Professor Asko Parpola on the Indus script

Steve Farmer saf at SAFARMER.COM
Mon Apr 27 11:57:27 UTC 2009

  Pankaj Jain wrote:

> I just came across this paper by Professor Asko Parpola, one of the
> leading authorities on Indus Valley Script....

There are no "authorities" on the so-called Indus script, at least  
not if you take "script" in the linguistic sense, since obviously a  
lot of people no longer view it as a script. But scholarship isn't a  
matter of auctoritas, as I see it.

> In this paper, he has argued for language being represented by the  
> Indus
> script, which is also argued by Rao et al in their paper published in
> Science last week

What are those arguments? Do you want to discuss them>

Further on Rao et al.: the linguistic community has been very harsh  
on that paper,and  for good reasons: Rao unambiguously made up data  
at the very center of his argument. I earlier posted the (now much  
expanded) critique by the computational linguist Mark Liberman, at  
the U. of Pennsylvania, who quotes us at length; there may be a  
reason for that:

On Liberman, see:

Now another very well-known computational linguist -- Fernando  
Pereira  -- points out why the statistical arguments of Rao's are  
meaningless. See:

This on Pereira (bio three years old).

Note that Pereira links to our article on Rao et al. that we wrote in  
a few hours right as Rao's article was appearing. Our piece has been  
downloaded over 30,000 times in the last three days, and there are  
links everywhere. There might be a reason for that.

Here's that link, which discusses Rao's invented evidence:

We end with a little argument about whether this was a "script" or  
not, and it doesn't use sophisticated statistics. I wonder, Pankaj,  
what you think about the argument? Here it is:

> The implausibility of the view that the so-called Indus script was  
> true writing is suggested in
> many ways that do not require sophisticated analyses. The simplest  
> argument is the best: the
> sheer brevity of the inscriptions. We possess thousands of  
> inscribed Indus objects on a wide
> range of materials. The average inscription is 4-5 symbols long and  
> the longest, found on a
> highly anomalous piece, carries 17. Before our paper, the lack of  
> real texts was explained away
> by invoking the purely speculative image of lost perishable  
> manuscripts. The speculation was
> spurious: we know of hundreds of literate societies, but not of one  
> that wrote long texts on
> perishable materials but failed to do so as well on durable goods.  
> It is interesting that simple
> arguments like this have been ignored by defenders of the  
> traditional view, who often hold that
> view for reasons that have nothing to do with science, while  
> questions involving the symbols are
> obfuscated with complex statistical arguments that when you read  
> the fine print (and that not in
> the paper itself) turn out to depend on invented data.

Best wishes,
Steve Farmer

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