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origin of writing

Subject Linguistics

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631214816.1999.x


Where, when, how, and why writing originated are questions of foremost importance to students of various disciplines such as archaeology, history, palaeography and cultural anthropology, among others. On the empirical level the origin of writing is a problem of archaeological evidence. The task of historians of writing is to trace a given script to its earliest forms and precursors, hoping to understand how it came into existence. For several otherwise well-documented writing systems, the question of origin is yet to be resolved. For instance, the origin of the C hinese writing system is obscure since the earliest known characters of the O racle-bone script already largely conform to the structural principles underlying the mature system. Whether any connection can be established with the earlier emblematic signs found on pottery of the Ta wen k'ou culture (4800–2000 bce ) is yet to be determined. The E gyptian writing system also appears suddenly as a full-blown system with no trace of incipient stages which could shed light on its origin. Also unknown is the origin of the O ld E uropean writing . At the present state of knowledge, a proper interpretation of its signs is primarily a problem of collecting and classifying archaeological data. However, even where plenty of epigraphic and palaeographic material is available, the documents do not speak for themselves, but require ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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