Anthropology 2246F/G Lecture Notes - Phonetics, Oracle Bone

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Published on 14 Sep 2013
Department
Sept, 11, 2013
Introduction to Anthropology of Reading and Writing
-Writing is a system of graphic symbols that can be used to convey any and all thought (important stipulation)
-All writing systems are more similar than they are different leading to all the debate about their origins
-Symbols that represent sounds vary in proportion of phonetic and semantic signs and they are representation of
oral speech and they are trying to capture the oral aspect of language which is very complex
-All writing systems are incomplete in their trying to represent speech because there are so many facets of speech
that it makes it impossible to be represented in a writing system and this is why scripts are interpreted differently
-Language is basically oral and writing is a relatively new invention in terms of human cultural history (had it
roughly 5000 years but language for roughly 500,000) and some groups are still capable of living without writing
-This makes us question why we have writing and what is it good for (is it good at all?)
-For a long time writing was limited to a few people in society and only in the last 50-60 years it has become
democratic and there are many programs against illiteracy
-Once it became widespread we cannot even think of our lives without it and it created much cultural change
making us dependant on it in all aspects of our life
-There is so writing system that is 100% semantic and all have a phonetic component (even hieroglyphs, etc it’s just
the quantity that differs)
-Our language includes numbers which are semantics and other symbols such as $, &, %, etc and looking at texting
we also use emoticons and other symbols
-No writing system is perfect because writing itself is a simplification with advantages and disadvantages
depending on the type of language and the proportion of semantics to phonetics and it is each culture’s decision to
write their language in a certain way based on many factors from their past history
-This is what makes writing systems so hard to change and it leads to many confusing questions
-We write a variety of the language because it cannot all be represented in writing and usually this variety that is
chosen becomes standard with more prestige and wide spread practice so decisions on variety have long standing
consequences on the social standing of that particular language (who uses it)
-Phonetic content can vary at different levels: segments, consonants, vowels, and syllables (semantics are
phonological units basically)
-There are people who have created languages with no training that follow the linguistic units and this shows how
pervasive they are in our minds and that people instinctively follow the “rules” (syllables are very unconscious
when learned early in one’s native language)
Theories on the Origin of Writing:
-Theological -Flash of inspiration -Evolution from pictograms -Evolution from tokens
-Diffusion -Independent invention
-These are all very hard to prove without concrete evidence
-The theological explanation is wide spread in many cultures and it cannot be proven or disproved and any culture
that has writing that cannot clearly identify the source (the majority)
-Flash of inspiration proposes that one lucky person just came up with the idea and it spread from there and
evolved along the way but we have to ask where this inspiration came from and this is impossible to answer
-Evolution from pictograms is supported by some archaeological evidence like in China with the oracle bones with
marks that are precursors to their symbols and with the Aztecs there is debate whether codices are pictograms or
actual writing in the sense they can represent anything
-With pictograms though not all of them develop into writing so this has to be considered
-Evolution from tokens is more applied in the Middle East and it is believed that (and usually true) that where
there are early writing systems it was tied to accounting and the need for it came from the state in order to keep
track of people and products for taxation
-Writing in historical terms is a trait of states and it seems to be the result of the earlier need for records of
accounting and other various censuses
-There are also states that never had writing like the Inca who used quipus (maybe the reason they didn’t need
writing because their needs were met)
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Document Summary

Writing is a system of graphic symbols that can be used to convey any and all thought (important stipulation) All writing systems are more similar than they are different leading to all the debate about their origins. Symbols that represent sounds vary in proportion of phonetic and semantic signs and they are representation of oral speech and they are trying to capture the oral aspect of language which is very complex. All writing systems are incomplete in their trying to represent speech because there are so many facets of speech that it makes it impossible to be represented in a writing system and this is why scripts are interpreted differently. Language is basically oral and writing is a relatively new invention in terms of human cultural history (had it roughly 5000 years but language for roughly 500,000) and some groups are still capable of living without writing.

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