Indus signs discussion

Asko Parpola asko.parpola at HELSINKI.FI
Tue Feb 13 22:10:30 UTC 2007

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: 

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 

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:
> <>
> 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
> <>
> <>
> <>
> <>

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