Composing – a method of visual markings representing the devices of a particular language

Composing – something of visual markings representing the devices of the language that is specific was developed separately into the Near East, China and Mesoamerica. The cuneiform script, developed in Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq, ca. 3200 BC, was initially. Additionally, it is really the only writing system which is often traced to its earliest prehistoric origin. This antecedent for the cuneiform script had been a method of counting and recording items with clay tokens. The development of composing from tokens to pictography, alphabet and syllabary illustrates the introduction of data processing to manage bigger quantities of information in ever greater abstraction.


The 3 writing systems that developed separately within the Near East, Asia and Mesoamerica, shared an amazing security. Each preserved over millennia features characteristic of these initial prototypes. The Mesopotamian cuneiform script may be traced furthest back in prehistory to an eighth millennium bc counting system utilizing clay tokens of numerous forms. The growth from tokens to script reveals that writing emerged from counting and accounting. Composing ended up being utilized solely for accounting before the millennium that is third, if the Sumerian concern when it comes to afterlife paved the best way to literary works simply by using writing for funerary inscriptions. The development from tokens to script also documents a constant development in abstracting data, from one-to-one communication with three-dimensional concrete tokens, to two-dimensional photos, the innovation of abstract figures and phonetic syllabic indications and lastly, when you look at the 2nd millennium BC, the best abstraction of noise and meaning using the representation of phonemes because of the letters of this alphabet.

Composing is individual kind’s principal technology for gathering, manipulating, storing, retrieving, interacting and disseminating information. Composing may have been designed individually 3 x in various elements of the globe: when you look at the Near East, Asia and Mesoamerica. With what issues this last script, it’s still obscure exactly how symbols and glyphs utilized by the Olmecs, whose tradition flourished across the gulf coast of florida ca 600 to 500 BC, reappeared into the traditional Maya art and writing of 250-900 advertisement in addition to in other Mesoamerican cultures (Marcus 1992). The first Chinese inscriptions, dated towards the Shang Dynasty, c. 1400–1200 BC, comprise of oracle texts etched on animal bones and turtle shells (Bagley 2004). The extremely abstract and signs that are standardized prior developments, which are currently undocumented.

Among these three writing systems, therefore, just the earliest, the Mesopotamian cuneiform script, created in Sumer, present-day Iraq, c. 3200 BC, could be traced with no discontinuity over a length of 10,000 years, from the prehistoric antecedent to your alphabet that is present-day. Its development is divided in to four stages: (a) clay tokens representing devices of products had been utilized for accounting (8000–3500 BC); (b) the 3 dimensional tokens had been changed into two-dimensional pictographic signs, and such as the previous tokens, the script that is pictographic solely for accounting (3500–3000 BC); (c) phonetic indications, introduced to transcribe the title of an individual, marked the turning point whenever composing began emulating spoken language and, because of this, became relevant to any or all areas of human being experience (3000–1500 BC); (d) with two dozen letters, each standing for just one noise of sound, the alphabet perfected the rendition of message. After ideography, logography and syllabaries, the alphabet represents an additional segmentation of meaning.

1. Tokens as Precursor of Composing

The direct antecedent for the Mesopotamian script had been a recording unit composed of clay tokens of numerous shapes (Schmandt-Besserat 1996). The artifacts, mostly of geometric types such as for instance cones, spheres, disks, cylinders and ovoids, are restored in archaeological internet internet internet sites dating 8000–3000 BC (Fig. 1). The tokens, utilized as counters to help keep tabs on items, had been the earliest code—a system of indications for transmitting information. Each token form had been semantic, talking about a specific product of product. For instance, a cone and a sphere endured correspondingly for a tiny and a big measure of grain, and ovoids represented jars of oil. The repertory of some 3 hundred kinds of counters managed to get feasible to govern and keep info on numerous kinds of products (Schmandt-Besserat 1992).

