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Re: Indus Valley code is cracked - maybe

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  • Benjamin Fleming
    Dear List, Not that we really need more superficial news items on this issue; however, this article was published by ANI of all places (and thus, widely
    Message 1 of 9 , May 1, 2009
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      Dear List,

      Not that we really need more superficial news items on this issue;
      however, this article was published by ANI of all places (and thus,
      widely circulated in Asian news sources - I have seen it appear in
      papers in China, and Thailand, YahooIndia, for example). This report
      came out yesterday, in any case: Indus Valley seals may not be proof
      of advanced linguistic signs.

      Here is the report as it appeared in the English, China National
      News (I could not, in fact, find the article on the ANI home site):
      http://story.chinanationalnews.com/index.php/ct/9/cid/9366300fc9319e9b/id/495803/cs/1/
      tinyurl: http://tinyurl.com/cyckdd

      This is one of the few pieces I have read that appears to take
      seriously the "Farmer and Co" position. There seems to be a kind of
      second wave of consideration of the Rao study, however limited, that
      is more cautious. Though of course, one must never take a news
      report as a substitute, if you want to be truly "informed."

      My favorite line from the article:
      > However, in a quick response dated April 24, Farmer and Co rubbished
      > the Washington University study.

      Who new that "rubbish" could be used as a verb! :^)

      Best,
      BF

      __________
      Indus Valley seals may not be proof of advanced linguistic skills

      Hong Kong, April 30 (ANI): A team of scientists has refuted claims
      made by a research group that the puzzling symbols that were found
      on Indus Valley seals are proof of a written script of a language
      from an ancient civilization, and therefore a literate culture.

      According to a report in Asia Times Online, the claims have been
      challenged by historian Steve Farmer and Harvard University
      Indologist Michael Witzel.

      On April 23, the US-based Science journal published a paper by an
      Indian and Indian-American team of scientists and researchers that
      claimed patterns of symbols found on Indus objects had the
      definitive linguistic pattern found in written languages.

      Such a pattern is different from non-linguistic signs.

      The paper, titled ‘Entropic Evidence for Linguistic Structure in the
      Indus Script’, featured the findings of Indian-born researchers at
      the University of Washington in Seattle and the Tata Institute of
      Fundamental Research in Mumbai.

      It claims computer analysis revealed comparative “entropic evidence”
      that Indus signs have a linguistic order similar to some of the
      world’s oldest languages, such as Sumerian from Mesopotamia,
      classical Tamil and Sanskrit from the Indian sub-continent.

      The researchers said they used computer analysis to compare the
      pattern of Indus symbols with the patterns of known spoken and
      mathematical languages.

      This is the first time that such a process has been used to
      determine whether unknown symbols are the written script of a
      language.

      “The findings provide quantitative evidence suggesting that the
      people of the 4,500-year-old Indus civilization may have used
      writing to represent linguistic content,” said project leader Rajesh
      Rao, a computer scientist at the University of Washington.

      “If this is indeed true,” Rao told Asia Times Online, “then
      deciphering the script would provide us with unique insights into
      the lives and culture of the Indus people.”

      However, in a quick response dated April 24, Farmer and Co rubbished
      the Washington University study.

      Farmer and Co argued that Rao and Co had compared the Indus sign
      sets with “artificial sets of random and ordered signs”.

      They said that the Rao study proved nothing that is not known - that
      is, “the Indus sign system has some kind of rough structure, which
      has been known since the 1920s”.

      “Indus Valley texts are cryptic to extremes, and the script shows
      few signs of evolutionary change,” said Farmer and Witzel.

      “Most (Indus) inscriptions are no more than four or five characters
      long; many contain only two or three characters. Moreover, character
      shapes in mature Harappa appear to be strangely ‘frozen’, unlike
      anything seen in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia or China,” they added.
      (ANI)
    • Steve Farmer
      Dear Benjy, The only thing posting these stories proves is how ridiculous world science reporting has become, predominantly due to Internet, where stories have
      Message 2 of 9 , May 1, 2009
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        Dear Benjy,

        The only thing posting these stories proves is how ridiculous world
        science reporting has become, predominantly due to Internet, where
        stories have to be written and posted quickly, and usually
        thoughtlessly. I haven't read one yet that gets the story right -- even
        when the reporters think they are supporting our position.

