Re: Indus Valley code is cracked - maybe
- 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):
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 rubbishedWho new that "rubbish" could be used as a verb! :^)
> the Washington University study.
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 âEntropic Evidence for Linguistic Structure in the
Indus Scriptâ, 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 âentropic evidenceâ
that Indus signs have a linguistic order similar to some of the
worldâs 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
This is the first time that such a process has been used to
determine whether unknown symbols are the written script of a
âThe findings provide quantitative evidence suggesting that the
people of the 4,500-year-old Indus civilization may have used
writing to represent linguistic content,â said project leader Rajesh
Rao, a computer scientist at the University of Washington.
âIf this is indeed true,â Rao told Asia Times Online, âthen
deciphering the script would provide us with unique insights into
the lives and culture of the Indus people.â
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 âartificial sets of random and ordered signsâ.
They said that the Rao study proved nothing that is not known - that
is, âthe Indus sign system has some kind of rough structure, which
has been known since the 1920sâ.
âIndus Valley texts are cryptic to extremes, and the script shows
few signs of evolutionary change,â said Farmer and Witzel.
âMost (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 âfrozenâ, unlike
anything seen in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia or China,â they added.
- 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.
E.g., it supposedly quotes us at the end on the Rao business:
> "Indus Valley texts are cryptic to extremes, and the script showsExcuse me? We don't say anything in discussing Rao et al. about
> 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.
"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
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,
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.
- Steve Farmer wrote:
> Actually, the phrase "they rubbished" is pretty common in S. Asian"Rubbish" as a verb is also used quick widely here in the UK.
> English, I think.)
- [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,Yes, indeed. The Shorter OED lists it and claims that it is originally
> Stephen Hodge
Australian & NZ slang.
- 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.
> "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 originallyPlease start 86ing papers instead, as we do here. Various folk
> Australian & NZ slang.
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.
- 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.
- [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."
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...
- [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