Non-Indic sustrate vocabulary

Larry Trask larryt at
Thu Mar 15 09:46:31 UTC 2001

David Sánchez writes:

> I read some time ago, that a scandinavian group have claimed
> that they have proved Indus Valley script was written in a form
> of a dravidian language. I was strongly surpresed and I was very
> doubtful about the feasibility of this claim.

> What can be said about the actual feasibility of claims of this type?

I think the reference must be to Asko Parpola's work.  Parpola, a Finn, is the
leader of a Finnish group which has been investigating the Indus Valley texts
for some years.  In 1994, Parpola published a book entitled Deciphering the
Indus Script, from Cambridge UP.  There he reaches the conclusion that the
language of the Indus Valley texts is most likely Dravidian.

The response to this book has been surprisingly muted, as far as I can judge.
It has not caused a storm of controversy, and I hardly ever see even a
reference to it, favorable or unfavorable.  Perhaps it is merely that most
scholars regard the book as wholly respectable but far from convincing.
Indeed, in his contribution to the 1996 Daniels and Bright volume The World's
Writing Systems (Oxford UP), Parpola is very cautious and puts forward no
strong conclusions at all.

A summary of Parpola's work can be found here:

I haven't read the book, but I think it is fair to say that the material
presented on this Website is no more than suggestive, and far from convincing.

Larry Trask
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

larryt at

Tel: (01273)-678693 (from UK); +44-1273-678693 (from abroad)
Fax: (01273)-671320 (from UK); +44-1273-671320 (from abroad)

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