An Indian paradox

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by rcscwc, Jan 19, 2011.

  1. rcscwc Registered Senior Member

    It is known that IVC was LITERATE. After all thousands of seals show that. But where is the LITERATURE?

    On the other hand, as alleged, Aryans were ILLITERATE barbarians, but they left a VERY, very rich body of literature? In fact the richest.

    Can Fraggle resolve it?
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  3. Pious Registered Senior Member

    Original Aryans (Proto-Indo-Iranian speakers) were tribal and nomadic people, possibly from Central Asia.

    Because when some of the Aryans migrated to ancient India and settled there, they were given higher status than the native Dravidians in the Indian caste system. Aryan Sanskrit became the primary literary language in which Hindu religious texts were composed.

    That's why Indo-Aryan language replaced some of the native Dravidian languages in ancient India.

    Similarly Western Iranian languages replaced the native Elamite and Akkadian in ancient Persia, and Celtic and other Indo-European languages replaced most of the the native Vasconic languages in ancient Western Europe (except for Basque in northern Spain).
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  5. rcscwc Registered Senior Member

    Now, now. Aryans were nomadic, that so? So were Mongols, Tartars etc from Central Asia. They too did foray into other lands, notably China. Could they eliminate Chinese language and culture?

    Greeks were not nomadic. But Greek invaders hardly influenced Indian language in culture even in the peripherical parta of India.

    Portugese tried hard to eradicate Konkani in Goa, even outlawing it. It did not die out.

    Explains nothing.
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  7. dbnp48 Q.E.D. Registered Senior Member

    Who is IVC? How is it "known" that they were literate? Post a link.
  8. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

  9. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Whatever unknown literature the Indus Valley culture might have produced was probably written on perishable materials that didn't survive to the present. We find the early Buddhists in later centuries writing on palm leaves, which despite its lack of practicality seems to have been the accepted writing material in their period. That's not a material found on the Russian steppes where the Indo-Europeans seem to have originated, so it's likely that they adopted it after arriving in India, conceivably from Indus Valley antecedents.

    Another possibility is that there may not have been very much of what we think of as imaginative literature at all, with literacy restricted to a small class of professional scribes who used writing for special purposes like keeping inventories. That was how writing first developed in Mesopotamia and the seeming highly-organized and highly-conservative nature of the Indus Valley culture might have been accompanied by tighter control of the scribal schools and class, who might have been some sort of government functionaries.

    In that case, the collapse of the Indus Valley system would have been associated with the end of the scribal schools and the cessation of their patronage and employment. That's the same kind of thing that we see happening in roughly contemporary Mycenean Greece during the Dorian invasions around 1100 BCE, when scribal use of the pictographic linear B script ceases and a several hundred year illiterate 'dark age' ensued, ending with the adoption of the simpler Greek alphabetic writing system inspired by the Phoenicians and the rise of a new kind of literacy that extended to regular people and not just to trained scribes.

    If the Indo-Aryans were illiterate when they entered India sometime after 1500 BCE, then they obviously adopted writing at some point during the next 1000 years. I'm not sure if historians know exactly when that was. The Vedas were originally an oral literature and remained so for many centuries (and remain so to some extent even today). But that doesn't mean that writing wasn't being used for purposes that were considered less holy. The flowering of written Sanskrit literature seems to have begun in the last centuries BCE and reached its peak in the Gupta period around 500CE.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2011
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The technologies of scrolls and codices ("books") had not been invented yet, because they were built upon the rather sophisticated technology of paper (and its antecedents such as processed papyrus), which had not yet been developed. Therefore, writing had to be done on stone, which is quite durable but very slow work; on clay, which is faster but very fragile; or on other even more ephemeral surfaces such as fabric. Given these constraints, it's miraculous that any significant volume of ancient writing survives at all. Long compositions like poems, letters, journals, etc., would have been written on the least durable surfaces--if anyone had even bothered--and so they would have deteriorated long ago.

    Most of the writing we have from contemporary ancient civilizations is preserved on stone tablets and a few clay tablets that managed to survive. These are primarily government and religious documents--work that would have been judged worthy of the effort. What you call "literature," such as poems and stories, had to be passed down orally.

    Homer, as we all know, was not the author of The Odyssey. That legend was passed down orally by tribal storytellers for many generations before modern writing technology became available and Homer wrote it down. The fact that it was a poem provided many checks and balances to ensure that it was not changed too much through the generations. The rhyme and meter had to be retained.

