Harappan script is regarded as pictographic since its signs represent birds,
fish, varieties of the human form, etc. The number of signs of the Harappan
script is known to be between 400 and 600 hundred, of which about 40 or 60
are basic and the rest are their variants. The variants are formed by adding
different accents, inflexions or other letters to the former.
The language of the Harappans is at present still unknown and must
remain so until the Harappan script is read. There are two main arguments as
to the nature of the language: that it belongs to the Indo-European or even
Indo-Aryan family, or that it belongs to the Dravidian family.
The task of decipherment of the corpus of Harappan inscriptions (now in
the region of 3500) remains problematic and the shortness of the inscriptions,
nearly all of which are on seals or amulet tablets, renders it difficult. No two
attempts have so far been in agreement.
Parpola and his Scandinavian colleagues proceeded with a hypothesis that
the language was Dravidian and that the script relied upon homophones. A
group of Soviet scholars have also concluded that the language is closer to
Dravidian than to any other known language. An Indian scholar, Mahadevan,
has also published an impressive computer concordance. There appear to be
areas of agreement between all these attempts in accepting the Dravidian
A rather different approach is to be found in the recent attempt to read the
contents of the inscriptions in terms of analogies between Harappan and
Sumerian signs. This approach have chiefly been followed by Kinnier-
S R Rao has produced a quite different attempt to read the script as
containing a pre-Indo-Aryan language of the Indo–European family. This
attempt has so far not been supported by many researchers.
The latest attempt in this direction has been made by Natwar Jha a
palaeographist and Vedic scholar. He has developed his own methodology
for reading the script and has written a monograph, Vedic Glossary on Indus
Seals (1997). According to Jha, the script is syllabic, that is, no vowels are
written. Semitic languages like Phoenician and Arabic use the syllabic
system. Since no word in these languages begins with a vowel, the writing
does not create any problems in comprehension. Even modem newspaper in
Hebrew and Arabic also uses this system and any one familiar with the