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HELP: Map needed. Expansion of Writing

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ConradWeiser View Drop Down
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    Posted: 19 Feb 2010 at 13:26
Looking for a world map/continental map(s) that depict the spread of writing from its earliest conception to its present reaches.

I could find surprisingly few maps of this kind. The only one I found was one of the Mediterranean, which depicted the spread of writing out from the Sumerian and Egyptian centers only to about 300 BC. Still, its the best example I could find to convey what I am looking for.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Literacy.PNG


Does anyone have a much more expansive map depicting the spread of literate societies? Or, at least, maps depicting its spread across certain areas/continents?

If not, do you think its safe to assume a spreading of literacy via religion (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism) and colonization?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Feb 2010 at 16:10
The "spread" of literate societies? Given the fact that general literacy among populations as a whole is a phenomenon rooted to the 19th century. The dispersal of "writing" as a geographic phenomenon would be quite a stretch since while such may say something of a portion of a society at any given point in time, the art of writing was itself limited to small percentages of the overall population in any geographic locale. As the link you presented made clear, writing was a function of the elite within the social hierarchy.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Styrbiorn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Feb 2010 at 19:56
It sounds like he means the spread of writing systems rather than literacy. And if so, no I don't have such a map.


Edited by Styrbiorn - 19 Feb 2010 at 19:57
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ConradWeiser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 Feb 2010 at 06:14
Correct. By literate societies, I mean societies that used writing systems.

I've been looking over a few books on the history of writing, but none of them seem too concerned about its physical/cultural spread across the world as much as they do about its nature, development and use.

The map I linked is somewhat useful for the limited scope it addresses. But I'm particularly interested in its spread across Europe, Asia, and Africa.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fantasus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 Feb 2010 at 08:24
Wherever there was Christians (or jews, probably moslems) I think You may say at least some small minority were literate, since those religions basics are "holy books". The last about 5-7 hundred years before christianity wherever there were romans or greek settlements or conquests also. Then there is the areas of Europe outside roman control in the late centuries of the empire and the centuries imediately after. I think nobody can be sure the degree of literacy if any - but since they made runes there must have been at least some literates in the germanic and Scandinavian areas - perhaps much of what was written (in runes - perhaps allso other like "ogham")are gone. For the last 1000 years most parts of Europe may have had some literate persons. Perhaps for many parts over the centuries only an extremely small minority could read and write. Should that be indicated on the map?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 Feb 2010 at 09:45
Well Conrad that question would involve on how you define writing. If you opt for phonetic iconicity then we are in the realm of the alphabet (the organization of distinct speech sounds into symbols), which would then make the map you reproduced utter nonsense since neither Ugaritic cuneiform nor Egyptian hieroglyphs, whose essences fall into the classification of syllabaries or semanto-phonetic logography (the logophonetic), spread anywhere other than in the socio-cultural mileu that gave them birth. 
 
The book to read here:
 
Bernard H. Bichakjian, Tatiana Chernigovskaya, Adam Kendon and Anke Moller, eds. Becoming Loquens. Frankfort am Main: Peter Lang, 2000.
 
The web site that would be most helpful to you is Omniglot--
 
 
The notion of "spread" is a self-defeating one in the sense that while one may detail the expansion of phonetic iconicity, such does not mean that "writing" was non-existant in those areas into which it spread. For example, the oldest known runes are from 100 BC and in the Iberian peninsula there are examples of writing (as elsewhere in Europe) from prior to the 6th century BC. We will not go into ancient writing systems that today still remain undecipharable as in the Indus Valley.


Edited by drgonzaga - 20 Feb 2010 at 09:47
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ConradWeiser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 Feb 2010 at 14:19
Thanks for the replies. Thought I'd post something I've been working on.

http://yfrog.com/jqworldmapblankgmtj

fantasus: I think, even if only a tiny minority could read or write, that they should be recorded on the map. Especially if we are able to translate what had been written. Even if the area was only written on by outsiders (who were there first-hand). For example, the Caribbean would enter into the fold as soon as the Spanish begin entering into the area. Though parts of Mexico would already fall under the "literate" status, prior the coming of the Spanish.

