Time and landscape at the beginning of Chinese writing
Kuang Yu Chen 陈光宇

Abstract 摘要
Writing was independently invented at least four times in human history: Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese and Olmec Mayan hieroglyphs, all logographic at the time of their invention. Strong archeological evidence supported the dating of the origin of Sumerian and Egyptian writing to 3200 BCE and Olmec Mayan writing to 650 BCE. The earliest known Chinese writing is Jiǎgǔwén 甲骨文 (OBI, oracle bone inscriptions) of late Shang dynasty (ca. 1300–1046 BCE). As OBI is fully mature, the origin of Chinese would have to be dated much earlier. Taking advantage of the continuity of logographic Chinese, we have developed a model to show that Chinese writing should have occurred around or before 2100 BCE. This estimate is consistent with three lines of archaeological findings. Considering the wide distribution of táowén 陶文 (pottery marks) in all Neolithic sites in China during the third millennium BCE we further proposed a “funnel model” to illustrate the landscape at the beginning of Chinese writing and how it evolved into a stable writing system.


Subject Keywords 主题词

Pristine writings 自源文字 Oracle bone inscription 甲骨文 Pottery marks 陶文 Funnel model 漏斗型模式

Journal of Chinese Linguistics vol.48, no.2 (June 2020): 323-341
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