Reading, That Strange and Uniquely Human Thing - Issue 94: Evolving - Nautilus - Deepstash

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Reading, That Strange and Uniquely Human Thing - Issue 94: Evolving - Nautilus

http://nautil.us/issue/94/evolving/reading-that-strange-and-uniquely-human-thing

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Reading, That Strange and Uniquely Human Thing - Issue 94: Evolving - Nautilus
The Chinese artist Xu Bing has long experimented to stunning effect with the limits of the written form. Last year I visited the Centre…

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All people read much in the same way

All people read much in the same way

People everywhere read words in a very similar way regardless if it is made from pictures, such as pictographs (Chinese characters), or words made from letters.

This knowledge gives us insight into how writing developed and how we read as well as how we can delve deeper into creativity and communication.

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Writing developed as a response to a need

Some of the earliest writing is from 3000B.C. Mesopotamia. They recorded entries on tablets about the quantities of goods in some kind of bookkeeping.

They wrote down in order to keep account of who delivered what when. But this system was still far away from expressing ideas and writing great works of literature.

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Moving from pictures to the alphabet

  • Ancient writing took the leap from drawing a picture as a picture (a logogram) to using it to depict a sound (or phonogram). A "bee" can be used for the sound "be", and when used together with a drawing of a "leaf", they produce the meaning "be-lief."
  • But ambiguity arises when we don't know when a bee is a bee, and when is it a sound. Classifiers were added to clear up the confusion. Chinese still uses this system, with pictures, classifier elements, plus phonetics.
  • Around 4,000 ago, the alphabet was invented, where symbols only depicted a sound.

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The two systems of writing

Japanese children learn two writing systems: The kanji system is based on Chinese characters, and the kana system is purely phonetic.

  • Research shows that the same areas in the brain are activated when reading both types of script.
  • There are dyslexic readers in both areas, whether they are reading pictographic Chinese or the phonetic alphabet, suggesting that dyslexia has nothing to do with script.

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Reading is a complex task

Different areas of the brain are active when we read. We extract visual information that is correlated with sound to get meaning.

Reading does not just involve learning the letters. You have to understand and recognize the words, too. Skilled readers learn to recognize the whole word as a unit and connect it directly to meaning.

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A Case For Audiobooks

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The First Writing System

The First Writing System

Uruk was the world’s first large city and completely changed humanity’s ability to store, exchange and replicate information by creating the first writing system in 3200 BCE.

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Ancient Uruk

In the late 4th millennium BCE, Uruk had 10000 inhabitants which increased to 50000 in the decades after that, making it the largest city in Mesopotamia, and in the Sumerian civilization.

The people of Uruk were highly civilized and worked in various professions like ambassadors, priests, stonecutters, cooks, and jewellers.

Writing with symbols and pictographs

Uruk was the first civilization to introduce written record-keeping, using symbols, pictographs, and eventually words. The Sumerians were an innovative civilization and improvised this symbolic language into complex documents, epic poems and literature, along with lists and genealogies.

Writings were mostly on reeds and clay, slowly forming a complex language of letters based on ‘wedge-shaped’ markings, known as cuneiform.