The History of Language
Putting it in Writing (for the Record)
I took a week off from the paid-subscriber-only Recs & Revs post (what I’m calling Recommendations and Reviews, for short) while I reoriented to the revised weekly free essay schedule. You may recall that when last we met in these newsletter paragraphs I was sharing my propensity for descending into long journeys down World Wide Web rabbit holes and my plan, as one area of focus on Recs & Revs, to share some of my way stations and destinations with you all. Last time, we stopped in at the British Library to peruse a few of its accounts on the history of writing.
We learned there that four regions of the world are credited with an independent development of writing: Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and Mesoamerica. Of the four, inclination is toward the first two, with Sumerian and Akkadian, from Mesopotamia, and Egyptian being the three languages with the clearest written records, with cuneiform arguably the oldest system of written symbols. As prehistoric cave paintings seem to portray symbolic, perhaps religious invocations of the hunt or the human relationship to fellow animals, many of the ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets offer very different kinds of records, of business and trade accounts.
Interest in the oldest written language is unsurprisingly related to the same about the oldest language in toto, but that presents an even more challenging determination to hazard, as what would be historical evidence of spoken language other than a written record? An echo?
Well, there is a field called historical linguistics which among its other areas of attention, seeks to determine the origins of languages through the study of historical language development and the relatedness of different languages.
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