சிந்துக் குறியீடுகள் படிப்பது: சவால்களும், கொஞ்சமாகக் கிடைக்கும் விடையும்!

சிந்துக் குறியீடுகள் படிப்பது: சவால்களும், கொஞ்சமாகக் கிடைக்கும் விடையும்!

Deciphering the Indus script: challenges and some headway

http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article397517.ece?homepage=true

Tablets depicting Indus Valley scripts. File photo: M. Karunakaran

The Hindu Tablets depicting Indus Valley scripts. File photo: M. Karunakaran
Dr. Asko Parpola, the Indologist from Finland, is Professor Emeritus of Indology, Institute of World Cultures, University of Helsinki, and one of the leading authorities on the Indus Civilisation and its script. On the basis of sustained work on the Indus script, he has concluded that the script — which is yet to be deciphered — encodes a Dravidian language. As a Sanskritist, his fields of specialisation include the Sama Veda and Vedic rituals. Excerpts from replies that Professor Parpola gave over e-mail to a set of questions sent to him by T.S. Subramanian in the context of his being chosen for the Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award, 2009. The award, comprising Rs. 10 lakh and a citation, will be presented during the World Classical Tamil Conference to be held in Coimbatore from June 23 to 27, 2010. The award announcement said Professor Parpola was chosen for his work on the Dravidian hypothesis in interpreting the Indus script because the Dravidian, as described by him, was close to old Tamil. The award, administered by the Central Institute of Classical Tamil, Chennai, was instituted out of a donation of Rs. 1 crore made by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi:

You are a Vedic scholar. What brought you to the field of the Indus script?

As a university student of Sanskrit and ancient Greek in the early 1960s, I read John Chadwick’s fascinating book on how the Mycenaean ‘Linear B’ script of Bronze Age Greece was deciphered [The Decipherment of Linear B, Cambridge University Press, 1958]. Michael Ventris succeeded in doing this without the aid of any bilingual texts, which in most cases have opened up forgotten scripts. Then my childhood friend Seppo Koskenniemi, who worked for IBM, offered his help if I wanted to use the computer for some task in my field. As statistics and various indexes have been important in successful decipherments, we took up this challenging problem of Indian antiquity.

There is some criticism that the Indus script is not a writing system.

I do not agree [with that]. All those features of the Indus script which have been mentioned as proof for its not being a writing system, characterise also the Egyptian hieroglyphic script during its first 600 years of existence. For detailed counterarguments, see my papers at the website http://www.harappa.com.

If it is a writing system, what reasons do you adduce for it?

The script is highly standardised; the signs are as a rule written in regular lines; there are hundreds of sign sequences which recur in the same order, often at many different sites; the preserved texts are mostly seal stones, and seals in other cultures usually have writing recording the name or title of the seal owner; and the Indus people were acquainted with cuneiform writing through their trade contacts with Mesopotamia.

Indus signs are generally available on seals and tablets. It was presumed that the seals and tablets had short Indus texts because they were meant for trade and commerce. However, a 3-metre long inscription on wood inlaid with stone crystals was found at Dholavira in Gujarat. It was also presumed that Indus inscriptions would not be available in stone. Again, in Dholavira, a large slab with three big Indus signs was found recently. The Archaeological Survey of India’s website says the Dholavira site “enjoys the unique distinction of yielding an inscription made up of ten large-sized signs of the Indus script and, not less in importance, is the other find of a large slab engraved with three large signs.” What, in your assessment, is the significance of Indus signs engraved on a large stone slab?

These finds show that the Indus script was used in monumental inscriptions too. It is natural to expect writing to be used in such contexts as well.

What are the impediments to deciphering the Indus script? Is the short nature of the texts a big impediment? If we get a text with about 70 signs, will we able to decipher the script?

The main impediment is the absence of such a key as the Rosetta stone, which contained the same text in different scripts and languages. Nor is there any closely similar known script of the same origin which could give clues to the sound values of the Indus signs. And not only is the script unknown, there is much controversy also about its type (alphabetic, syllabic, logo-syllabic) and about the language underlying it. Apart from the likelihood that the Greater Indus Valley was probably called Meluhha in Sumerian, there is no historical information concerning the Indus Civilisation: it was the names and genealogies of the Persian kings (known from Greek historians and the Bible) which opened up the cuneiform script. The texts are so short that they hardly contain complete sentences, probably only noun phrases. But a text some 70 signs long would not lead to a dramatic decipherment of the script, although it can be expected to throw some new light on the structure of the underlying language.

