The Invention of Cuneiform

The Invention of Cuneiform : Writing in Sumer

By (author) Jean-Jacques Glassner , Translated by Zainab Bahrani , Translated by Marc Van De Mieroop

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As the first known system of writing, the cuneiform symbols traced in Sumerian clay more than six millennia ago were once regarded as a simplistic and clumsy attempt to record in linear form the sounds of a spoken language. More recently, scholars have acknowledged that early Sumerian writing - far from being a primitive and flawed mechanism that would be "improved" by the Phoenicians and Greeks - in fact represented a complete written language system, not only meeting the daily needs of economic and government administration, but also providing a new means of understanding the world. Jean-Jacques Glassner offers a compelling introduction to this seminal era in human history. Returning to early Mesopotamian texts that have been little studied or poorly understood, he traces the development of writing from the earliest attempts to the sophisticated system of roughly 640 signs that comprised the Sumerian repertory by about 3200 BC. Glassner further argues - with an occasional nod to Derrida - that the invention of writing had a deeper metaphysical significance. By bringing the divinely ordained spoken language under human control, Sumerians were able to "make invisibility visible", separating themselves from the divine order and creating a new model of power.

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  • Hardback | 288 pages
  • 152.4 x 228.6 x 27.94mm | 680.39g
  • 22 Dec 2003
  • JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Baltimore, MD
  • English
  • 0801873894
  • 9780801873898
  • 1,744,781

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Author Information

Jean-Jacques Glassner is a research director at the French National Center for Scientific Research. Zainab Bahrani is an associate professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University. Marc Van De Mieroop is a professor of history and Middle East and Asian languages and cultures at Columbia University.

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Review quote

Did writing evolve from multiple stimuli into a script that represented a particular language? Or was it invented by a genius at a particular place and time? How did it happen? Jean-Jacques Glassner sets out to answer these questions in this stimulating book, translated from the French, in which he presents his own view--that writing was invented not as a recording device, nor as a primitive linkage of symbols representing objects, but as a purposeful rendering of the Sumerian language.--Stephanie Dalley"Technology and Culture" (01/01/2005)

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