Monday, March 10, 2014

Ligatures in Indus Script: Part 3


Tablet H-1319, sides A & B, showing the ligature EX UNDER CHEVRON.


This post continues the discussion of ligatures in Indus script.  To briefly recap, one hypothesis concerning such complex signs is that a ligature is simply the sum of its parts.  Thus, the sign EX UNDER CHEVRON is graphically composed of two simpler signs, EX and CHEVRON.  The hypothesis is that EX UNDER CHEVRON also means the same thing as EX and CHEVRON in sequence.  The ligature (as in H-1319), then, would be an abbreviation of the sequence (as in H-1367 -- though note the unusually large space between the last two signs).  This certainly describes the significance and function of some ligatures in another ancient script, namely Egyptian hieroglyphs.  But even in ancient Egyptian, not all ligatures can be interpreted in such a straightforward manner.  In other scripts, such as Chinese, ligatures cannot be interpreted as the sum of their parts.  To test whether Indus ligatures are indeed the sum of their parts, I have examined the sequences of these parts to see whether they occur in the same contexts as the ligatures. 

Graffiti on pot shard H-1367 with inscription (right to left): CEE / THREE QUOTES / CHEVRON / EX.

In my first post on this topic I noted that POT BEARER appears to be the graphic combination of POT + BEARER.  The sequence POT + BEARER does occasionally occur in inscriptions as a terminal sequence, just as POT BEARER occurs as a terminal sign.  This supports the hypothesis.  But evidence for combinations of POT and an apparent numeral (from one to four “quotes”) does not support the hypothesis.  There is no sequence of “numeral” + POT for comparison with the ligatures.  Further, POT is a terminal, whereas POTTED ONE, POTTED 2, POTTED 3, and POTTED 4 are medial signs. 

Seal M-415 with inscription: CIRCLED DOT / PRAWN WITH ATTACHED POST.

In Part 2, I noted that evidence on ligatures of CHEVRON and one of seven different signs is mixed, with three sequences possibly supporting the hypothesis but the absence of four others not supporting it.  I also examined eleven ligatures with FORK.  Of these, three are not supported by a matching sequence.  Evidence concerning FORK thus tends to support the hypothesis but not unequivocally.
I turn now to SINGLE POST, another sign that occurs in in a number of ligatures: besides MAN HOLDING POST and CAGED MAN HOLDING POST, the “post” is attached to PRAWN (as in M-415), FIGURE EIGHT, RECTANGLE, GRID, BED, and FORK TOPPED POT.  Graphically, these ligatures differ from sequences only in the presence of a short diagonal line connecting the two elements of the ligature.  Thus, the proposed purpose of ligatures as abbreviations does not make sense here.  SINGLE POST does not occur adjacent to MAN although it precedes other anthropomorphs.  Nor does it precede PRAWN, FIGURE EIGHT, RECTANGLE, GRID, or BED.  The only sequence that matches a ligature is SINGLE POST + FORK TOPPED POT with two (possibly three) occurrences (K-40, KP 1385 and KP 2785).  This evidence is summed up in Table 1.

Sign A
Sign B
Ligature AB
Sequence A + B
Sequence B + A
POST
MAN
MAN HOLDING POST
--
--
POST
PRAWN
PRAWN W/ ATT. POST
--
--
POST
FIGURE EIGHT
FIGURE 8 W/ ATT. POST
--
--
POST
RECTANGLE
RECTANGLE W/ ATT. POST
--
--
POST
GRID
GRID W/ ATT. POST
--
--
POST
BED
BED W/ ATT. POST
--
--
POST
FORK TOPPED POT
FORK TOPPED POT W/ ATT. POST
SINGLE POST + FORK TOPPED POT (3)
--
Table 1. Ligatures with SINGLE POST compared to sequences containing POST.

There are a few other ligatures not yet discussed.  Some have a small, chevron-like attachment I have termed an EAR: CIRCLED QUADRANGLE, CIRCLED DOT, DOUBLE CEES/DOUBLE ESSES, two variations on CEE, BOXED BI-RAKE, FISH BETWEEN PARENS, and MAN.  The “ear” on the anthropomorph differs in size and shape from the others and is probably not the same appendage.  In two cases, the component bearing the ear is not an independent sign; i.e., there is no FISH BETWEEN PARENS or BOXED BI-RAKE without the "ear."  In all of these cases, it is hard to say which independent sign the EAR is to be identified with – if any.  This prevents further analysis.