Can you explain what you mean by the “Dravidian solution of the Indus enigma?”

I mean by it obtaining certainty that the language underlying the Indus script in South Asia belongs to the Dravidian language family. For this, it is not necessary to decipher the entire script (which in any case is impossible with the present materials) but we need a sufficient number of tightly cross-checked sign interpretations.

It is 16 years since you published Deciphering the Indus Script. What is the progress you have made since then in deciphering it?

Some progress has been made, and I shall talk about it at the Classical Tamil Conference in June. Progress is very difficult, however, also because our knowledge of Proto-Dravidian vocabulary and especially phraseology is so incomplete. This knowledge is critical for reliable readings, and here Old Tamil offers precious but unfortunately limited material.

Some Indian scholars feel that the Indus Civilisation is Aryan and connected with the Rig Veda. You are a Vedic scholar and you specialise in the Indus script too. So what is your reaction to this standpoint?

Rigvedic hymns often speak of horses and horse-drawn chariots, and the horse sacrifice, ashvamedha, is among the most prestigious Vedic rites. The only wild equid native to the Indian subcontinent is the wild ass, which is known from the bone finds of the Indus Civilisation and depicted (though rarely) in its art and script. The domesticated horse is absent from South Asia until the second millennium BCE. Finds from Pirak and Swat from 1600 BCE show it was introduced from Central Asia after the Indus Civilisation. The earliest archaeological finds of horse-drawn chariot come from graves dated to around 2000 BCE in the Eurasian steppes, the natural habitat of the horse. There are also ancient Aryan loanwords in Finno-Ugric languages spoken in northeastern Europe (for example, the word for ‘hundred’ in my own language Finnish is sata). Some of these Aryan loanwords represent a more archaic stage of development (that is, are phonetically closer to the older Proto-Indo-European language) than Rigvedic Sanskrit. It is very likely that these words came to Finno-Ugric languages from Proto-Aryan spoken in the Volga steppes.

You have published two volumes of Indus Seals and Inscriptions along with J.P. Joshi. Will there be a third volume?

Shri J. P. Joshi was the co-editor of the first volume of the Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions, S. G. M. Shah of the second. Volume 3, Part 1 is in the press and will come out by June 2010.

Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions dating back to 1st century BCE to third century CE offer the fundamental evidence that Tamil is a classical language. Would you like to comment on the threat posed to these Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions in the hills in and around Madurai by the granite-quarrying lobby?

The Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions are important monuments, which should be adequately protected. The possibility of new finds must also not be forgotten. In my own country, Finland, the government has been much concerned about the damage caused to scenery by sand-quarrying and has passed restrictive laws.

குறிச்சொற்கள்: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 பதில்கள் to “சிந்துக் குறியீடுகள் படிப்பது: சவால்களும், கொஞ்சமாகக் கிடைக்கும் விடையும்!”

  1. vedaprakash Says:

    The Indus cannot be Dravidian given that the Aryan influx was small and most people there were ancestors of the present day inhabitants of the region

    1.Baluchistan cannot be the originating point of Dravidian languages
    Brahui spread to Pakistan more recently and is spoken by very small groups of people

    2.no north-west to south migrations took place

    3.conflict with skeletal biology

    4.must take into account language transformations in NW india and pakistan

    5.Does not attempt a basic reconcilation of populations

    6.based on obsolte notions of Aryan and dravidian:

    7.Dravidian is a languages label

    8.Migrations from central asia could have been small

    9.Contnuity between harappan and post-harappan cultures of pakistan

    10.Contacts with Sumeria and mesoptamia

    11.Siva is present in the Hindu trinity too

    12.Names of people – Dasas aren’t Dravidian

    13.objects in the Indus do not resemble Dravidian or Aryan culture at all

    from: Sujay Rao Mandavilli

  2. vedaprakash Says:

    I for one simply cannot wait for the breakthrough which I’m sure will manifest itself one day in the near future. As a political economist, I find the Indus civ absolutely fascinating and feel that it could offer precious insights into what may be a particularly unique model of social organisation for the period. I do have one major fear though: that we are likely to see the civilization hijacked by nationalists and/or become yet another tool for manipulative hindutva “scholars” and politicians. Dr.Parpola’s assertions on the Dravidian hypothesis, though a soundly reasoned academic theory, is likely to be hotly debated, attacked and twisted by individuals with no in-depth knowledge of linguistics or indeed the Indus Valley Civ itself.

    from: STUK

  3. vedaprakash Says:

    First of all, it is unfortunate that he has been chosen for the political award.

