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Writing: Theory and History of the Technology of Civilization

ISBN: 978-1-4051-6256-2
298 pages
April 2009, Wiley-Blackwell
Writing: Theory and History of the Technology of Civilization (1405162562) cover image
Writing: Theory and History of the Technology of Civilization traces the origins of writing tied to speech from ancient Sumer through the Greek alphabet and beyond.
  • Examines the earliest evidence for writing in Mesopotamia in the fourth millennium BC, the origins of purely phonographic systems, and the mystery of alphabetic writing
  • Includes discussions of Ancient Egyptian,Chinese, and Mayan writing
  • Shows how the structures of writing served and do serve social needs and in turn create patterns of social behavior
  • Clarifies the argument with many illustrations
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List of Illustrations ix

Maps xiv

Preface xv

Chronology xvii

Introduction: A Difficult Topic, Little Studied, Poorly Understood 1

1 What Is Writing? 11

2 Writing with Signs 19

3 Categories and Features of Writing 38

4 Some General Issues in the Study of Writing 51

5 Protocuneiform and Counting Tokens 60

6 Origin of Lexigraphic Writing in Mesopotamia 70

7 Plato's Ideas and Champollion’s Decipherment of the Egyptian Hieroglyphs 85

8 Egyptian Writing and Egyptian Speech 100

9 The Origin and Nature of Egyptian Writing 108

10 “The House of Life”: Scribes and Writing in Ancient Egypt 120

11 Syllabic Scripts of the Aegean 128

12 The West Semitic Revolution 148

13 What Kind of Writing Was West Semitic? 163

14 The Origins of West Semitic Writing 175

15 Chinese Logography 187

16 Lexigraphic Writing in Mesoamerica 206

17 The Greek Alphabet: A Writing That Changed the World 227

18 Summary and Conclusions 245

Glossary 255

Bibliography 263

Index 270

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Barry B. Powell is Halls-Bascom Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has written extensively on ancient Greek literature and the history of writing. His books include Homer and the Origin of the Greek Alphabet (1991), A New Companion to Homer (editor, with Ian Morris) (1997), Writing and the Origins of Greek Literature (2001), and two editions of Homer (second edition, Blackwell, 2007).
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  • Traces the origins of writing tied to speech from ancient Sumer through the Greek alphabet and beyond

  • Examines the earliest evidence for writing in Mesopotamia in the fourth millennium BC, the origins of purely phonographic systems, and the mystery of alphabetic writing

  • Includes discussions of Ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Mayan writing

  • Shows how the structures of writing served and do serve social needs and in turn create patterns of social behavior

  • Clarifies the argument with many illustrations
See More
"For anyone interested in language, writing, and their fascinating history across many cultures and centuries of development, this engagingly written, well-illustrated book will provide a very readable mine of information." (CHOICE, December 2009)

“Powell's concentration on precise names for terms used in discourse clears up some of the confusion common to histories of work on ancient scripts.” (About.com, May 2009)

“A feature … is the use of the ancient scripts in the text with numerous illustrations to familiarize the reader with the different writing systems. The result is a readable and enlightening study of a complex topic.” (Bryn Mawr Classical Review, April 2010)

“Writing is stimulating and impressive.” (Science, April 2009)

"This is an excellent, accessible introduction to writing's origins and development; Powell's jargon-free exposition clarifies many important issues in a way that specialist discussions have rarely achieved to date."
John Bennet, University of Sheffield

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