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(Fig. 1)

The outward shape of the U- or V-shaped Indus sign suggests ‘pot’ as its “pictorial meaning.” A contextual clue suggests that the “intended meaning” also is ‘vessel’, or more exactly ‘sacrificial or offering vessel’. The iconographic scene accompanying an inscription where this sign is preceded by a number, shows a human being who extends a similarly shaped pot towards a sacred tree in front of which he or she is kneeling (see Fig. 1).35) Here the intended meaning of the sign appears to be the same as its pictorial meaning, and it can be understood directly, without any linguistic postulations. We need not know what the object was called in the original language to understand the sign.

But a sign is not fully deciphered as long as its ancient pronunciation has not been recovered. In logo-syllabic scripts, a sign can stand for the thing that it depicts, as well as for any other thing which has the same phonetic value. The use of this rebus principle is necessary particularly when abstract concepts have to be expressed. Homophony in the form of puns undoubtedly played a role in folklore long before it was utilized in writing. Importantly, puns usually are language-specific: we have a chance to identify the language that underlies the Indus script and to recognize the phonetic value of the sign(s) involved only in those cases, where the rebus principle has been applied.

______________________________ 35) Cf. M-478 A and M-479 A in Joshi & Parpola 1987: 115.


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