Thursday, April 23, 2009

'Indus Valley civilization was literate'

Courtesy: Times of India

24 Apr 2009, 0006 hrs IST, PTI
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NEW YORK: The 4,000-year-old Indus Valley civilization that thrived on the Indo-Pak border might have been a literate society which used a script
close to present day languages like Tamil, Sanskrit and English, reveals a new finding announced on Thursday.
A group of Indian scientists have conducted a statistical study
of the symbols found in the Indus Valley remains and compared them with various linguistic scripts and non-linguistic systems like DNA and computer programming. They found that the inscriptions closely matched those of spoken languages such as Tamil, Sanskrit and English. The results published in the journal Science show that the Indus script could be “as-yet-unknown language”.

An article in 2004 claimed that the Indus script does not represent language at all, but just represented religious or political symbols. The claim was made that the Indus civilization was not a literate civilisation,” Rajesh Rao, lead author at the Washington University said. “At this point we can say that the Indus script seems to have statistical regularities that are in line with natural languages,” he added.

The scientists from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, Institute of Mathematical Sciences and the Indus Research Center in Chennai collaborated with Rao to develop models which helped comparing the symbols with present day languages. According to scientists, symbols in any language neither follow a random order nor a rigid one but have some amount of flexibility in choosing next letter or word. This flexibility also known as conditional entropy helps in analysis of a language structure.

“For example, the letter “t” can be followed by vowels like “a”, “e”, and some consonants like “r” but typically not by “b”, “d” etc. We measured this f lexibility in the choice of the next symbol in a sequence using the mathematical concept of conditional entropy,” Rao explained.

“This is the first quantitative evidence that the Indus script likely encoded natural language rather than just religious or political symbols, suggesting the Harappans were likely a literate civilization after all,” Rao said.