Indus signs discussion

George Thompson gthomgt at COMCAST.NET
Wed Feb 14 22:52:43 UTC 2007

Dear Michael,

I hope that you know that my quarrel is not with you.  It is with 
Farmer.  But  I object to what you say here:

 " (So far we have only got personalia. (*)  Enough of that!) "

I just received a post from the IER list, from Farmer, which says this:

"It's clear now from remarks that Asko Parpola has made on the closed
Liverpool Indology List that we're apparently *not* going to get any
meaningful expert discussion of the so-called Indus script issue.

It really isn't any fun to debate an "empty chair," so maybe we should
let this thread be stillborn (or near stillborn: see the final
lines of this post).

I'm just going to ignore the personal remarks that Parpola makes
against me on that List, to which I cannot in any event easily respond.
It takes a formal application and committee action to join that List,
which makes a timely response impossible."


Please feel free to dismiss my criticisms of Farmer as 'personalia,' if 
you wish.  But please take a look at what you and Farmer are doing 
here.  How much of this 'personalia' is coming from Asko Parpola?  As 
far as I can see, Asko has been remarkably restrained, and his 
explanation of his posts to the list, and his references to the Lawler 
article in Science in his paper, are always very  restrained, and, as he 
has shown, there is actually very little personalia in them.

Yet here we have your implication that Asko's response is little more 
than 'personalia', and that implication is now follwed by Farmer's bald 
-- and utterly untrue -- assertion that Asko's postings to this list are 
little more than "the personal remarks that Parpola makes against me."  
What personal remarks?  The insinuation that Asko has responded to your 
invitation to debate with nothing but "persoanl remarks" against Farmer 
is utterly fraudulant!

Asko is dismissed in this venal post as "an empty chair," and Farmer 
claims to take the high road by pretending to ignore "the personal 
remarks that Parpola makes against me on that List."   Of course, while 
pretending to ignore them, he subtly highlights them for his own 
benefit.  It is ever Farmer the victim over there..

Dear List,

Who can blame Asko Parpola or Iravatham Mahadevan or Harry Falk or Frank 
Conlon for not wanting to witness this "High Noon" scenario that Michael 
Witzel assures us is not in playin this debate?

This sort of casuistry is exactly what I have been talking about.  And 
the majority of the list members of that IER list have no idea what is 
going on here.  But perhaps the members of this list now do.

best wishes,

George Thompson

Michael Witzel wrote:

> Dear Harry and All,
> "High Noon" is not what we have proposed.
> Instead, we have proposed a reasoned, point by point discussion of the 
> main theories,  by preference involving the main contenders.          
> (So far we have only got personalia. (*)  Enough of that!)
> Now that Asko has refused to discuss things on our list (IER: 
> <>), we will have 
> to do it here
> -- (*if* he still wants to do it? -- As he suddenly says today: "I 
> intend to withdraw from this discussion as an active participant and 
> to remain an attentive listener"). But we can only do so if the 
> proponents of our (Farmer-Sproat-Witzel) theory, too, are allowed to 
> post here. This is not the case so far as far as S. Farmer and R. 
> Sproat are concerned,  and I do not  want to "channel" them here all 
> the time, a very tedious procedure.
> Also, it would be advisable that Iravatham Mahadevan, whose recent  
> Newspaper summary of his views (in the Hindu) has kicked off the 
> current debate, would be present, but we do not know yet whether he 
> wants to participate or not.
> ----
> These technicalities apart, I do not think that we will have to wait 
> for more years or decades to pass, or until we are all dead, and a new 
> generation will pick up the pieces again. Our theory has been out for 
> more than 2 years now, and people have had time for reflection -- and 
> digestion.
> So far we have only Asko's paper of June 2005, and a short newspaper 
> article by I. Mahadevan of Jan. 2007,  both of which need discussion.  
> (Plus, some rumors about oral discussions here or there).
> In sum, why not take up the main points, pro and contra, in an orderly 
> fashion (**), and discuss them  -- without the usual internet-style 
> veering off at all tangents (as we have seen already in this thread).
> Could one be clearer than this (my INDOLOGY post of February 13, 2007) :
> "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 this can be done in 
> an orderly way online,
> as we try to do on our list."  (**)
> What is wrong, please, with this proposal?
> Scholarship, including the humanities, progresses by critique and 
> counter-critique, which allows bystanders (and proponents!) to see the 
> strong and weak points of the proposed theories, --  not just by 
> endless individual rumination.
> In this sense, I hope we can make some progress here (once all 
> involved can write on this list).
> Michael
> Notes:
> (*) Personalia:
> I do not wish to continue this item ad nauseam,  however,  reference 
> has been made to A. Lawler's inappropriate characterizations of  (and 
> clear inventions about)  Steve Farmer in his Science article of Dec. 
> 2004.  -- I too speak from experience: never trust any journalist! --
> This is a matter of personal honor, but Steve cannot defend himself 
> here. Therefore, I  must copy what he wrote about Lawler's 
> "journalism"  in our list  
> <> :
> " hominem remarks directed at me, drawn out of
> context from a reporter's biographical fabrications about me, which
> contained a number of flagrant misquotations. Parpola has since
> circulated a paper on the Web that contains those same ad hominem
> remarks and misquotations, which he has represented as fact -- despite
> the fact that I told him forcefully in Kyoto [June 2005] that the 
> remarks were not
> mine."
> (**) some IER rules:
> Rule #4:
>> the List's main goal is to encourage discussion of major unsettled
>> issues in premodern studies. As a result, it is critical that all
>> posts focus exclusively on ideas and evidence, and not on the persons
>> proposing those ideas.
>> No posts are allowed that claim anything on the
>> 'authority' of past researchers or speak ex cathedra; nor will
>> messages be posted that include rude comments, 'flames', or ad hominem
>> remarks aimed at other posters. ...
>> Questioning of standard views of history are encouraged, not
>> discouraged, on the List, so long as this questioning is backed by
>> plausible and ultimately verifiable evidence.
> Rule #2:
> Major topics of controversial nature. Topics of special importance
> to the advance of premodern Eurasian studies may from time to time be
> introduced to the List by core List members.  ...
> The moderators will step in as needed to
> ensure that these discussions keep on track and don't get diverted
> (e.g., through gratuitous 'splitting' of threads) in tangental
> directions. The idea is to bring these high-priority discussions to
> resolution in an orderly way.
> See: <>
> On Feb 14, 2007, at 3:23 AM, Harry Falk wrote:
>> 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
>>>> <>
>>>> <>
>>>> <>
>>>> <>
> 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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