Jared Diamond

“Perhaps the most important single step in the whole history of writing was the Sumerians’ introduction of phonetic representation, initially by writing an abstract noun (which could not be readily drawn as a picture) by means of the sign for a depictable noun that had the same phonetic pronunciation. For instance, it’s easy to draw a recognizable picture of arrow, hard to draw a recognizable picture of life, but both are pronounced ti in Sumerian, so a picture of an arrow came to mean either arrow or life. The resulting ambiguity was resolved by the addition of a silent sign called a determinative, to indicate the category of nouns to which the intended object belonged. Linguists term this decisive innovation, which also underlies puns today, the rebus principle.”


Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel
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Guns, Germs, and Steel Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
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