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Hallo conlangers!

On Tuesday 29 November 2011 20:34:38 Jim Henry wrote:

> On Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 9:01 AM, Jrg Rhiemeier <[log in to unmask]> 
wrote:
> > Indeed, they are.  I have once read that the Egyptian
> > hieroglyphics and the Mesopotamian cuneiform were so
> > complex because the scribes wanted it so such that they
> > could maintain the advantaged position they held in
> > society - had they simplified the scripts towards an
> > alphabet, everybody could have learned to write, and the
> > scribes as a class had become superfluous.
> 
> Is there evidence that the Egyptian scribes came up with the idea of
> an alphabet and rejected it for sociological reasons?  Or that they
> considered borrowing the Phoenician alphabet, at a later period, and
> decided not to?  It seems more plausible that the idea of an alphabet
> is a harder or less likely invention or discovery than that of a
> syllabary or logographic writing system.  There is evidence that
> linguistically naive people tend to consider syllables (and of course
> words) more fundamental units than phonemes, and the earliest writing
> systems to be invented were all logographic or syllabic.

I indeed know of no such reform attempt been turned down in
ancient Egypt, and the whole idea of scribes refusing to simplify
the script for the sake of their career may just be a guess by
some historian.  What you say is probably right; the long survival
of the Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Chinese logographic traditions
may simply be a case of nobody fixing what isn't broken.  Also,
logographic scripts have the advantage of being independent from
pronunciation, which may vary a lot between dialects.  Chinese is
a case in point, where the differences between the "dialects" are
big enough to consider them separate languages, yet the writing
system, in encoding morphemes rather than phonemes, manages to
bridge these divides.  (Apparently, the differences in syntax
between the Chinese languages are small enough to render them
mutually intelligible once the differences in pronunciation are
dealt with.)

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