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Smithsonian on Indus Script - varnamvarnam
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Smithsonian on Indus Script

Ever since Rao et al. published that the Indus script showed the structure of a formal language, a new debate on the topic was initiated. There were some hostile reactions to this paper. Now, Smithsonian has published an article on the topic which presents the findings in a positive way.

After publishing the paper, Rao got a surprise. The question of which language family the script belongs to, it turns out, is a sensitive one: because of the Indus civilization’s age and significance, many contemporary groups in India would like to claim it as a direct ancestor. For instance, the Tamil-speaking Indians of the south would prefer to learn that the Indus script was a kind of proto-Dravidian, since Tamil is descended from proto-Dravidian. Hindi speakers in the north would rather it be an old form of Sanskrit, an ancestor of Hindi. Rao’s paper doesn’t conclude which language family the script belongs to, though it does note that the conditional entropy is similar to Old Tamil—causing some critics to summarily “accuse us of being Dravidian nationalists,” says Rao. “The ferocity of the accusations and attacks was completely unexpected.” [Can Computers Decipher a 5,000-Year-Old Language?]

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