Indus signs discussion

Harry Falk falk at ZEDAT.FU-BERLIN.DE
Wed Feb 14 08:23:02 UTC 2007

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: 
> 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:
>> <>
>> 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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