(Fig. 1) Envelope, tokens and markings that are corresponding from Susa, Iran (Courtesy Musee du Louvre,
Departement des Antiquites Orientales)

The system that is token little in accordance with spoken language except that, just like a term, a token stood for just one concept. Unlike message, tokens had been limited to one style of information just, particularly, genuine items. Unlike talked language, the token system made no utilization of syntax. In other words, their meaning ended up being separate of the positioning purchase. Three cones and three ovoids, spread in just about any real method, had been to be translated ‘three baskets of grain, three jars of oil.’ Additionally, the reality that the exact same token shapes were utilized in an area that is large of Near East, where numerous dialects could have been spoken, demonstrates that the counters are not according to phonetics. Consequently, the products they represented had been expressed in numerous languages. The system that is token how many devices of merchandize in one-to-one communication, put simply, the amount of tokens matched the sheer number of devices counted: x jars of oil had been represented by x ovoids. Saying ‘jar of oil’ x times to be able to show plurality is unlike spoken language.

2. Pictography: Composing as Accounting Unit

After four millennia, the token system led to writing. The change from counters to script happened simultaneously in Sumer and Elam, present-day Iran that is western when around 3500 BC, Elam had been under Sumerian domination. It happened whenever tokens, most likely representing a financial obligation, had been kept in envelopes until re payment. These envelopes made from clay by means of a hollow ball had the drawback of hiding the tokens held inside. Some accountants, consequently, impressed the tokens at first glance for the envelope before enclosing them inside, so the form and amount of counters held inside might be verified at all right times(Fig. 1). These markings had been the initial signs of composing. The metamorphosis from three-dimensional items to two-dimensional markings failed to impact the semantic concept regarding the system. The value regarding the markings on the exterior associated with envelopes had been exactly the same as compared to the tokens held inside.

About 3200 BC, when the system of impressed indications ended up being grasped, clay pills—solid cushion-shaped clay items bearing the impressions of tokens—replaced the envelopes full of tokens. The impression of a cone and a sphere token, representing measures of grain, lead correspondingly in a wedge and a circular marking which bore the exact same meaning once the tokens they signified (Fig. 2). These people were ideograms—signs representing one concept. The tablets that are impressed to be utilized solely to record degrees of items gotten or disbursed. They nevertheless indicated plurality in one-to-one communication.

(Fig. 2) Impressed tablet featuring a free account of grain, from Godin Tepe, Iran (Courtesy Dr. T. Cuyler younger, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto)

Pictographs—signs representing tokens traced by having a stylus instead of impressed—appeared about 3100 BC. These pictographs discussing items mark a crucial help the evolution of composing since they had been never ever repeated in one-to-one correspondence to state numerosity. Besides them, numerals—signs representing plurality—indicated the number of devices recorded. The numerals standing respectively for ‘10’ and ‘1’ (Fig. 3) for example, ‘33 jars of oil’ were shown by the incised pictographic sign ‘jar of oil’, preceded by three impressed circles and three wedges. The symbols for numerals are not brand brand brand new. These were the impressions of cones and spheres formerly representing is safe measures of grain, which in turn had obtained an additional, abstract, numerical meaning. The innovation of numerals meant a considerable economy of indications since 33 jars of oil could possibly be written with 7 rather than 33 markings.

(Fig. 3) Pictographic tablet featuring a merchant account of 33 measures of oil, from Godin Tepe, Iran (Courtesy Dr. T. Cuyler younger, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto)

In amount, with its very first period, composing remained mostly merely a expansion associated with previous token system. The symbolism remained fundamentally the same although the tokens underwent formal transformations from three- to two-dimensional and from impressed markings to signs traced with a stylus. Such as the archaic counters, the pills had been utilized solely for accounting (Nissen and Heine 2009). It was additionally the truth whenever a stylus, manufactured from a reed with a triangular end, provided towards the signs the wedge-shaped ‘cuneiform’ appearance (Fig. 4). In every these circumstances, the medium changed in kind although not in content. The only real major departure from the token system consisted within the development of two distinct forms of signs: incised pictographs and impressed numerals. This mix of indications initiated the division that is semantic the item counted and number.

(Fig. 4) Economic cuneiform tablet (Courtesy Texas Memorial Museum, The University of Texas at Austin)