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Invention and Borrowing in the Development and Dispersal of Writing Systems

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Chapter Summary

In the history and dispersal of writing systems, borrowing is a central feature. Mesopotamian, perhaps Egyptian, Chinese and at least one Meso-American writing system are thought to have developed independently while all subsequent systems borrowed at least the idea of writing. The ability to write down one language does not suffice for writing down another. Script materials affect the shape of signs and in the Philippine case also partly explain the direction of writing. Contact with writing may transfer the idea of writing but the creation of a script also requires sign shapes and values that combine into a writing system. This latter development consists of borrowings and inventions that need to be largely completed before the script can be put to use. The authors in this volume illustrate the complexity of invention, borrowing and innovation but also go much beyond the simple categories described above.

Keywords:Borrowing; Chinese; Egyptian; Invention; Meso-American; Mesopotamian; Philippine; writing systems

10.1163/9789004217003_002
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