Cooper, Jerrold S. “Babylonian beginnings: the origin of the cuneiform writing system in comparative perspective.” In The First Writing, ed. Stephen D. Houston, Cambridge: Cambridge Press, 2004. pp 71-99.

Cooper’s article discusses the origins of the Sumerian writing system in general. Most interesting to me is his discussion of the relationship between spoken and written language. Cooper argues that the context for early writing is most likely administrative and economic, thus early writing systems are restricted to specific applications. Only gradually do they acquire the grammatical and syntactic features that allow representation of natural language. Thus, writing’s first function was not to mimic spoken language. Further, even when writing is applied to oral domains the written language produces new dialects by maintaining features that have long disappeared from the spoken language and adding new features. Thus he argues against the persistent notion that writing exists merely to notate spoken language, preferring to describe written and spoken language as two separate, but overlapping, subsets of language in general.

Explore posts in the same categories: Cooper, Jerrold S, Orthography

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