    I suggest that the reason no similar literature from the Harappan-era IVC survives is precisely because the Indic people arrived and marginalized the earlier culture. During the long transition from the original language (of which we know nothing, not even its family, we just make the educated guess that it would have been Dravidian), all rhyme and meter would have been lost and the stories would have been re-written as Sanskrit sagas.

    It's rather common for a civilization to go into a decline, and then be revitalized by an immigrant culture. The Olmec/Maya civilization was falling apart when the Aztecs wandered down from California, and they renovated it.
    The Indo-European peoples did this all over the regions in which they became dominant. The Greeks were an illiterate people, but they borrowed much of Phoenician civilization from the traders who stopped at their ports regularly. They remodeled the Phoenician abjad (a pseudo-alphabet with no vowels, suitable for all Afro-Asiatic languages like Egyptian, Arabic and Hebrew) into a true alphabet, which was then borrowed and again remodeled by the illiterate Romans. In concert those two barbarian tribes founded the world's dominant civilization.

    For centuries, England was the dominant branch of Greco-Roman civilization, and the English are descended from several tribes of Germanic barbarians (Angles, Saxons and Jutes) who muscled in on the civilization the Romans had brought to the Celtic tribes of Britannia when the Romans left. The only Romans who stayed were the priests and they taught the Anglo-Saxons to write.
    It's generally acknowledged that the Urheimat of the Proto-Indo-Europeans was the Pontic Steppe, roughly the region above the Caspian Sea on the (entirely artificial) boundary between Europe and Asia. They did not build cities so, technically, they did not have a civilization. But they had absorbed all of the technologies of their neighboring peoples, including both agriculture (farming and animal husbandry) and bronze metallurgy. It is most likely that they are the people responsible for the domestication of the horse

    So even though the Indo-Europeans did not invent any of the world's writing systems, they gave us a technology that revolutionized land transportation as astoundingly as the railroads would several thousand years later. One of the reasons that the Aztecs could not stand up to the European invaders is that there were no large, rideable herbivores in Mesoamerica.
    The Celts occupied all of sub-Scandinavian central and western Europe, and even much of what we now consider eastern Europe. Bohemia, now called the Czech Republic because it's easier to spell and pronounce, is named after the Bohumil, a Celtic tribe.

    BTW, it's sheer speculation to assume that prior to the Indo-European invasion, languages related to Basque were widely spoken in Europe. We have only a few fragments of them, not enough to decipher and catalog. There is some evidence suggesting that the Basques are the last surviving descendants of the Cro-Magnon people, and even weaker evidence suggesting that the Cro-Magnon were the original tribe of Homo sapiens that replaced the Neanderthals, and that these were the people that the Indo-Europeans encountered when they arrived. But at this point these are only hypotheses. There's only so much we can tell from archeology and DNA analysis.
    And southern France.
    Sometimes nomadic barbarians succeed in overthrowing a more advanced civilization, sometimes they don't. The Germanic tribes sacked Rome, but Rome was already rotting from the inside. The Mongols attacked China during a period of strength, and although they managed to take over the government, within a few generations they assimilated and became Chinese.
    But the Mughals/Mongols, who were nomadic barbarians, certainly did. It is because of them that Pakistan exists.
  11. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Eh? How do you get that connection? Pakistan exists because of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a Gujarati.

    Jinnah in traditional dress:

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    What is the connection with the Mughals? The Mughals had probably the least influence on Gujrat, of all the Indian areas under their control, which is why even the Muslims over there have customs - language, speech, dress, food, which are completely different from the rest of Indian Muslims. Islam in Gujarat came with Arab traders in the 7th century [as it did in South India] and while the Gujaratis were variously at war with the Arabs, Persians and Turks, it was not until Akbar in the 16th century that Gujarat came under Mughal influence, which was pretty transitory, because it was then under Pashtun, Baluch and Maratha influence in pretty quick succession.

    But apart from all this, Jinnah was highly influenced by the British as he came from a very rich family and was educated in England and had a thoroughly British education [also like Gandhi], which is why [unlike the Mughals] he was more influenced by notions of religious nationalism and separatism [a common theme in British politics at all times especially in the colonies]

    And if you're talking of East Pakistan, I'm not sure how that figures into the pot. Even linguistically, Jinnah was a polyglot, as he was born in Sindh to a Gujarati family in British India. So he was multilingual as all Indians are - however I am pretty certain he was not versed in the language of the Mughals, which was Chagtai, a Turkic language [the Mughals were Timuric Gurkanis of Turko-Mongol descent]. Although, Pakistan does speak Urdu and Sindhi both of which follow the Persian script, but are Indian languages and have a large number of speakers in both India and Pakistan among North Indians, no one on either side of the border speaks Chagtai. The Mughals adopted Persian as their court language, as the Delhi Sultanate preceding them had also adopted Persian and developed Urdu based on Hindi from the script. The Mughals adopted Persian and continued to develop Urdu, but Sindhi, also based on the Persian and Arabic script and the Balochi language mixed with Sanskrit, remained a language spoken mostly by North Western Indians of the Sindh province.

