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Subject: Written Language as a Cultural Artefact
Question: In The History of Britain Revealed, M J Harper states ''There are good reasons to believe that possession of a written language (and more especially the development of artificial languages for purposes of writing) is the key to understanding the whole of Ancient History. Hebrew and Latin will in time be recognised alongside Old Norse, Classical Greek, Sanskrit, Punic, Sumerian Cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs and other 'non-demotic' languages as being essentially cultural artefacts adopted for a purpose, and not, as linguists insist, merely the surviving record of what ordinary people spoke''. To what extent would the panel members agree/disagree with this statement?
Reply: I don't really understand what is being said. In the case of Latin, clearly there were versions of written Latin developed that were highly "non-demotic" – Ciceronian periods in prose, much or all of the poetry; but one also encounters graffiti, soldiers' letters, etc., which appear to be straight transcriptions of things that might be said orally. Obviously, after so long, it is the "dignified" material that has the best chance of surviving, because people valued it, copied it, and so forth, so at later times that "dignified", non-demotic material comes to look more representative of the language as a whole than it really was. Again, when one reads the Hebrew Old Testament (as I often do), it doesn't _feel_ like a special artificial form of language. It is structurally actually rather crude and unpolished; I would have thought that people creating an artificial written language would have made it logically subtler and more transparent. That is only an impressionistic comment, of course; but I remain quite unclear what this author Harper was trying to say. Perhaps I should read his book. Geoffrey Sampson
Reply From: Geoffrey Richard Sampson      click here to access email
Date: 26-Apr-2013
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Written Language as a Cultural Artefact    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (26-Apr-2013)
  2. Re: Written Language as a Cultural Artefact    James L Fidelholtz     (26-Apr-2013)
  3. Re: Written Language as a Cultural Artefact    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (27-Apr-2013)

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