    The Sangam literature, dated to c.500/300 BCE to first centuries, does not have any slightest allusion to north-west India, where the so-called IVC was found.

    Its geographical description is restricted to the ancient Tamizhagam. How, then the composers of the poetry with ntheir lanuage could be located at the IVC area?

    Had the Dravidian speaking people been there, say at peak period 2260-1950 BCE, then, such literature must have been evolved there itself.

    Then, where is the question of waiting for 2000 years to develop a Tamil Brahmi script down south in India, and have an undeciphered pictograms at IVC area, the “land of dravidians”?

    Sangam literature too talks about horses! Then were they actually domesticated horses or simply, the poets were singing with imagination?

  4. vedaprakash Says:

    The Sangam literature, dated to c.500/300 BCE to first centuries, does not have any slightest allusion to north-west India, where the so-called IVC was found.

    Its geographical description is restricted to the ancient Tamizhagam. How, then the composers of the poetry with their lanuage could be located at the IVC area?

    Had the Dravidian speaking people been there, say at peak period 2260-1950 BCE, then, such literature must have been evolved there itself.

    Then, where is the question of waiting for 2000 years to develop a Tamil Brahmi script down south in India, and have an undeciphered pictograms at IVC area, the “land of dravidians”?

    Sangam literature too talks about horses! Then were they actually domesticated horses or simply, the poets were singing with imagination?
    from: Vedaprakash

    Posted on: Apr 16, 2010 at 11:01 IST

    http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article397517.ece?homepage=true

  5. Sujay Rao Mandavilli Says:

    Even if a small linguistic component is added – rebus principle or punning (Witzel Kyoto, 2009 or Sproat in his presentations) or acriphony is added, it qualifies for full literacy. I assume some ’sound coding’ would have been useful to them atleast on some occasions.. the longest seal is 17 characters non-analomous and 26 characters analomous. I have never said that what Farmer is saying is necessarily fully wrong, but even Parpola has been reading them mostly as logograms with a linguistic component. So how much of what Farmer is saying is new apart from the fact that he popularized the idea? These men have been saying almost the same thing and fighting with each other?Till 2900 BC Egypt and Mesopotamia were considered proto-literate even if their texts are shorter(not non-literate!!!!)- even if there is small difference between the 2 maybe the Indus system was more expressive than Egyptian proto-literate- because conditional entropy, order of signs, combinations probably did play a major role in meaning in the Indus script (Korvink). ????Terminologies pertaining to literacy cannot be changed unless all scholars agree – and any demands to change terminology must be met with suspicion, naturally. Only a very small portion of the IVC has been excavated, you know, 5% maybe! Even Farmer agrees “Judging from modern examples and research in the linguistic history of South Asia, the Indus Valley was probably intensely multi linguistic throughout its history. This may have provided the Indus emblem system with an advantage over ordinary writing as a means of providing the civilization with social cohesion. The fact that the majority of inscriptions rely on a surprisingly small core of symbols suggests that the meaning of Indus signs could have potentially been known by almost or all (ALL!!) of the population, resulting in a pervasive quasiliteracy far beyond that achieved in Mesopotamia or Egypt.” No other civlization mass produced writing or (”writing”!!). Where else did they have public signboards then apart from the Indus?
    I can instead cite Farmer and declare it the most literate civilization on erth. And he and I could be saying the same thing. I say such terms must be avoided. if they had learned how to use the rebus principle , they would have used it whenever the need arose. Seal writing is always short . Sproat’s smoking gun cannot be used to test the stability or the complexity of the system. It has weaknesses. It cannot also be used to prove that the Indus script didn’t have a linguistic component.

    Making fun of ancient people is absolutely disgraceful.It is in poor taste~!!!!

    I hope more Indians take up research. people are taking us for a ride.

    Sujay Rao Mandavilli

  6. Sujay Rao Mandavilli Says:

    Pleased to announce the publication of my paper ‘The reconfirmation and reinforcement of the Indus script’ . This shows why the Indus script was a logo-syllabic script and longer texts certainly existed in the Indus. This shows why Sproat’s smoking gun is wholly invalid. If Farmer chooses to disagree with me, he has to reply to me point by point. Back to square one

    sujay

    Anonymous (not verified) | 03/18/11 | 01:34 AM
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