions implies either that they were 
>> linguistic or that they encoded some Dravidian language:
>> "What do highway signs have in common with the 'Dravidian' model?":
>> http://www.safarmer.com/indus/signs.pdf
>> (note there are two pages here; the punchline is on the second page).
>> How do you deal with this problem? You can't just pretend that the 
>> problem doesn't exist, which is all you've done since we published 
>> our paper. I showed you these data way back in 2003.
>> 2. As noted in my post last night, and as I mention again above, your 
>> key claim about the inscriptions supposedly encoding some early 
>> Dravidian language is easily falsified -- ironically even on your own 
>> data. You write in your article, based again on studies made way back 
>> in the 1960s, when the word "computer" still had some magic 
>> associated with it:
>>> Computer analysis has shown that the Indus texts possess only 
>>> suffixes, not prefixes or infixes. This indicates that the Harappan 
>>> language was of the suffixing type (like Dravidian), not of the 
>>> prefixing type (like Indo-Aryan).
>> This claim, which has been endlessly repeated, is totally unsupported 
>> even by the raw (if not interpreted) data found in those old studies. 
>> In fact, as we point out in footnote 5 of our 2004 paper, data from 
>> your own concordance unambiguously falsifies your own core claim.
>> Any pretence to conducting a "scientific study" that ignores evidence 
>> of this sort can't be taken seriously:
>>> ...the claim is repeated often that positional regularities in the 
>>> symbols prove that the ‘script’ encoded an exclusively suffixing 
>>> language (cf., e.g., Knorozov 1968, 1970; Parpola, Koskenniemi, 
>>> Parpola, and Aalto 1969: 20-1; Fairservis 1992; Mahadevan 1986; 
>>> Possehl 1996: 164; 2002a: 136) — which not coincidentally would rule 
>>> out early Indo-Aryan or Munda languages, since these included 
>>> prefixing and (in the case of Munda) extensive infixing as well. 
>>> However, even using the Dravidian proponents’ own data (e.g., 
>>> Mahadevan 1977: Table 1, 717-23), it is easy to show that positional 
>>> regularities of single Indus signs (and the same is true of sign 
>>> clusters) are just as common in the middle and at the supposed start 
>>> (or righthand side) of Indus inscriptions as at their supposed end, 
>>> which if we accepted this whole line of reasoning could be claimed 
>>> as evidence in the system of extensive infixing and prefixing — 
>>> ironically ruling out Dravidian as a linguistic substrate.
>> Your response? You can't just ignore this evidence, unless you are 
>> satisfied with just talking to mass audiences via newspaper articles. 
>> But that isn't "science," which deals with evidence, 
>> counter-evidence, etc.
>> Your other claims about the Indus symbols supposedly encoding 
>> Dravidian are equally out of date, and have been for a long time. You 
>> point, e.g., to the "survival" of Dravidian languages like Brahui in 
>> North India, but most historical linguists today (and Michael can 
>> comment better than I can on the evidence here) view Brahui as a 
>> medieval arrival in North India, not an ancient "survival" of an 
>> older distribution in the north of Dravidian languages.
>> You also point to the "presence of Dravidian loan words in the Rig 
>> Veda." Unfortunately, it has been known for at least a decade that 
>> such loan words are NOT found in early strata of the text, which 
>> argues again strongly *against* an early Dravidian presence in NW 
>> historical India. This is again  explicitly discussed in our paper 
>> (p. 45) and in Witzel 1999, 2003.
>> Any scientific approach to the Indus inscriptions obviously can't be 
>> based on the kind of evidence you cite, which has been out of date 
>> for decades.
>> 3. There are lots of other types of evidence that you just ignore. 
>> The most obvious has to do with the absurdly short length of Indus 
>> inscriptions, which in your concordance average no more than 4.6 
>> symbols in length -- no matter what kinds of materials they were 
>> placed on. That certainly isn't like any writing system encountered 
>> in any other society, in any part of the world.
