Before Writing discusses how the tokens reflect an archaic way of "concrete counting" that paved the way to abstract counting. The evolution of the token system was also tied to the development of political power, since accounting was key to the control of real goods. Before Writing documents how numeracy was the privilege of an elite and shows how the more complex the token system became the more power it wielded.
Written in an engaging and lively style, Before Writing,Volume I: From Counting to Cuneiform has significance far beyond a single field. This earliest alphabet was a complete departure from the previous syllabaries. Second, it was consonantal—it dealt only with speech sounds characterized by constriction or closure at one or more points in the breath channel, like b, d, l, m, n, p, etc.
Third, it streamlined the system to 22 signs, instead of several hundred. In the seventh century BC the Assyrian kings still dictated their edicts to two scribes.
The first wrote Akkadian in cuneiform on a clay tablet; the second Aramaic in a cursive alphabetic script traced on a papyrus scroll. The Phoenician merchants established on the coast of present day Syria and Lebanon, played an important role in the diffusion of the alphabet.
In particular, they brought their consonantal alphabetic system to Greece, perhaps as early as, or even before BC. The Greeks perfected the Semitic alphabet by adding letters for vowels—speech sounds in the articulation of which the breath channel is not blocked, like a, e, i, o, u. As a result the letter Greek alphabet improved the transcription of the spoken word, since all sounds were indicated. The alphabet did not subsequently undergo any fundamental change. The Latin alphabet used in the western world is the direct descendant of the Etruscan alphabet Bonfante The Etruscans, who occupied the present province of Tuscany in Italy, adopted the Greek alphabet, slightly modifying the shape of letters.
The alphabet followed the Roman armies. All the nations that fell under the rule of the Roman Empire became literate in the first centuries of our era. Charlemagne AD had a profound influence on the development of the Latin script by establishing standards. In particular a clear and legible minuscule cursive script was devised, from which our modern day lower case derives. The printing press invented in dramatically multiplied the dissemination of texts, introducing a new regularity in lettering and layout.
The Internet catapults the alphabet into cyberspace, while preserving its integrity 6. Writing: Handling Data in Abstraction Beyond the formal and structural changes undergone by writing in the course of millennia, its evolution also involved strides in the ability to handle data in abstraction.
At the first stage, the token system antecedent of writing, already abstracted information in several ways. First, it translated daily-life commodities into arbitrary, often geometric forms. Second, the counters abstracted the items counted from their context. For example, sheep could be accounted independently of their actual location.
Third, the token system separated the data from the knower. That is to say, a group of tokens communicated directly specific information to anyone initiated in the system. This was a significant change for an oral society, where knowledge was transmitted by word of mouth from one individual to another, face to face. Otherwise, the token system represented plurality concretely, in one-to-one correspondence.
Three jars of oil were shown by three tokens, as it is in reality. At the same time, the fact that the token system used specific counters to count different items was concrete—it did not abstract the notion of item counted from that of number.
Certain English numerical expressions referring to particular sets, such as twin, triplet, quadruplet and duo, trio or quartet, are comparable to concrete numbers. When tokens were impressed on the envelopes to indicate the counters enclosed inside, the resulting markings could no longer be manipulated by hand.
In other words, the transmutation of three-dimensional counters into two-dimensional signs constituted a second step in abstraction. By doing away with tokens, the clay tablets marked a third level of abstraction since the impressed markings no longer replicated a set of actual counters.
The invention of numerals, which separated the notion of numerosity from that of the item counted, was a crucial fourth step in abstraction. The signs expressing the concept of oneness, twoness, etc. In turn, the phonetic units marked a fifth step of abstraction, since the signs no longer referred to the objects pictured, but rather the sound of the word they evoked.
Phonetics allowed writing to shift from a representational to a conceptual linguistic system. That is to say it enabled writing to leave the realm of real goods in order to enter the world of words and the ideas they stand for. Finally, the process that started with ideograms expressing concepts and phonetic signs referring to the sound of monosyllabic words reached the ultimate segmentation of meaning with letters.
As Marshall McLuhan defined it, the alphabet consists of semantically meaningless letters corresponding to semantically meaningless sounds. The alphabet brought data handling to a final double-stepped abstraction. Conclusion: The Stability of Writing Systems The origin of the Chinese script and the development of Mesoamerican writing are still obscure. The Mesopotamian script, however, offers a well-documented evolution over a continuous period of 10, years. The system underwent drastic changes in form, gradually transcribed spoken language more accurately, and handled data in more abstract terms.
The most striking universal feature of all writing systems, however, is their uncanny endurance, unmatched among human creations. The Chinese script never needed to be deciphered because the signs have changed little during the years of its recorded existence Xigui Then still another transformation occurred -- the ancient Sumerians realized it was possible to simply inscribe with a stylus the image of the token.
This served as the earliest type of written sign. Schmandt-Besserat had found her answer to the conundrum of how writing began: from counting. And slowly. Very, very slowly. She had thus explained why so many pictographs looked so little like the things they were supposed to represent. Schmandt-Besserat filled in the missing link between the thing a sheep, for example and its sign a circle with an X on it.