    It is in fact, interesting to note that many of the Hindutva brigade leaders are [dispossessed] Sindhis and use the Arabic/Persian script for their language, and hence are better able to read and comprehend Urdu than other Indians.

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    Like Persian and Urdu-Hindi, Sindhi also has various other scripts, in Devanagri which preceded the Arab/Persian/Turkic influence

    Linguistically the British also had their influence on Sindhi

    Also, while the Mughals were all/mostly Sunni Muslims [unlike some Mongol Persians in Iran] Jinnah was a Shia Muslim of the Ismaili Khoja sect which traces its beginnings to Qum in Iran- since many Gujarati Muslims are of Shia persuasion [either Bohris or Khojas] this is not uncommon.

    Not sure what the Mughal --> Pakistan connection is...I would say that Northwestern Indians, along with the Persians had a much greater influence on the Mongols, in terms of religion, language, food, culture, dress and architecture, than the other way around.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2011
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    After converting to Islam, the Mughals spread it throughout the region, as they slowly traveled westward, intermarried with everyone they conquered, and finally emerged with their new identity as Ottomans at the other end of their journey.

    If there were no Muslims in India, the country would not have partitioned, and there would be no Pakistan.

    Although if the Mongols/Mughals/Turks/Ottomans had not spread Islam throughout the region, its whole history would be different so there's no telling what its map would look like today. The Turkmen, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Tatar, and most (but not all) other Mongolic peoples in southern Asia are relative newcomers, descended from the Mongol/Turkic migrants at various points in their journey.
  13. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member


    I think you have it backwards, the Mughals adopted Islam from the people they conquered. They did not convert anyone. The Arabs had already spread Islam in West and South India by evangelism, there are 1400 year old mosques in the country . If anything, it was the Persians who spread Islam in North India, and the Turks and Mongols along with Indians who accepted it.

    You need to read some history. All of the North Indian subcontinent is populated by Central Asian migrations - the Mongols were just one more in a long line of Central Asian tribes who descended on the subcontinent. And no matter where they went, they absorbed the existing cultures rather than replace it with their own. Which is why so many of those cultures show so much Persian and Arab and Indian influence. From Japan to Greece, Mongolia to Iran, the Mongol invasions all ended with Mongols assimilating with the people living there adopting Christianity, Buddhism or Islam whatever the local religion or culture or language was. No one was converted to the Mongol religion or spoke the Mongol language or wore their dress or followed their cuisine.

    Conversions to Islam in India predate the Mughals by almost a thousand years. They brought more Persian culture than Muslim religion to the country. Even then, most conversions you see are more along tribes than along regions. Now we are post partition, but prepartition, Muslims were randomly distributed across the country with pockets of concentrations in places as far apart as West India [Gujarat] East India [Bengal] South India [Hyderabad] and North India [Delhi, Ajmer, Lucknow, Sindh, NWFP] Most Northern conversions including Delhi predate the Mughal Empire and can be traced to immigrant communities escaping Persian, Mongol and Turkic invasions of the then Muslim communities under their rule in Iran, Yemen, present day Afghanistan and Baluch - not excluding the Delhi Sultanates established by slaves turned kings. The Mughals were, from Humayun to Babur to Akbar to Jehangir, pretty secular in their approach to people, which is probably a continuation of Mongol notions of secularism in their native culture [and native religion, a form of shamanism or animal worship] and a reason why 80% of Indians are not Muslims/

    The creation of Pakistan was based on Jinnahs notions of institutionalised political discrimination against Muslims in India - a notion which he imbibed from the British which while it may be true - is not a reason to divide the country rather, a reason to campaign for civil rights [the Sachar Committee report provides evidence of such institutionalised discrimination in India, but like the caste system or civil rights of blacks and gays - it is a political problem not a religious one - once the civil laws are not merely enacted but also enforced, there is zero religious opposition to such notions]

    I think it is a mistake to point fingers at the Mughals for what happened in post colonial India - it was the British who invented Hinduism and excised Muslims from the fabric of the country. They did the same thing to Tamils in Sri Lanka , Christians in Sudan and Catholics in Ireland. The Mughals had no problem seeing all Indians as one nation. They assimilated so well that the last Mughals were wiped out by the British for leading the Indians in the 1857 uprising, when the Sepoys who mutinied went to Delhi for the support of the Mughal Emperor. The British exiled the Last Mughal Emperor of India and slaughtered his sons to wipe out the dynasty. If the Mughals had remained in India, there would be no Pakistan, for sure. But the British would have come even if there were no Mughals and without the Muslims would have found some other means of divide and rule as they did in "Colombo" and Ireland.