        The story you post is favorable to our view, I guess, but it uses
        old quotations that have nothing to do with our current views.

        http://tinyurl.com/cyckdd

        E.g., it supposedly quotes us at the end on the Rao business:

        > "Indus Valley texts are cryptic to extremes, and the script shows
        > few signs of evolutionary change," said Farmer and Witzel. ...
        > Moreover, character shapes in mature Harappa appear to be strangely
        > 'frozen', unlike anything seen in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia or
        > China," they added.

        Excuse me? We don't say anything in discussing Rao et al. about
        "few signs of evolutionary change" or "character shapes in mature
        Harappa appear to be strangely 'frozen'". Actually, this is Parpola's old
        view, which we repeated in a popular article way back in 2000, before
        our own views of the Indus symbols were fully formed. Our views
        since have reversed these views, in fact -- not that they have anything
        to do with the article by Rao et al. -- since we have since discussed
        obvious evidence of evolutionary change in the sign system. I'll discuss
        even more dramatic evidence of that in Kyoto at the end of May.

        In fact, the Indus symbol system was constantly changing, and there
        are large regional differences in sign uses, esp. seen on ritual
        pieces. It all makes lots of sense when you consider the large differences
        in ecology (which affected agricultural rituals) in different Indus
        regions.

        This is precisely why it is important not to depend on these news
        stories. They make things up, steal from each other, never check
        their sources, quote people they've never talked to (including us),
        all sorts of idiocy. Cleaning up the mess takes extraordinary amounts
        of energy -- and why should anyone waste their time doing that?

        Can I suggest that if anyone posts pop science articles on the List in the
        future they do a little detective work on their own work in correcting the
        most obvious of the idiocies?

        The only nice thing about the article is in fact the claim that we
        "rubbished" Rao et al. :^) (Alternately, we "86d" their article or tossed
        it in the "round file" in http://www.safarmer.com/Refutation3.pdf ) But
        the Chinese didn't make that wonderful line up. It came from a story
        published in S. Asia that they stole their story from. (Actually, the
        phrase "they rubbished" is pretty common in S. Asian English, I think.)

        Cheers from Indus Valley Fantasy Land,
        Steve

        PS. On the issue of *real* things from the Indus Valley, stay tuned
        at the end of this month to the reports Michael and I will give from
        Kyoto, where some really stunning new archaeological finds --
        and I mean stunning, no hyperbole -- will be announced. We'll
        report on them here first.
      • Stephen Hodge
        ... Rubbish as a verb is also used quick widely here in the UK. best wishes, Stephen Hodge
        Message 3 of 9 , May 1, 2009
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          Steve Farmer wrote:

          > Actually, the phrase "they rubbished" is pretty common in S. Asian
          > English, I think.)

          "Rubbish" as a verb is also used quick widely here in the UK.

          best wishes,
          Stephen Hodge
        • L.S. Cousins
          [Mod. note. Sorry for the long posting delays. Yahoo was apparently shut down for a long period today. - SF.] Rubbish as a verb is also used quick widely
          Message 4 of 9 , May 2, 2009
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            [Mod. note. Sorry for the long posting delays. Yahoo was apparently
            shut down for a long period today. - SF.]

            "Rubbish" as a verb is also used quick widely here in the UK.

            > best wishes,
            > Stephen Hodge

            Yes, indeed. The Shorter OED lists it and claims that it is originally
            Australian & NZ slang.

