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Oldest writing

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  • Diana Gainer
      The earliest semiotic system, from Uruk, is best known as proto-cuneiform. It is proto- because the symbols are the precursors of known cuneiform signs,
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 6, 2012
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      The earliest semiotic system, from Uruk, is best known as proto-cuneiform. It is "proto-" because the symbols are the precursors
      of known cuneiform signs, but have a pictographic or hieroglyphic form at this stage. It is also "proto-" because it is proto-
      writing, not yet clearly representing the sounds of language, although it does convey ideas. Slightly later, in what is now Iran,
      a related proto-writing system is called proto-Elamite. But in both cases, since the "writing" is not closely tied to any language,
      it is impossible to determine what language(s) underlie it. The scribes may have spoken Sumerian in Uruk and they may have
      spoken Elamite in Iran. But not necessarily. (see Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative online or cdli for details).
       
      The earliest tags from Abydos, Egypt, fall
      into a similar category. While Dreyer reads them as hieroglyphs, David O'Connor
      (Abydos: Egypt's First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris, 2009) does not agree, but considers them also proto-writing.
       
      Individual symbols that may have become incorporated in later writing systems appear from the Neolithic in China and the
      early Bronze Age in India.  But true writing is not recognized in China until the Shang dynasty about 1500 BC (David Keightley, Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China, 1978 and 1985).  The Harappan script may be another proto-writing
      system (Farmer, Sproat, and Witzel 2004 "The Collapse of the Indus Script Thesis: The Myth of a Literate Harappan Civilization").
       
      Modern proto-writing systems include China's Naxi script, as well as the calendrical and numerical symbols used in parts of Mexico (Aztec or Nahuatl speakers, Mixtec).  In all these proto-writing or semiotic systems, the symbols have meaning but do not generally encode phonetic information.  The same is probably true of the painted pebbles of Mas d'Azil as well as enigmatic symbols found among the better known cave paintings of animals dating to the Paleolithic.

       
      Diana Gainer
      M.S. Texas A&M-Commerce
      now unaffiliated; in Greenville, Texas


      > The earliest semiotic system, from Uruk, is best known as proto-cuneiform.  It is "proto-" because the symbols are the precursors
      > of known cuneiform signs, but have a pictographic or hieroglyphic form at this stage.  It is also "proto-" because it is proto-
      > writing, not yet clearly representing the sounds of language, although it does convey ideas.  Slightly later, in what is now Iran,
      > a related proto-writing system is called proto-Elamite.  But in both cases, since the "writing" is not closely tied to any language,
      > it is impossible to determine what language(s) underlie it.  The scribes may have spoken Sumerian in Uruk and they may have
      > spoken Elamite in Iran.  But not necessarily.
      >  
      > The earliest tags from Abydos, Egypt, fall into a
      similar category.  While Dreyer reads them as hieroglyphs, David O'Connor
      > (Abydos: Egypt's First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris, 2009) does not agree, but considers them also proto-writing.
      >  
      > Diana Gainer
      >
      > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Peter T. Daniels
      Well, no, Uruk proto-cuneiform isn t the oldest _semiotic_ system. The Vinca tablets, the Mas d Azil pebbles, the hand-outlines from Lascaux etc. are all
      Message 2 of 2 , Jan 6, 2012
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        Well, no, Uruk proto-cuneiform isn't the oldest _semiotic_ system. The Vinca tablets, the Mas d'Azil pebbles, the hand-outlines from Lascaux etc. are all semiotic systems, in that they convey some sort of meaning in some way or other. Uruk proto-cuneiform is the oldest _writing_ system.
         
        The language is identifiable because a few signs involve phonetic complements from Sumerian (Steinkeller, BiOr review of Green & Nissen).

        The term "proto-writing" doesn't make sense for semiotic systems that didn't turn into writing -- Gelb called them "forerunners of writing," but DeFrancis shows that the things Gelb put into that category didn't actually fore-run writing. (You only get writing _ex nihilo_ when your language has primarily monosyllabic morphemes, so that the things put down in pictographs also happen to also record the most basically perceived sound-units, namely syllables.)

        Please don't take Farmer/Sproat/Witzel seriously. Richard Sproat's only?/best? argument that Indus writing isn't writing is that the blazons used in heraldry would then have to be considered a writing system (presented at the 2010 Berkeley Linguistic Society meeting, not yet published), and since it isn't, therefore that shouldn't be. The claim was so absurd that no one in the audience could even figure out how to challenge it. 

        --
        Peter T. Daniels grammatim@...
        Jersey City


        >________________________________
        > From: Diana Gainer <torakana54@...>
        >To: "ane-2@yahoogroups.com" <ane-2@yahoogroups.com>
        >Sent: Friday, January 6, 2012 10:29 AM
        >Subject: [ANE-2] Oldest writing
        >

        >
        >The earliest semiotic system, from Uruk, is best known as proto-cuneiform. It is "proto-" because the symbols are the precursors
        >of known cuneiform signs, but have a pictographic or hieroglyphic form at this stage. It is also "proto-" because it is proto-
        >writing, not yet clearly representing the sounds of language, although it does convey ideas. Slightly later, in what is now Iran,
        >a related proto-writing system is called proto-Elamite. But in both cases, since the "writing" is not closely tied to any language,
        >it is impossible to determine what language(s) underlie it. The scribes may have spoken Sumerian in Uruk and they may have
        >spoken Elamite in Iran. But not necessarily. (see Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative online or cdli for details).

        >The earliest tags from Abydos, Egypt, fall
        >into a similar category. While Dreyer reads them as hieroglyphs, David O'Connor
        >(Abydos: Egypt's First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris, 2009) does not agree, but considers them also proto-writing.

        >Individual symbols that may have become incorporated in later writing systems appear from the Neolithic in China and the
        >early Bronze Age in India.  But true writing is not recognized in China until the Shang dynasty about 1500 BC (David Keightley, Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China, 1978 and 1985).  The Harappan script may be another proto-writing
        >system (Farmer, Sproat, and Witzel 2004 "The Collapse of the Indus Script Thesis: The Myth of a Literate Harappan Civilization").

        >Modern proto-writing systems include China's Naxi script, as well as the calendrical and numerical symbols used in parts of Mexico (Aztec or Nahuatl speakers, Mixtec).  In all these proto-writing or semiotic systems, the symbols have meaning but do not generally encode phonetic information.  The same is probably true of the painted pebbles of Mas d'Azil as well as enigmatic symbols found among the better known cave paintings of animals dating to the Paleolithic.
        >

        >Diana Gainer
        >M.S. Texas A&M-Commerce
        >now unaffiliated; in Greenville, Texas

        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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