    I'd be interested to know what the sources of your opinions are - what is the origin of this new trend of blaming the Mughals for the religious divide in India.

    If the Europeans had not colonised the Americas, the Australias, Africa, Asia and Arabia, how different would the history of the world be! From Sudan to Tasmania, from Mexico to Alaska, from Yemen to Tunisia, from Mongolia to Sri Lanka, from Iraq to Afghanistan. Imagine a world without the Third World!
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2011
  14. Michael 歌舞伎 Valued Senior Member

    Why do you think Greeks were hardly influenced by Indian culture? Many Greeks adopted Buddhism and (when combined with Hellonistic ideals) this Buddhism transformed Chinese, Korean and Japanese society.

    Imagine a world without democracy, electricity, modern medicine or much in way of science.

    Places where people work hard, greatly value literacy and eduction, like Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan.... I wonder what these countries would be like now? Everyone starts out as a third world country, IMO it's more a matter of some groups of people being able to rise to the level of first world status through determination and good governance - as the Chinese are doing as we speak. No one has worked harder FOR Americans than the Chinese. Their hard labor has brought the USA a lifestyle almost unimagined. It's certainly not making them more of a third world nation, as they were, it's making them a first world nation - and making us a third world nation!
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2011
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Probably the many Turkish friends I've had over the years, both here and a couple I met in Europe. So far everything they've told me about history has been challenged. I've never been to a Thanksgiving dinner party so animated as the one in which one family member had grown up in Greece and one of the guests was from Turkey.
    Because of my geography, but also because of my love of civilization, a superorganism of which we are the cells, I am particularly saddened by the European occupation of the Western Hemisphere. They obliterated one-third of the world's six independently-evolved civilizations: the Inca and the Olmec/Maya/Aztec. How many fabulous ideas and motifs that could have enriched our world were lost forever?
    You can hardly blame the Europeans for all of those atrocities. Tunisia and Sudan were conquered and colonized by Arabs along with Egypt and most of North Africa.
    The Chinese sent Buddhist monks out to "enlighten" neighboring Bronze Age countries--surely the "Third World" by the standards of the day. In addition to Buddhism, Confucianism, the Dao and their whole smorgasbord of spirituality, they indeed brought China's Iron Age technology, writing system, literature, and other cultural artifacts. But they never actually occupied or colonized Korea and Japan, which retained their national identity, government and basic culture. Vietnam wasn't quite so lucky but their language, culture and ethnic identity survived.
    Humans are a curious and precocious species. The first true "science" was astronomy, and it was developed in almost every culture's Stone Age--even if it became handmaiden to the priests. The Arabs made great strides in science while Europe sank into the Dark Ages.

    The technologies of agriculture, metallurgy, the wheel and writing developed independently in many different cultures at different times. If Europe had not discovered coffee as a better alternative than beer to its polluted water supply, and not woken from the stupor of the Dark Ages, there's no good reason to assume that scientific progress would not have been made somewhere else.
    The Jews have an institutionalized respect for literacy and education, and it didn't do them much good. They knew that personal hygiene and basic cleanliness are the key to public health, and when the shtetls were not devastated by the plague they were simply regarded as in league with the Devil.
  16. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Interesting. I wonder what they teach in Turkish history. While my own sources are many and varied, I encourage you to look at "The Argumentative Indian" by Amartya Sen for a comprehensive look at the historical background of India. Sen is an economist and an academic and his work reflects his investment in the literature and history from an objective and secular aspect.

    But even if you don't get to that book as a linguist perhaps you might appreciate the elegance of an empire that borrows a script from one culture, a dialect from another and creates a new syncretic language to communicate with the people rather than imposing their own language from without.

    On topic:

    Thats easily resolved. The easiest and most portable writing equipments available to the IVC were all biodegradable. rcscwc might reflect on the fact that writing on leaves, papyrus and cloth is not unknown in Indian history. Even many of the "board games" like Snakes and Ladder, for example, were written out on cloth

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    Considering how wet the Indus Valley is, its hardly surprising that their possible biodegradable literature is lost. Its impossible that such an advanced civilisation did not possess record keeping skills or communicate for the purpose of trade.

