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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

58                 The Loom of Language
mean that all logograms start by being pictures of definite objects.
At least one class of logograms (or idcogiam^ as some people call
them) is as old as the art of writing It seems clear that the chief
practical advantages of the art of \mting at a primitive level of human
culture are twofold One is to put on record necessary information
which we should otherwise forget. The other is to convey directions
or information to a distance when the carrier might forget them or
betray them The former is almost certainly the older of the two
The priestly caste, as the custodian of a calendar based on centuries
of precise observation, appear on the scene at the dawn of Egyptian
civilization Men began to keep accurate records of the seasons as
soon as there was settled agriculture, and it is unlikely that the need
for written messages arose before man began to establish settled grain*
growing communities. As man progressed from a primitive hunting or
food-gathenng stage to hcrdinanship and skilled agriculture, the need
for counting his flocks and keeping track of seasonal pursuits forced
him to prime his memory by cutting notches on sticks or making knots
in cords
We may thus take it for granted that one class of logograms, the
number symbols, are as old as, and possibly much older, than any other
elements of the most ancient forms of writing The most ancient
number symbols are pictorial m the sense that the first four Roman
numerals (I, II, III, 11II) are just notches on the tally stick. Comparison
of the relics of the temple civilizations of Central America, Mesopo-
tamia, and Egypt, indicates that the impulse to record social events
was mixed up with the primary function of the priests as calendar-
makers at a time when the person of the priest-king was the focus
of an elaborate astronomical magic and calendar ritual, 1 bus picture-
writing was necessarily the secret lore of a priestly caste and, as such,
a jealously guarded secret Since picture-writing is too cumbersome
to convey more than the memory can easily retain, its further elabora-
tion to serve lite needs of communication at a distance may have been
due to the advantages of secrecy. Whether this is or is not true, the
fact that writing was originally a closely guarded secret had important
consequences for its subsequent evolution
The ancient calendar priesthoods had a vested interest in keeping
knowledge from tie common people. The impulse to preserve secrecy
possibly encouraged the gradual degradation of conventional pictures
into logograms, which, like the elements of modern Chinese writing,
have lost their power to suggest what they stand for. In Chinese scripts