Writing: Theory and History of the Technology of Civilization

Writing: Theory and History of the Technology of Civilization

Writing: Theory and History of the Technology of Civilization

Writing: Theory and History of the Technology of Civilization

Synopsis

Writing: Theory and History of the Technology of Civilization traces the origins of writing tied to speech from ancient Sumer through the Greek alphabet and beyond.
  • Examines the earliest evidence for writing in Mesopotamia in the fourth millennium BC, the origins of purely phonographic systems, and the mystery of alphabetic writing
  • Includes discussions of Ancient Egyptian,Chinese, and Mayan writing
  • Shows how the structures of writing served and do serve social needs and in turn create patterns of social behavior
  • Clarifies the argument with many illustrations

Excerpt

I hope this book may serve as a brief introduction to an immense, tangled, and obscure topic. Writing can be defined and understood, but only with the help of a careful organization of categories and terms. I know of no other humanistic topic more distorted through the careless use of categories and terms, so that things “everyone knows” are illusions. The professionals, too, offer us neologisms, buzzwords, and terms that attempt a fatal precision. For example, in one of the best books on writing in the last several years (S. D. Houston, ed., The First Writing: Script Invention as History and Process, Cambridge, 2004), a series of essays on the origins of writing, the reader will struggle with “glottography,” “cipherability,” “morphophonic,” “alphasyllabaries,” “consonantaries,” “logophonic,” “logophonemic,” “logoconsonantal,” “phonological heterography,” “taxograms,” “semasiologographic,” “graphotactical,” “numero-ideographic,” “phonophoric,” “ethnogenetic”– as well as the usual bête noire “pictograms” and “ideograms.” Is writing really so complex, or esoteric? The study of the history of writing is the study of the explosion of illusions, and such jargon has stood as the greatest obstacle to understanding. Yet we cannot understand the historical past without understanding the technology that made possible our knowledge of it. This book should be of interest to anyone who wishes to come to grips with the question, What happened in the human past?

I have dedicated this book to my friend and colleague Emmett L. Bennett, Jr., but would also like to thank him here for the countless insights into the history of writing he has given me over the years, and the collection of examples that illustrate these insights.

I should also like to thank John Bennet for reading the entire manuscript and saving me from many errors, both of fact and interpretation. I am deeply grateful to him for his help. His hand appears on nearly every . . .

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