the question: Is it really a script? Does it constitute a real writing system in the sense of being tightly bound to language? This is categorically denied in an article provocatively entitled “The collapse of the Indus- script thesis: The myth of a literate Harappan Civilization.” The paper, published in December 2004 by Steve Farmer, Richard Sproat and Michael Witzel, was discussed one week later in a longer noncommittal note by Andrew Lawler (2004) in the Science journal.
Lawler’s Review “Outsider revels in breaking academic taboos” is Lawler’s heading for a page-long characterization of the main author, Steve Farmer, who is a historian by training. Farmer turned his attention to India in 1999, and Lawler quotes him saying, “I did’t know anything about this stuff. I was the naïve outsider too dumb not to recognize the field’s taboos.” Lawler quotes several scholars who are unconvinced, among them Gregory Possehl, who says: “I don’t think his ideas are interesting or viable, and I’m surprised they have raised interest.”10)
“At this point, however, that interest is undeniable,” concludes Lawler (p. 2028), who points out that Farmer “has attracted important converts, including his coauthors.” In an interview with Lawler, Michael Witzel, Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University, “says he was shocked when he first heard Farmer’s contention in 2001. . . . ‘So I was very skeptical’. Now he is throwing his scholarly weight behind the new thesis . . . .” (p. 2026–7).
Richard Sproat: Conclusions from General Statistics One of the authors, Richard Sproat, is a noted computer linguist. He seems to be responsible for the comparison of the Indus sign frequen- cies with Egyptian, Sumerian and Chinese texts and Scottish heraldic blazons. Sproat’s conclusions are that “such studies can show that the Indus system could not have been a Chinese-style script, since symbol
______________________________ 10) Lawler 2004: 2028.
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