frequencies in the two systems differ too widely, and the total numbers of Indus symbols are too few. But studies of general sign frequencies by themselves cannot determine whether the Indus system was a ‘mixed’ linguistic script . . . or exclusively a system of nonlinguistic signs” (p. 29).
Thus Sproat actually does not deny the possibility that Indus signs may represent a script similar to the Mesopotamian type, though he thinks it is different from the Egyptian type. This difference is demon- strated in a statistical table, which shows that signs are repeated within a single inscription much more often in Egyptian cartouches than in Indus seals of a similar length. In later times, many cartouches were written with uni-consonantal signs virtually amounting to an alphabetic script, where this type of repetition is natural. If Sumerian seals were similarly analysed, undoubtedly the figures would be closer to those of the Indus seals.
The Principal Arguments of Farmer et al. The principal arguments of Farmer et al. for the drastic conclusions of the paper are the following. “Indus inscriptions were neither able nor intended to encode detailed ‘messages’, not even in the approximate ways performed by formal mnemonic systems in other nonliterate societies” (p. 42) because they are too short — on the average only five signs long — (p. 22, cf. also Lawler 2004: 2028) and because they contain too many rare signs — between 25 to 50 per cent of the around 400–600 different signs are attested only once.11) Moreover, they miss the kind of sign repetition evidenced in the Egyptian cartouches: “Most importantly, nowhere in
11) “Further evidence that clashes with the Indus-script thesis shows up in the large number of unique symbols (or ‘singletons’) and other rare signs that turn up in the inscriptions. . . . A number of inscriptions also contain more than one singleton in addition to other rare signs, making it difficult to imagine how those signs could have possibly functioned in a widely disseminated ‘script’ (Fig. 7)” (Farmer et al. 2004: 36). Among the three examples quoted in Fig. 7, MS 2645 is claimed to have two ‘singletons’; however, if this seal is genuine and not a forgery, as I strongly suspect (it comes from antiques trade, not from excavations), the two signs are variants of the signs no. 11 and 337 in the sign list in Parpola 1994: 70–78. — Most of the rare signs occur in the midst of more frequent signs.
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