The Invention of Cuneiform - Writing in Sumer
by Glassner, Jean-Jacques - - - translated and edited by Zainab Bahrani - and - Marc van de Mieroop
pub. by Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, Baltimore, 2003 isbn 978-0-801887574 - - Contents p. ix - x - - Translators Preface p xi - xvii - Translators notes p. xvii - - Introduction p. 1 - 8 - - Abbreviations p. 229-230 - - Notes p. 231-257 - - Index p. 259-266 - - 266 p. Total
This book is about more than the invention of Cuneiform, it is largely involved with the invention of written language. When and how did human beings begin to express language in written form. That is written language not just pictures of words, but expressing the sounds that make up our verbal communication. This invention allows us humans to express in writing anything that we can express in our spoken language.
Prepare to read this book by having a good dictionary at hand. Many terms used are not parts of day-to-day conversation, and even rarely used in scholarly reading... unless you are a linguist.
The author explores how writing was invented by exploring various ideas proposed in the past and showing how they are unlikely the way writing was invented. He furthers the idea tha instead of the invention of writing (puting verbal language into a scheme of symbols) being a gradual process that it was a thoughtful and comparatively rapid process driven by a group who worked at it.
This note from the translators is an important read for understanding the authors work.
They note that author takes a radically different approach to the invention of writing.
Instead of evolutionary models he puts forth revolutionary models with occasional rapid change.
There were those ideas that writing was revealed to Adam by an angel.
The cuneiform system of triangular marks was used by a variety of different languages.
Other early writing, but later than Mesopotamian include
- Olmec in the first half of the 2nd millenium BC - Zapotecs around 600 BC
- Mayans 3rd century AD - China second half of the 2nd millinium BC - Egypt second half of 4th millinium BC.
Sumerian Account of the Invention of Writing
In the Sumerian story City, fierce bull or Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta it esentially says
If spoken language is the gift of the gods, writing is a human creation.
Time and Place of the Invention
Clay tablets from the Uruk culture (lower Euphrates river, just upstream from the Persian Gulf) show writing.
Within this cultural period Writing may have begun 3400 BC .
Recived Ideas - Pictorgraphic Origins of Cunieform Writing
Early archeologists considered writing growing out of pictograms.
since the 1960s the theory that pictography evolved into a phonological system was widely criticized.
Received Ideas - The origins of Cuneiform Writing as an Accounting Device
The thesis of Denise Schmandt-Besserat postulated that cuneiform was born as a system of calculation
and originated from accounting practice that was quite old.
Glassner challenges that theory by showing a number of weaknesses in the argument.
Pictography or Writing - Oral Culture or Literate Culture
Pictography in such cultures of American plains indians may tell a story
but it can only give an idea of what transpired in and must be interpreted.
Examples of Cuna (in Panama) pictography as being well developed.
The Earliest Sumerian Writing - the Word and the Specialist, the Tablet and the Stylus
Writing was the result of a conscious process,of deliberate effort by man
to ceate a new mode of communication. It is derived from an act of the will.
That was already the thesis of the ancient Sumerians themselves,
who saw in it a deliberate procedure of the mind.
Marcel Cohen is one of the few modern historians of writing who have used the term invention in its original sense.
Writing instruments are discussed. Most of the time the reed stylus was used on wet clay. Different tips were used.
The Earliest Sumerian Writing - The System of Signs
Adam Falkenstein ideas in 1934. - - sample below - -
1. A graphic sign reproduced the object to which it refers.
2. The sign does not only signify the object it represents but
also terms and notations that are conceptually associated with it.
3. The combination of several signs permits the extnsion of the range of words indicated with writing and
consequently the extension of the area of application of writing.
4. A single sign can indicate several homophonous words.
5. A sign that takes a phonetic value can indicate purely gramatical morphemes.
6. The use of a semantic determinative allows the reader to chose
between a plurality of values of the same sign and to select the correct reading.
- - - -
Several symbols can be written together to achieve a different meaning.
Drawing or Writing
.... writing did not appear out of nothing but ... is based on the visible signs that exist in every society....
The First Social User of Writing
Writing was not just for the government and the temple
Private documents were found in individual houses
Archives were found in institutions.
There were scholarly writings from Uruk III period on through Uruk IV.
The Triumph of Writing
Writing to link Kings with gods. Gilgamesh is related to the gods.
The kings themselves wrote, as well as scribes in scriptoria.
A Written Language - (quote from the text)
With written language, in distinction to the spoken one, a graphic field appears by necessity,
which guarantees the complementarity between two syntagmatic orders - that of the combination of sign and the writing surface.
These are independent from syntax, as a sentene defines itself on the level of language, not writing.
Whatever way a sentence is written down,. its meaning cannont be changed.
The earliest texts have 3 characteristics -
1. They are written in a nuclear script. That is the verbal roots, nouns and adjactives that are indispensible for comptehension.
2. There is total disorder in the arrangement of the signs.
3. There is frequent use of abbreviation.
This is a complex read - where I understood it - it was fasinating.
As one would expedt in a writing by and for experts in the field, it is well documented.
~ 2016-07-27 ~
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