Rare, isolated script invented from scratch holds clues to the evolution of writing

By | January 13, 2022

Science Alert reports:

A rare script from a language in Liberia has provided some new insights into how written languages evolve.

“The Vai script of Liberia was created from scratch in about 1834 by eight completely illiterate men who wrote in ink made from crushed berries,” says linguistic anthropologist Piers Kelly, now at the University of New England, Australia.

“Because of its isolation, and the way it has continued to develop up until the present day, we thought it might tell us something important about how writing evolves over short spaces of time.”

We might all take the written word for granted these days, but researchers still don’t know exactly how this early human technology came to develop into the ubiquitous necessity that it is today.

As far as we know so far, the invention of writing occurred around 5,000 years ago in the Middle East and has been reinvented over and over again. New writing systems are still being created today, in places like Nigeria and Senegal.

Even the earliest writing systems are thought to have been formed by small groups of people within a single generation, just like the Vai script. However, as they moved through generations, the team suggests these systems became simpler over time. [Continue reading…]

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