            Lance Cousins
          • Steve Farmer
            Stephen Hodge and Lance Cousins offer the following comments on a weekend language-use trivia thread (and long live weekend language trivia threads!). This one
            Message 5 of 9 , May 2, 2009
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              Stephen Hodge and Lance Cousins offer the following comments on
              a weekend language-use trivia thread (and long live weekend
              language trivia threads!). This one was fostered by
              comments Benjy made in respect to a pop news story out of India that
              speaks of Rao's paper being "rubbished" by us.

              The expression isn't used in the US, where we properly "trash" or
              "86" bad papers. And when will you Brits learn to speak proper
              American? Time to stop calling car hoods 'bonnets' and elevators 'lifts'
              and mispelling tires as 'tyres', etc., etc.

              Stephen:

              > "Rubbish" as a verb is also used quick widely here in the UK.

              Lance:

              > Yes, indeed. The Shorter OED lists it and claims that it is originally
              > Australian & NZ slang.

              Please start 86ing papers instead, as we do here. Various folk
              etymologies exist, all as reliable as anything in Yaska or Isidore of Seville.
              Undoubtedly the one that is correct refers to mobster talk in the
              30s, where to 86 an enemy was to send him "80 miles out of town
              and 6 feet under."

              Bedridden with an injury and lots of pain killer: blame this weekend
              Yaskaesque post on the latter.

              Steve
            • Heleanor Feltham
              In Oz we use both rubbish and trash as verbs, but with somewhat different meanings. From the frequently chanted What a load of rubbish! to the common
              Message 6 of 9 , May 2, 2009
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                In Oz we use both 'rubbish' and 'trash' as verbs, but with somewhat different meanings. From the frequently chanted 'What a load of rubbish!' to the common gerund "rubbishing", the term is used extensively in Australia as both noun and verb - I think the nearest US equivalent is 'dissing' rather than 'trashing', as 'rubbishing' always implies sarcastic dismissal while 'trashing' usually involves a physical activity (e.g. 'The party guests totally trashed the living room'). 'He completely rubbished the paper' would mean pouring scorn and contumely on it. 'He trashed the paper' would mean it ended up in the rubbish bin (or trash can). I've never encountered '86' before.

                Heleanor Feltham
              • naivelinguist
                [Mod. note. At least a dozen folk etymologies to choose from -- and probably no way to establish which one is right. - SF.] ... Hi everyone! Wow! As a
                Message 7 of 9 , May 3, 2009
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                  [Mod. note. At least a dozen folk etymologies to choose from -- and
                  probably no way to establish which one is right. - SF.]

                  --- In Indo-Eurasian_research@yahoogroups.com, Steve Farmer <saf@...> wrote:

                  > Please start 86ing papers instead, as we do here. Various folk
                  > etymologies exist, all as reliable as anything in Yaska or Isidore of Seville.
                  > Undoubtedly the one that is correct refers to mobster talk in the
                  > 30s, where to 86 an enemy was to send him "80 miles out of town
                  > and 6 feet under."

                  Hi everyone!

                  Wow! As a non-native speaker of English, I thought it had something to do with the Challenger disaster, or even with Chernobyl! Damned eights and sixes...

                  Best,

                  Naili
                • atman@vedavid.org
                  [Mod. note. Pain gone and meds no longer needed, John Robert. They have been 86d, along with Yaskaesque illusions that I understand the etymology of that term.
                  Message 8 of 9 , May 3, 2009
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                    [Mod. note. Pain gone and meds no longer needed, John Robert. They have
                    been 86d, along with Yaskaesque illusions that I understand the
                    etymology of that term. I've found about 20 equally amusing ones
                    by now. :^) - Steve.]

                    Weekends are also good for being trashed, which I'm quite sure carries
                    different nuances in this than being rubbished, though the final
                    destination of such weekends might be to wind up as trash in the rubbish.

                    Following such weekends, unfortunately, I've heard my friends' reputations
                    trashed - in spite of my efforts to rubbish the trashing. In the end, it
                    was all trashy trash talk - and there's the rub ... ish.

                    Just layin' down some fresh smack and talking trash - enjoy the meds Steve

                    ;-)

                    jr
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