A classical original letter remain in the archives, historical Epistemology and the Origins of Writing
By: Van Hecke, Pierre J.
Given the great variety of non-linguistic structures, functions, and techniques of knowledge representation discussed here, it no longer makes sense to speak about some presumed unified origins, or linear development of writing. The term “origins of writing” is related to historical developments in huge geographical areas over a time-span of some 2000 years. Already the comparatively small region of the Near East from which I took my examples shows an enormous richness of different developments, which all contributed to the emergence of writing. If one takes into account developments in such different settings as those of Egypt, China or Mesoamerica, the complexity of different developments is increased even more. This brings me back to the problem of monogenesis or polygenesis of writing that I raised at the beginning of the present paper. Whatever the eventual solution might be to this problem, it has to take into account the quite different ways writing in one culture may influence the emergence of writing in others. Even if we accept the monogenesis hypothesis, the complexity of the historical emergence and development of writing will not be significantly reduced. Proto-Elamite did not developed in the same way under the influence of proto-cuneiform as did Hittite or Minoan writing under the influence of cuneiform, or Japanese writing under the influence of Chinese, to say nothing of developments such as the emergence of the Indus script, of Chinese itself, or of Maya writing, which cannot easily be related to models of monogenesis and diffusion. Even the final outcome of the development, that is, the developed system of real writing, can be quite different in different cultures, depending on the different structures of the languages that are finally represented. This historical variety should be kept in mind when we compare semiotic developments across many cultures. In fact, due to its historical variety, questions relating to the development of early writing systems will probably only be resolved through the cooperation of specialists from different fields.
Keywords: classical original letter, archives, historical Epistemology, the Origins of Writing