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January 11, 2006 7:23 AM   Subscribe

The Indus Script Mystery: The ancient people of the Indus Valley left behind a mystery in their trash heaps -- the Indus script: a set of stylized characters (possibly a logophonetic script), which may or may not have been recently deciphered. (Probably not.) Some now believe (.pdf file) it is not even a written 'language' as we understand the term.
posted by anastasiav (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hey, this is a cool post, which I wouldn't have known about except for that MetaTalk thread.

At least once this does finally make it to the front page I can say I knew you when!

("you" being the thread, of course)
posted by soyjoy at 7:33 AM on January 11, 2006

Having gone through more of the links and the PDF now, I still don't get how this can be definitvely said to be not a 'language.' I mean, sure we expect a certain pattern that we would recognize as a grammar, but our not recognizing same (given the wide variety of grammatical patterns exhibited in world languages through history) doesn't seem to be proof of non-language if we can agree that certain symbols have set meanings. Or is it?

languagehat, where are you?
posted by soyjoy at 7:53 AM on January 11, 2006

Interesting, thanks.
posted by safetyfork at 7:58 AM on January 11, 2006

I still don't get how this can be definitvely said to be not a 'language.'

It can't. As a matter of fact, barring some unexpected discovery we're unlikely ever to know whether it represents a language or not, let alone what language it might be. The informed guess is that if it's related to any family we know, that family is probably Dravidian, but that's the very definition of a wild-ass guess. Unfortunately, 1) people hate to accept the unknown, 2) people love to theorize about language, 3) people place all sorts of historico-nationalist weight on issues of language, and 4) people become very attached to their own theories and hostile to anyone who questions them. In this particular case, that means that scholarship out of India (frequently dubious in linguistic matters) becomes particularly worthless on this issue, since everybody has an axe to grind. South Indians want it to be Dravidian, other Indians want it to be "Indo-Aryan" and try to relate it to Sanskrit, and the Hindutva maniacs have taken it under their wing.

So while I welcome the post, I wish there weren't so many links to crackpot Indian sources; there are times when even-handedness is a liability.
posted by languagehat at 8:30 AM on January 11, 2006

I second languagehat on this one. It's not that this issue has been politicized, that happens all the time in academic disputes (as Kissinger put it, probably because the stakes are so low). Yet, the Hindutva role in it is so far from acceptable (as is just about everything involved with Hindu nationalism) that it's a mistake to give them equal footing with well-respected researchers.

Hindutva scholarship makes Lysenkoism seem air-tight.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:49 AM on January 11, 2006

Here's a brief discussion of the issue from the OSU Greek and Latin Dep't Classics-L discussion group.
posted by languagehat at 8:58 AM on January 11, 2006

“This is my Universal Translator. It could have been my greatest invention, but it translates everything into an incomprehensible dead language.”
“See? Utter gibberish!”
posted by parallax7d at 8:59 AM on January 11, 2006

nice post, anastasiav!
posted by shoepal at 9:20 AM on January 11, 2006

Skinner: All right, read me back what I have so far, Mrs. Krabapatra.
Krabappel: Bird, bird, giant eye, pyramid, bird.
Skinner: Mmm-hmm, very good. Uh, giant eye, dead fish, cat head, cat head, cat head, guy doing this ... [strikes the "walk like an Egyptian" pose]
posted by jockc at 10:13 AM on January 11, 2006

A nice post. The Hindutva angle is disturbing, like so much that they embrace. I'm glad lh weighed in and posted that link.
posted by OmieWise at 10:28 AM on January 11, 2006

Thanks for the input, languagehat. As a linguistic-noob, I had no idea what to take at face value.
posted by illiad at 10:34 AM on January 11, 2006

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