Seal H-5 with inscription showing CEE WITH EAR as the first sign.
A similar situation exists for the TABLE.  In its independent form, the two “legs” are of unequal length but both are relatively long compared to the TABLE in most ligatures.  Thus, the independent sign and the element in ligatures may not be the same.  Assuming for the moment that they are the same element, I note the TABLE in ligatures above STACKED NINE, DEE WITH LASHES, EN, STRIPED TRIANGLE, CAGED STRIPED TRIANGLE, STRIPED TRIANGLE UNDER DOUBLE TABLES, SPACESHIP, EX, ASTERISK, RECTANGLE EXIT, SQUARE AY, and PAW.  None of these ligatures is common.  For example, one of the more frequent ones, EX UNDER TABLE, occurs only 15 times.  When considering sequences involving TABLE, the second element in these ligatures is often rare.  The EX has just 14 occurrences.  EN may not even be an independent sign unless it is a variation of ZIGZAG (it may occur on H-1676).  Not surprisingly then, in most cases there is no sequence to compare with the ligature.  

Sign A
Sign B
Ligature AB
Sequence A + B
Sequence B + A
TABLE
STACKED NINE
STACKED NINE UNDER TABLE
--
--
TABLE
DEE WITH LASHES
DEE WITH LASHES UNDER TABLE
--
--
TABLE
EN (ZIGZAG?)
EN UNDER TABLE
--
--
TABLE
STRIPED TRIANGLE
STRIPED TRIANGLE UNDER TABLE
--
--
TABLE
SPACESHIP
SPACESHIP UNDER TABLE
--
SPACESHIP + TABLE (2)
TABLE
EX
EX UNDER TABLE
--
--
TABLE
ASTERISK
ASTERISK UNDER TABLE
--
--
TABLE
RECTANGLE EXIT
RECTANGLE EXIT UNDER TABLE
--
--
TABLE
SQUARE AY
SQUARE AY UNDER TABLE
--
--
TABLE
PAW
PAW UNDER TABLE
--
--
TABLE
SINGLE QUOTE
QUOTE UNDER TABLE / TABLE WITH SLASH
TABLE + SINGLE QUOTE (4)
--
Table 2. Ligatures with SINGLE POST compared to sequences containing POST. 

In one case, that of STRIPED TRIANGLE (or its STRIPED HORN variant), the second element is common enough, with 68 occurrences.  However, this sign never occurs in sequence with the independent TABLE.  In contrast, there are 33 inscriptions containing SPACESHIP, in two of which it appears alongside TABLE.  This compares favorably with SPACESHIP UNDER TABLE.  Likewise, there are four inscriptions containing the sequence TABLE + SINGLE QUOTE.  This compares favorably with QUOTE UNDER TABLE (and this ligature contains the long-legged version of the TABLE).  With so little data, any conclusions are highly provisional.  Even so, evidence that ligatures are to be interpreted as abbreviated sequences is not strong.  


Inscription from M-34 showing the sequence BUD + SKEWERED DONUT + FORK (above) before BI-QUOTES; impression of seal M-1759 showing the ligature BUD, SKEWERED DONUT, FORK TOPPED DUBYA (below).

There are a number of rare ligatures yet to be discussed.  Compare the sequence BUD / SKEWERED DONUT / FORK / BI-QUOTES / HAIRY HUNCHBACK / STRIPED VEST / POT (M-34) with the ligatures FORK & BUD TOPPED POT, and especially FORK, SKEWERED DONUT, & BUD TOPPED POT (M-1759 in KP 1982: 70).  Note that both the sequence and the comparable ligature precede BI-QUOTES.  This supports the hypothesis that the ligature is equivalent to the sequence.  However, the various signs that I term DUBYA (topped with SHISH KEBAB or BUD) do not support the hypothesis because neither BUD nor SHISH KEBAB occurs adjacent to CRAB.  Thus, the ligature CRAB IN BUD TOPPED POT remains unexplained.  A comparison of various other ligatures and sequences of their components is summarized in Table 3 below.
 
