Chap: Writing System and Language Essay

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Ch. 16 Writing
Ch. 18 Language and Regional Variation
Yule, G. (2010). The Study of Language (4th ed.). New York: Cambridge.

Written Language vs. Spoken

Writing is defined as the symbolic representation of language through the use of graphic designs

Not simply “acquired”
Has to be learned through sustained effort

Recent phenomenon

Look at cave drawings nearly 20,000 years ago
Clay tokens from 10,000 years ago

Cuneiform Script

One of the earliest known forms of writing;
5,000 years old
Documents were written on clay tablets via a stylus 

The word stylus is Latin, meaning ‘wedge’

Cuneiform was is use for more than 35 centuries, but was completely replaced during the Roman era
Sumerian cuneiform started with about 1,000 signs Pictograms

When some of the “pictures” came to represent particular images in a consistent way, a form of picture-writing evolved called pictograms 

More than just cave drawings
Cave drawings served no particular linguistic message

In order for pictograms to work, everyone had to use a similar form to convert a similar meaning


Pictures soon developed into a more fixed symbolic form
Moved from something visible to something conceptual Take away the picture, but you are left with the idea

The difference between pictograms and ideograms is the relationship between the symbol and the entity it represents

Was never developed sufficiently to represent language 


Ancient Ideogram

Modern Ideograms



When symbols are used to represent words in a language, they are described as examples of word-writing, or logograms

First used by Sumerians in the southern part of modern Iraq approximately 5,000 years ago

Often called cuneiform because of the particular shapes used in their symbols

Their forms give no clue as to what type of entity is being referred to
Arbitrary relationship between the written form and the object

Symbol-based Language

An elaborate writing system based (to a certain extent) on logograms is Chinese

Written symbols are referred to as characters

Even speakers of Chinese with different dialects can understand each other in written text, compared to their spoken forms

Chinese writing has been around for nearly 3,000 years

Syllabic Writing

When a writing system employs a set of symbols and each one represents the pronunciation of a syllable, this is referred to as syllabic writing

“Syllabaries”are technically the sets of written symbols that represent pronunciation of syllables

Typically a consonant followed by a vowel, or just a vowel alone
There are none in use today
An example of a language that has employed this form is Japanese

Alphabetic Writing

An alphabet is a set of written symbols , each one representing a single sound or phoneme

In an ideal alphabet, the sounds would correspond with the letters so that the writer could predict the spelling of a given word AND a speaker could predict the exact pronunciation 

Through borrowing and other word formation processes, we know this could never be

• Ancient Egyptians used both logographic and alphabetic elements

• The Narmer Palette is a significant Egyptian artifact dating back to the 31st century BC; they contain the earliest known hieroglyphic inscriptions ever found.
• Said to depict “upper” and “lower” Egypt.


Is English considered an “alphabet” language?
Languages like Italian and Spanish have writing systems that hold closer to the onesound-one-symbol principle, unlike English
Contemporary English orthography (spelling) allows for a lot of variation in how sounds are boutique represented belief receipt clean peel people key scene What sound do you hear?

represented by phoneme

The English writing system is loosely alphabetic
With so many historical influences, irregular correspondences can be found between