As it turned out, the mark wasn't supposed to represent a sheep; it was supposed to represent the counter for the sheep. Schmandt-Besserat had a thrilling "Aha! Her published articles number close to and she has written books catering to every audience -- first to the academic community through the dense two-volume text Before Writing: From Counting to Cuneiform , then to the educated lay person via When Writing Came About , and finally to the younger generation in two children's books, The History of Counting, which just hit bookstores this fall, and The History of Writing, which is currently in her editor's hands.
A popular teacher, Schmandt-Besserat tends to receive astronomically high ratings from her students in faculty surveys and engenders profound respect from her colleagues.
Nevertheless, her determination to convince the academic world of the validity of her ideas has not been easy. Carol Justus of UT's classics department recalls a lecture philosopher Jacques Derrida once gave at Berkeley, at which he said something to the effect of, "Of course the university is conservative -- that's what it's there for. Schmandt-Besserat's innovation in conjunction with academia's resistance to the new has led to the occasional quarrel.
To take a recent example of the workings of the academic world, last April Schmandt-Besserat was not invited to present a paper at a conference about the origin of writing at the University of Pennsylvania. Though tokens are now almost universally accepted as a precursor to writing, many scholars at the conference were there to further other co-possibilities, such as picture-making.
The debate, they say, should revolve around the search for writing's other ancestors, now that the role of tokens has been established. Because of Schmandt-Besserat's reputation, however, and despite her nonattendance, The New York Times interviewed her at length as part of its coverage of the conference. Schmandt-Besserat says she was "so pleased when The New York Times before writing the article called me right here [at her UT office] and said, "What do you think of that?
But there has been substantial criticism with regard to details of her work. Schmandt-Besserat, never one to shy away from debate, is quick to rise to her own defense. When discussing the politics of the academic world, she waves her hand as if swatting flies. She rests assured that today it is she, not her detractors, who appears as the authority on writing's origins in modern textbooks in linguistics, anthropology, archeology, and mathematics, and who has been listed in Who's Who in America every year since Accumulating and storing stuff encourages accounting, and the system they came up with was based on clay tokens.
These were abstract, simple geometric shapes, standardized across the region so accountants could distinguish sheep tokens from oil tokens and know they represented one sheep or measure of oil. In archives tokens were grouped, placed in clay envelopes and officially sealed. But clay is a malleable substance, and slowly the innovation took hold of impressing or incising the clay envelope in such a way to indicate the contents.
Three cones in the envelope representing three measures of grain could be communicated by three cone-shaped impressions on the outside of the envelope. Eventually it was recognized the envelope itself could store the information without tokens.
In the 18th century several scholars suggested writing originated in pictures. Because Sumerian was mostly a monosyllabic language, the logograms had a syllabic value. Tokens functioned as an extension of the human brain to collect, manipulate, store, and retrieve data. That is to say it enabled writing to leave the realm of real goods in order to enter the world of words and the ideas they stand for.
For years no one knew what they were, though it was evident they were something. Presumably, these funerary texts were meant to immortalize the name of the deceased, thereby, according to Sumerian creed, ensuring them of eternal life.
In all these instances, the medium changed in form but not in content. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Because Sumerian was mostly a monosyllabic language, the logograms had a syllabic value. The system underwent drastic changes in form, gradually transcribed spoken language more accurately, and handled data in more abstract terms. Your mama, as soon as you are big like this," she points out in her heavy French accent, "says "One, two, three The repertory of some three hundred types of counters made it feasible to manipulate and store information on multiple categories of goods Schmandt-Besserat
The repertory of some three hundred types of counters made it feasible to manipulate and store information on multiple categories of goods Schmandt-Besserat In other words, the transmutation of three-dimensional counters into two-dimensional signs constituted a second step in abstraction. Mar 02, Charles rated it really liked it The dominant myths and theories of the origin of writing for many centuries were ex nihilo in nature.
Denise Schmandt-Besserat presents a system of counters tokens that appeared in the Near East following the invention of agriculture about B. The repertory of some three hundred types of counters made it feasible to manipulate and store information on multiple categories of goods Schmandt-Besserat The invention of numerals, which separated the notion of numerosity from that of the item counted, was a crucial fourth step in abstraction.
But there has been substantial criticism with regard to details of her work.
After the name and title of the deceased followed patronymics, the name of a temple or a god to whom the statue was dedicated, and in some cases, a plea for life after death, including a verb. But there has been substantial criticism with regard to details of her work. She rests assured that today it is she, not her detractors, who appears as the authority on writing's origins in modern textbooks in linguistics, anthropology, archeology, and mathematics, and who has been listed in Who's Who in America every year since That is to say, a group of tokens communicated directly specific information to anyone initiated in the system. Because Sumerian was mostly a monosyllabic language, the logograms had a syllabic value.
It also explains why the Egyptians never borrowed Sumerian signs. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
The alphabet did not subsequently undergo any fundamental change.
The system underwent drastic changes in form, gradually transcribed spoken language more accurately, and handled data in more abstract terms. Phonetic signs to transcribe personal names, therefore, created an avenue for writing to spread outside of Mesopotamia. We don't see the world anymore the same way. Great truths can be held with reverence in memory. If you look at it there is no doubt possible.