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Indus Valley inscriptions

  • Category
    History & Culture
  • Published
    13th Aug, 2019

A research paper published recently in Palgrave Communications, a Nature group journal claims that majority of the Indus Valley inscriptions were written logographically (by using word signs) and not by using phonograms (speech sounds units).

Context

  • A research paper published recently in Palgrave Communications, a Nature group journal claims that majority of the Indus Valley inscriptions were written logographically (by using word signs) and not by using phonograms (speech sounds units).
  • Another paper, titled “Interrogating Indus inscription to unravel their mechanism of meaning conveyance”, published recently points out that the inscriptions can be compared to the structured messages found on stamps, coupons, tokens and currency coins of modern times.

About

  • Indus Valley inscriptions are discovered from 4,000 ancient inscribed objects, including seals, tablets, ivory rods, pottery shards, etc.
  • These Indus inscriptions are one of the most enigmatic legacies of the Indus Valley civilization but these have not been deciphered due to the absence of bilingual texts, extreme brevity of the inscriptions, and ignorance about the language(s) encoded by Indus script.

Findings of the paper:

  • The paper focuses on understanding how Indus inscriptions conveyed meanings, rather than on deciphering what they conveyed.
  • Analysing the brevity of the inscriptions, the rigid positional preferences maintained by the signs of the inscriptions, and the co-occurrence of restriction patterns demonstrated by certain classes of Indus signs, it was inferred that such patterns can never be phonological co-occurrence restrictions (two or more sound units that cannot be pronounced together).
  • A very compelling, nearly unassailable proof of the logographic nature of Indus inscriptions comes from the co-occurrence restriction patterns maintained within them.
  • It classifies all the signs into nine functional classes.
  • The inscribed seals and tablets were used in some administrative operation that controlled the commercial transactions prevalent in the trade-savvy settlements of the ancient Indus valley Civilisation.
  • The inscriptions can be compared to the messages found on stamps, coupons, tokens and currency coins of modern times, where we expect formulaic texts that encode certain type of information in some pre-defined ways, rather than freely composed narrative.
  • A common perception among some scholars is that the Indus script is logo-syllabic, where one symbol can be used as a word sign at one time and as a syllable-sign at another. This method, where a word-symbol also gets sometimes used only for its sound value, is called the rebus principle. For example, we can combine the pictures of a honey bee and a leaf to signify the word “belief” (bee+leaf).
  • The paper states that, though many ancient scripts use rebus methods to generate new words, the inscriptions found on the Indus seals and tablets have not used rebus as the mechanism to convey meaning.
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