>> Hence our $10,000 challenge to anyone who comes up with a 
>> (non-existent) well-provenanced "long" Indus inscription, even one a 
>> scant 50 symbols long! For details on our prize, see:
>> http://www.safarmer.com/indus/prize.html
>> We wouldn't make that challenge, quite obviously, unless the data 
>> indicated that no such inscriptions ever existed. :^)
>> As we note in our paper, the standard way of getting around the 
>> problem of the absurd brevity of the inscriptions -- invented in 
>> desperation in the 1920s by Hunter and Marshall, and unquestioned 
>> until 2001 -- was to claim that all supposedly long Indus texts were 
>> written on perishable writing materials. But a close look at this 
>> thesis (for details, again see our paper, pp. 22-26), shows that the 
>> claim is quite impossible.
>> There are several ways to  demonstrate that (for details, see our 
>> paper, pp. 22-26), but the simplest is to point to a powerful piece 
>> of cross-cultural evidence, stated a bit tongue-in-cheek (although 
>> the argument is dead serious) in our "one-sentence refutation of the 
>> Indus-script myth":
>> http://www.safarmer.com/indus/simpleproof.html
>> The punchline:
>>> No ancient literate civilizations are known — not even those that 
>>> wrote extensively on perishable materials — that did not also leave 
>>> long texts behind on durable materials.
>> NB: there are no counterexamples, anywhere in the world.
>> How do you deal with this problem? The Harappans certainly weren't 
>> shy about public displays of their symbols: they put them on well 
>> over a dozen different types of materials, and even apparently hung 
>> them on their city walls, as in the case of the so-called signboard 
>> at Dholavira. All symbol chains -- and we now have thousands of them 
>> -- are uniformly short. That is not like any "writing system" 
>> anywhere in the world.
>> You can't just ignore evidence like this: you have to deal with it, 
>> if you want to promote "scientific study" of the Indus symbols.
>> 4. Finally, I'd like to comment on something you say about your views 
>> supposedly being free of any ideology, which is contradicted by a lot 
>> of evidence.
>> You write:
>>> I should like to lay particular emphasis on the fact that the IRC 
>>> [your new "Indus Research Centre"] is a forum for scientific 
>>> investigations without any ideological bias. This does not of course 
>>> mean that the centre will not undertake research into the linguistic 
>>> aspects of the Indus Script. After all, linguistic decipherment of 
>>> the Indus Script is the ultimate objective of research. What we mean 
>>> when we say there should be no ideological bias is that we should 
>>> not start with preconceived notions or presuppositions and tailor 
>>> our research to fit into ideology-driven linguistic models.
>> The preconceived notion arises from the claim that these  short 
>> symbol chains are supposedly markers of a literate society. You can 
>> throw in the word "linguistic" as many times as you want, but using 
>> the word doesn't mean that you've offered any evidence for your views 
>> or answered all the quite explicit evidence cited against it.
>> Also ideological is the claim you keep making that the "language of 
>> the Indus inscriptions" is Dravidian. You've pushed that idea for
>> decades in the face of all counter-evidence, as noted above.
>> There is clearly a nationalistic component at work here. Most 
>> tellingly, last year, when that supposed Indus axehead of *extremely* 
>> dubious authenticity showed up in Tamil Nadu, conveniently carrying a 
>> sign that you (alone) claim stands for the Tamil god Murukan (!), you 
>> quickly publicized it, despite all the oddities in the piece. You 
>> again used The Hindu as your outlet, rather than a scholarly forum 
>> where the authenticity of the piece would be questioned -- as it was 
>> questioned, sharply, on this List.
>> To date, not even one high-resolution photo of that inscription has 
>> been released, I suspect for quite obvious reasons. It wouldn't take 
>> much to decide on the authenticity or inauthenticity of this 
>> particular artifact.
>> Why at a minimum hasn't a high-resolution photo of it been released? 
>> Can you provide us with one?
>> *****************
>> In any event, there is in fact a lot to talk about. If you want a 
>> real discussion of the evidence, point-by-point, let's do it on the 
>> List in front of everyone. I promise you we could do it in an orderly 
>> way and quickly get to the bottom of all this.
>> My best wishes,
>> Steve
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