Sign A
Sign B
Ligature AB
Sequence A + B
Sequence B + A
CRAB
TOPPED DUBYA
CRAB IN BUD TOPPED POT
--
--
BUD + SKEWERED DONUT
FORK
BUD, SKEWERED DONUT, FORK TOPPED DUBYA
BUD + SKEWERED DONUT + FORK
--
SQUARE / RECTANGLE
BI-RAKE
BOXED BI-RAKE WITH EAR
--
--
SQUARE / RECTANGLE
STACKED NINE
BOXED ODD STACKED 9 & VEE
--
--
DIAMOND
FAT LEG LAMBDA (?)
PENNANT IN DIAMOND
VEE IN DIAMOND + FAT LEG LAMBDA (17) (?)
--
DIAMOND
HAMMER
HAMMER IN DIAMOND
--
--
MALLET
FOOTED STOOL WITH MID EARS
FANCY STOOL IN MALLET
--
--
BLANKET
FOOTED STOOL WITH MID EARS
FANCY STOOL IN BLANKET
--
--
TRIPLE BRICK
CUP
CUP IN TRIPLE BRICK
--
--
Table 3. Comparison of various ligatures with sequences of components.

In most cases, there is no sequence to compare to the ligature.  One possible exception concerns the PENNANT IN DIAMOND, in which the infrequent DIAMOND encloses a PENNANT which does not occur independently.  It is possible that the PENNANT element is a miniature version of (STRIPED) FAT LEG LAMBDA.  The latter sign often follows VEE IN DIAMOND but never appears alongside the basic DIAMOND.  Conceivably, the ligature here could be a simplified version of both components, each changed by the necessity of fitting into a very small space. 

Seal M-1087 with final STOOL WITH BENT FOOT + PINWHEEL.

Detail from seal M-63 with final FOOTED STOOL WITH TICK + PINWHEEL.
 
Finally, there is the question of minor modifications that seem to make little or no difference, which I have sometimes termed the addition of a TICK.  The STOOL WITH BENT FOOT appears in 10 inscriptions, in 7 of which it precedes PINWHEEL; FOOTED STOOL appears 68 times, in 26 of which it precedes PINWHEEL; FOOTED STOOL WITH TICK occurs 18 times, always preceding PINWHEEL.  Despite the fact that these three signs are visually distinct, they appear in the same contexts.  This suggests these variations on the “stool” theme are more closely related to each other than any is to the other variations (FOOTED STOOL WITH MID POST, FOOTED STOOL WITH MID EARS, FOOTED STOOL WITH HAIRY LEGS, etc.).

Broken seal M-244 with final FOOTED STOOL + PINWHEEL.

Such a situation is found in another imperfectly understood script.  The Khitan Small Script was used briefly in what is now northern China (southwest Manchuria) to write a language related to Mongolian (Wu and Janhunen 2010: 13).  This script resembles modern Chinese.  In fact, a number of characters are borrowed directly from Chinese while others are modifications.  One very common modification of Khitan characters is the addition of a single short stroke or dot (2010: 42-43).  For example, the Chinese character da “big, great” (resembling the Indus MAN) is used in Khitan for the syllable ud.  The addition of a short stroke or “tick” to the left “foot” – which changes the Chinese character to tai “too, very” – represents the Khitan syllable ung.  Besides indicating phonological differences, the dot can also sometimes denote a grammatical distinction.  For example, the Chinese character jiong “border, wasteland” (resembling an Indus TABLE with “legs” of equal length) is the Khitan “seventy”; the addition of a dot beneath this “table” indicates masculine gender.  But in all too many cases, the difference between the two similar characters is simply obscure.

In conclusion, the evidence concerning ligatures in Indus script is mixed.  There are some ligatures that occur in the same contexts as sequences of the same elements.  But all too often this is not the case.  Thus, it seems to me that there is insufficient evidence to support the hypothesis that a ligature AB is the sum of its components A + B.
 
REFERENCES

Gardiner, Sir A. 1976 (1927). Egyptian Grammar: Being an Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum and Griffith Institute.

Joshi, J.P. and A. Parpola. 1987. Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions. 1. Collections in India. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia. 

Keightley, D.N. 1985 (1978). Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China. Berkeley: University of California.

Korvink, M.P. 2008. The Indus Script: A Positional Statistical Approach. Gilund Press (Amazon).
Koskenniemi, K. and Parpola, A. 1982. A Concordance to the Texts in the Indus Script. Helsinki: Department of Asian and African Studies, University of Helsinki.

Parpola, A., B.M. Pande, and P. Koskikallio. 2010. Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions. 3. New Material, Untraced Objects, and Collections Outside India and Pakistan. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.

Shah, S.G.M. and A. Parpola. 1991. Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions. 2. Collections in Pakistan. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia. 

Wu, Y. and J. Janhunen. 2010. New Materials on the Khitan Small Script: A Critical Edition of Xiao Dilu and Yel├╝ Xiangwen. Leiden: Global Oriental.