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    Last edited: Jan 20, 2011
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    That's quite an understatement. In my own review of the histories of the world's various writing systems, I find again and again the following scenario.
    • Human communities grow from small agricultural villages in which everybody knows everybody else into cities in which people have to live in harmony and cooperation with strangers.
    • Division of labor and economy of scale in a city result in a greater production of goods and services not required for survival, security and basic comfort. In other words, a surplus comprised of more than a store of extra food to survive the next bad season.
    • The complexity of the work being done and of the relationships among both acquaintances and strangers results in a proliferation of time-displaced transactions among multiple parties. In other words, I need a new pair of boots, the cobbler needs new wheels for his wagon, the wainwright needs a new window in his shop next winter, the glazier wants me to sing at his daugher's birthday in spring--and none of us knows the others personally.
    • It becomes necessary to record these transactions and obligations. Hash marks are used with rough pictures of the product involved.
    • Before long the hash marks and pictures prove inadequate. Merchants and tradesmen slowly change them into a larger set of more elaborate, stylized symbols.
    • The symbols become so expressive that they can be used outside the context of business transactions.
    • The symbol set is expanded to accommodate the need for more extensive expression.
    • Someone begins using a symbol to indicate a word with a similar sound.
    • The symbol set is simplified and codified to represent sounds instead of ideas. (These last two steps are optional and have not yet occurred in China.)
    It seems to me that business has almost always been the driver of the invention of written language. In many archeological sites, the oldest artifacts with symbols on them are clearly inventories, bills of lading, etc.
  18. NCDane Registered Senior Member

    Not all literate societies immediately thought to commit
    their literature to writing. Homer was not transcribed
    until about 550BC.
  19. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Greece wasn't exactly "literate" in Homer's day. His status as a real historical figure isn't 100% certain, but if he lived it was between the 12th and 9th centuries, BCE, the "Greek Dark Ages." Their earlier civilization had used the Minoan syllabary, an extremely awkward tool for writing Greek. The restored civilization discarded it and adopted the Phoenician abjad, added vowels, and came up with the true phonetic alphabet that is more suitable for the Indo-European languages.

    The Odyssey was an epic poem that had been passed down orally for centuries. The constraints of rhyme and meter are safeguards that help poetry resist both deliberate and accidental changes. Old poems are usually more faithful to their roots than old prose. (Although not always, as the humorous example of "Lady Mondegreen" illustrates.)

    The Iliad is also attributed to Homer, as his first work, and from what I can find it seems that scholars are a little more comfortable attributing it to him rather than to an oral tradition he codified like the Odyssey. The Iliad is generally regarded as the earliest work of Western literature.
  20. NCDane Registered Senior Member

    I did not say it was.

    The entire Homeric canon was put to writing for the first known time
    under the auspices of the Athenian tyrant Peisistratus ca. 550BC.

    The first google hit gives a date of "about 750BCE" for the reappearance
    of literacy in ancient Greece, later than I thought, but still leaving several
    centuries for Homer to have been passed down solely by oral tradition.

    Transcription of literature is a theme in Mary Renault's novel The Praise Singer,
    which I recommend to anyone interested in the era.
  21. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    So, which works were written down first? Just because we consider Homer one of the greatest figures in history doesn't mean he was regarded that way 28 centuries ago.
  22. NCDane Registered Senior Member

    I do not know of any prior to Homer. Although I am not a
    classical scholar I do not think I would be going very far
    out on a limb to guess that professional consensus puts
    Homer first chronologically among transcribed literary works.

    I am also confident that professional consensus holds that
    Homer's transcendent reputation was firmly established long
    before he was written down. That might reasonably be inferred
    even by an amateur like me from the fact that he survived
    at least 400 years before being fully commited to writing.
  23. rcscwc Registered Senior Member

    SAM, whearher conditions do cause deterioration of written records. But then why Vedic literature manuscripts have survived in thousands? IVC could not ply trade without written, easily portable writing media. But then, apart from seals, where are the manuscripts?

    Not only Hindu, but Buddhist and Jain manuscripts to have come down to us.

    One good explanation. IVC was Vedic civilisation, having Sanskrit as their language. Seals have largely commercial applications. Traders must have developed their own codes and languages. Till a 100 years, traders in India had been using their own language for communication among themselves. They kept this language pretty secret too.

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