Development of Writing

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1 Development of Writing The Mesopotamian region was one of four river civilizations where writing was invented independently. The others are the Nile valley in Egypt the Indus Valley in the Indian subcontinent and Yellow River valley in China.

2 Proto (primitive) writing begins across the world... cave/wall art: like comic book art; these pictures generalize events pictographs: these are symbols that represent objects and ideas; they lack grammar to explain complex ideas.

3 Unlike proto-writing, true written language uses grammar (parts of speech) and phonetics (sounds of speech) to give language both implied and exact meaning. Cuneiform began as pictographs, but later evolved into wedge-shaped symbols that represented ideas and sounds.

4 When Mesopotamians began to record the amounts of different crops, Barley was one of the most important crops in southern Mesopotamia. When it was first drawn it looked like this-- Scribes drew the pictograph on soft clay tablets using a pointed tool, or stylus, probably made out of a dried reed. Because the barley symbol resembled an actual stalk of barley, it is called a pictograph.

5 The end of this tool was used to press wedge shapes like these into clay tablets. The barley sign changed shape when the scribes used a writing tool with a squared-off end instead of a point. It is at this point that the signs became what we call cuneiform, or wedge-shape. The barley sign had to be written using several wedges.

6 Not only the shape, but also the use of the sign had been changing. The barley sign could now be used in two ways. For example, this tablet tells us about fig cakes given out from the temple. The Sumerian word for fig cake is 'she-er-ku'. It could represent barley, as on this tablet, which tells us that a man named Urra-ilum was given barley. It could also be used to represent a sound. The Sumerian word for barley was 'she'. So the barley sign was used to represent the sound 'she' in a word. she-er-ku

7 The increase of crop surpluses needing to be stored lead to the evolution of a cuneiform. This system of inventory grew to become a written language. Those taking the inventory were scribes.

8 The growing need for scribes lead to the creation of schools to teach boys (mostly) to read and write. Cuneiform allowed trained scribes to record love letters, stories, songs and laws. Many of these tablets have lasted for thousands of years.

9 The grain on this tablet was measured using 'gurs'. The scribe used a special numbering system to represent them. This tablet records a quantity of barley. It was written in about 2900 B.C. Mesopotamians measured capacity using containers. One of the most common container sizes was called a 'gur'. One 'gur' is about the same capacity as about 300 litres (quart). 1 gur is represented by this sign 10 gur is represented by this sign

10 The cuneiform script was used to write different languages. In Mesopotamia it was used to write both Sumerian and Akkadian. It was also used to write other languages like Elamite and Hittite. You can write any language using cuneiform. For example, use the word for sheep: Sumerian: udu Akkadian: si - e - ni Cuneiform script was used by other peoples because they needed to be able to record information. They did not have their own systems for writing down their languages. English: she - ep

11 Q & A: Development of Writing 1. What does it mean that these four civilizations invented written language independently? 2. What is a pictograph? 3. What might be the difference between implied and exact meaning? 4. How is cuneiform different from a pictograph? 5. Why is the first barley symbol called a pictograph? 6. How did the barley symbol change shape? 7. How did the symbol for barley come to be used in other ways? 8. What caused cuneiform to change and become complex over hundreds of years? 9. What did the evolution of cuneiform create within Mesopotamian society? 10. What types of subjects were scribes having to record?

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