Recently, I have gathered enough interest in the subject Linguistics. As I came to know that Indus Valley scripts are among the last remaining undeciphered scripts of the ancient world, I gained more curiosity. In a TED talk by Rajesh Rao he talks about various computational linguistics methods he and his team from TIFR/JNCASR and other universities used to make some progress towards understanding the Indus Valley Script. This has made me more interested in the subject and I landed upon his research papers (take this one, for example), and obviously, I could not make out much having no background in linguistics in general.

As in the accepted answer for this question, it was noted that the answer depended on `` "What are you interested in in linguistics?" ", here's my interest: I have no background in linguistics but my end goal is to understand Rajesh Rao's works and also other works done by other researchers on the Indus Valley script or proto-Indo-Aryan languages in general, in the technical terms of the subject. However, I am in no hurry to learn the subject and I can begin to learn with any Popular Book on the subject (linguistics in general) aimed at a layman audience and slowly build my way up to reach my interest. If any of the experts here can kindly recommend me a route or a chart to start with Popular books on linguistics, and to reach to a stage where may be I can at least begin to understand the technical terminologies used in the most modern researches on the proto-Indo-Aryan languages, the help would be appreciated.

My background: I am a PhD candidate in theoretical Physics. So in recommending the route please don't shy away from recommending technical books, which involve mathematics or other technical concepts, at later stage as I am familiar with learning academic subjects.

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    Ancient scripts are always representations of ancient spoken languages. So you need to start by learning phonetics. J.C. Catford's Practical Introduction to Phonetics is good for autodidacts, but if you're at a university, and can sit in on a phonetics class, do so. Of the many disciplines that make up linguistics, phonetics is the most physical-scientific. It's about ⅓ human physiology and anatomy, ⅓ acoustics with compressible fluid flow, and ⅓ auditory perception. And you already have your own phonetics laboratory; Catford will show you how to operate it. – jlawler Sep 13 at 15:11
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    Oh, and if you don't already know a Dravidian language, you should learn at least one, so that you can test the hypothesis that the Indus Valley population were Dravidian speakers. – jlawler Sep 13 at 15:13
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    Learn a lot of languages, extant and historical ones. I suggest A Munda language (e.g., Santali) and Burushaski for the extant languages, maybe also Tibetan; Sumerian, Elamic, Hurrian or Uratian, and Sanskrit for the historical ones. Also get acquainted to the workings and imperfections of ancient writing systems, besides the mentioned historical languages, a study of Linear B (Minoan) may help a lot. – jk - Reinstate Monica Sep 13 at 20:20
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    If you want a popular book, try anything by David Crystal, especially his Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language and Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. But you can't get much from popular books that will help you learn linguistics; you still have to do the technical work. Encountering modern linguistics as an adult educated in a Western university is like encountering Maxwell's Laws after learning the multiplication tables. – jlawler Sep 14 at 16:44

The previous recommendation of Catford is very good, but it's important for you to understand that the Indus Valley "Script" may not be a script at all but rather a set of markings, seal-emblems, or decorative motifs. The series of articles by Witzel, Sproat and Farmer are extremely instructive - some of them use statistical techniques that may already be familiar to you to distinguish signal from noise.

If you are interested in the linguistic history of India in general David Anthony's extremely popular "The Horse, the Wheel, and Language" will be probably be the most fun and exciting place to start. In fact it is the best of all introductions to historical linguistics, but it also covers the origins of the Indo-Aryan family.

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  • Thanks! I'll surely look at David Anthony's book. I know that there is a debate on whether Indus Valley Script is even proper scripts. I do not know this very well, but many linguists have objected to Rajesh Rao's work in which he concludes it's a proper script by measuring entropy of the strings. But Rao has given rebuttals to those objections. And there is even rebuttal to the rebuttal of the objection and so on. I'll have to carefully look at those at some later stage. Moreover, I think there are other debates on this beyond Rao's work. – fogof mylife Sep 15 at 8:18

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