Drgonzaga: I think I'm going for the broadest definition of writing (i.e. beyond pictographs?).

I will check out both the site and the book.

I understand your last point. I am trying to take into account the multiple origins of writing systems, and the cultural diffusion that allowed the idea of writing to spread to neighboring societies.

You do bring up a point about undecipherable writing systems...One of the reasons I was interested in this kind of map was to divvy up the world into those that fall within the historical record, and those that fall into prehistory. If anything at all, I would have to acknowledge areas that had writing but whose texts remain undecipherable as well as those societies with proto-writing markings or pictographs, such as the Danube civilization.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fantasus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 Feb 2010 at 18:30
Originally posted by ConradWeiser ConradWeiser wrote:

Thanks for the replies. Thought I'd post something I've been working on.

http://yfrog.com/jqworldmapblankgmtj

fantasus: I think, even if only a tiny minority could read or write, that they should be recorded on the map. Especially if we are able to translate what had been written. Even if the area was only written on by outsiders (who were there first-hand). For example, the Caribbean would enter into the fold as soon as the Spanish begin entering into the area. Though parts of Mexico would already fall under the "literate" status, prior the coming of the Spanish.

  Then You will probably include times and places with only extremely short pieces of texts left? Then remember sopme of those may in effect be "prehistoric", since sometimes those texts may be rather uninformative about what we usually regard as "history".
Many existing runic inscriptions may be not so different from " X was son of Y, went to the east and falled in battle. A brave and good man".
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ConradWeiser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Feb 2010 at 07:26
Originally posted by fantasus fantasus wrote:

Then You will probably include times and places with only extremely short pieces of texts left? Then remember sopme of those may in effect be "prehistoric", since sometimes those texts may be rather uninformative about what we usually regard as "history".
Many existing runic inscriptions may be not so different from " X was son of Y, went to the east and falled in battle. A brave and good man".


I would definitely like to at least acknowledge their presence on the map, even if I ultimately make a judgment call that such an area does not reside in the realm of "historic record". Of your example, I probably would include it within the realm of the "historic record", even if the information is very limiting.

Though the idea of dividing up the world into "history" and "prehistory" is only one part of the project. I am still very interested in the geographic spread of writing itself.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Feb 2010 at 07:49
Originally posted by fantasus fantasus wrote:


  Then You will probably include times and places with only extremely short pieces of texts left? Then remember sopme of those may in effect be "prehistoric", since sometimes those texts may be rather uninformative about what we usually regard as "history".
Many existing runic inscriptions may be not so different from " X was son of Y, went to the east and falled in battle. A brave and good man".


But taken together some of these inscriptions can give us valuable information. Is there also a possibility to correlate them to other written sources they can be of great importance. One can as an example mention the nearly 30 runestones in the east of Sweden which mention a viking expedition eastwards that probably ended in catastrophe since most of its participants never came back. Additional to the rune insricptions this expedition is also mentioned in icelandic sagas (even if those sources are a couple of hundred years younger than the rune inscriptions). Also a Georgian chronicle seems to mention these vikings or varangians.

Read more in Larsson, Mats, G.1990:  Ett odesdigert vikingatag. Ingvar den Vittfarnes resa 1036 till 1041 (A disastrous viking expedition. The journey of Ingvar the far travelled 1036 to 1041).




Edited by Carcharodon - 23 Feb 2010 at 08:43
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fantasus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Feb 2010 at 08:28
There is also the interesting question of  inscriptions in still unknown languages or letters. Perhaps if there is a large number of them with longer texts they may all one day be read? Perhaps a taks for some language experts and matematiciams who have some sparetime left? In Estruscian, Indus culture, the one cretan, and perhaps some mesoamerican?
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