January 31, 2014 Anthropology 2245
Language and Literacy
Reading and writing
Definitions of writing under debate:
• Inclusive view/ exclusive view
• Writing as a continuum or as a leap
• Can the method of writing convey ALL thoughts or a system of symbols to convey
some amount of thought?
• Linguistic anthropologists study where writing began as well as how it evolved
• Where did it begin- hieroglyphics & Mayans? Babylon? Cuneiform? People are
looking and studying this now still.
• Pictographs - pictures that are representing speech
Yukaghir "love letter"
One of the best places to see petroglyphs is in Petroglyphs Provincial Park near
Peterborough, Ontario. There are only remnants of people that use this method on some level and this is
fading fast. The crucial clue here is, does it represent of oral speech or is it just
pointers to a story or something you can interpret any way you would like.
The love letter was carved on bark. The conifers are people. It ended up being a 'party
game' that people had to guess what it meant and was never meant to be sent. None
of the symbols are really meaningful in a way that it was shared amongst people. No
one would have understood what it meant if they weren't already aware of the situation
within the village. Other 'birch' representations have been found but none have been
documented as if it was understood what it meant.
All writing systems are incomplete by definition. It is impossible to have it cover
everything. There are lots of things being lost through the evolution of that language or
writing systems as well or not possible to convey through writing. For example
sarcasm, tone, facial expressions, pronunciation, emphasis, volume ….
All writing systems incomplete by definition in their representation of speech.
Classification of writing systems based on proportion of phonetic/non-phonetic material
in the graphemes
Graphemes- A grapheme is the smallest semantically distinguishing unit in a written
language, analogous to the phonemes of spoken languages. A grapheme may or may
not carry meaning by itself, and may or may not correspond to a single phoneme.
Graphemes include alphabetic letters, typographic ligatures, Chinese characters,
numerical digits, punctuation marks, and other individual symbols of any of the world's
Alphabets - You are aware of alphabets but there are also consonantal alphabets (with
Syllabaries - A syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent the syllables or
(more frequently) moras which make up words. Each must have a vowel. A syllabary in
English could be very difficult because there can be as many as 3 consonants before a
vowel and as many as 3 or 4 after so there are many mixes that can be made and it
would be difficult to know which was meant.
An example is the Arabic alphabet. This chart needs to be right to left and not left to right. Decisions for how symbols are
read are arbitrary and decided upon by the system it comes from Written Chinese
(Chinese: 中中; pinyin: zhōngwén) comprises Chinese characters used to represent the
Chinese language, and the rules about how they are arranged and punctuated.
Chinese characters do not constitute an alphabet or a compact syllabary. Rather, the
writing system is roughly logosyllabic; that is, a character generally represents one
syllable of spoken Chinese and may be a word on its own or a part of a polysyllabic
word. The characters themselves are often composed of parts that may represent
physical objects, abstract notions, or pronunciation.
Chinese characters conform to a roughly square frame and are not usually linked to
one another, so they can be written in any direction in a square grid. Traditionally,
Chinese is written in vertical columns from top to bottom; the first column is on the
right side of the page, and the text runs toward the left. Text written in Classical
Chinese also uses little or no punctuation. In such cases, sentence and phrase breaks
are determined by context and rhythm. This remains the preferred layout in letters and
You must learn to read and write. You cannot learn it independently. English may take
6 years of formal education to learn, Spanish may take only two but Chinese or
Japanese may have 10-12 years.
Runes are abstracts of particular sounds. Runes vary from one language to another in Nordic languages. There was no way to
create some words. The symbols are very arbitrary and need to be taught. With the
expansion of the Roman empire, this was replaced with the Latin written language.
Cherokee Syllabary The Cherokee syllabary is a syllabary invented by Sequoyah, also known as George
Gist, to write the Cherokee language in the late 1810s and early 1820s. His creation of
the syllabary is particularly noteworthy in that he could not previously read any script.
He first experimented with logograms, but his system later developed into a syllabary.
In his system, each symbol represents a syllable rather than a single phoneme; the 85
(originally 86) characters in the Cherokee syllabary provide a suitable method to write
Cherokee. Some symbols do resemble the Latin, Greek and even the Cyrillic scripts'
letters, but the sounds are completely different (for example, the sound /a/ is written
with a letter that resembles Latin D). This was then taught through schools that were
developed and there was a very high literacy rate until the language, newspapers etc.
were no longer allowed by whites.
Japanese is actually 4 different writing systems. You would need to learn 10,000
symbols to just be able to read a newspaper. Each grapheme occupies its own space.
It is all a matter of constant memorization of the symbols. Katana is used to interpret any foreign words.
It makes use of Chinese written language symbols as well which can have either a
Chinese or a Japanese meanings. Books are hard to read so this is why there is such
a cultural consequence of 'manga'.
Manga (Japanese: 中中 Hepburn: Manga?, English Listeni/ˈmæŋ.ɡə/ or /ˈmɑːŋ.ɡə/) are
comics created in Japan, or by Japanese creators in the Japanese language,
conforming to a style developed in Japan in the late 19th century. They have a long
and complex pre-history in earlier Japanese art.
In Japan, people of all ages read manga. The medium includes works in a broad range
of genres: action-adventure, romance, sports and games, historical drama, comedy,
science fiction and fantasy, mystery, suspense, detective, horror, sexuality, and
business/commerce, among others.
The written Japanese language was so difficult to write that it had to be written by
hand (contracts etc) so fax machines were created to copy.
It is difficult to learn a new writing system that is similar to the symbols used within
yours because your brain is already 'trained' to see symbols as certain sounds.
Logographs - A logogram, or logograph, is a grapheme which represents a word or a
morpheme (the smallest meaningful unit of language). This stands in contrast