The Origin of Writing (1986)

   •Roy Harris

ISBN: 0812690354

How did Homo sapiens become Homo scribens? Was writing originally an attempt to represent speech? Did it evolve from prehistoric art? What types of sign were the precursors of the alphabet and the hieroglyph? This book proposes a new approach to an age-old complex of problems, and offers some iconoclastic solutions. Surveying present-day attempts to explain what might have set our ancestors on the road to writing, it exposes the weaknesses of current theories and shows how the mystery surrounding that first step across the threshold of literacy is generated by projecting back modern assumptions into prehistoric times. But this is not essentially a book about the distant past. Its conclusions are equally relevant to contemporary concepts of cultural evolution and contemporary debates about the basic tenets of linguistics.

– ‘convincingly argued case against traditional theories’: Marcel Danesi in New Vico Studies

– ‘This is a thoughtful book... Those sophisticated enough to know that we are living in an age much concerned with semiology ... will find a lot to think about’: Anthony Burgess in The Observer


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© Roy Harris, Emeritus Professor of General Linguistics, Oxford, 2010-2015