Literacy in India

Steve Farmer saf at SAFARMER.COM
Mon Mar 27 21:44:11 UTC 2000

Lakshmi Srinivas writes, on the work of Denise Schmandt-Besserat:

> D. Schmandt-Besserat, talking of clay tokens of the
> ancient Near East (which were used as counters and
> tallies) in her Before Writing (Univ of Texas Press,
> Austin, 1992, p. 195), says "They were the precursor
> of writing and document communication in prehistory.
> They were the precursor of numerals and shed light on
> the origin of mathematics".
> In what follows she asks certain questions. "The
> tokens also raise new questions concerning the essence
> of writing. Was the first script of the Near East
> unique in deriving from a counting device? Or is
> literacy universally tied to numeracy? Is numeracy a
> prerequisite for literacy?"

LS continues:

> It appears that Near Eastern archaeology has not
> turned up even "one example of tokens regarded in the
> hypothesis as prototypes of logograms other than
> numbers".

Is this last quotation in fact from Schmandt-Besserat? I wonder, since
it reverses what I understand of her central thesis. In a number of
papers going back to the 70s, Schmandt-Besserat repeatedly argues that
there are *direct* links between the shapes of these tokens and the
earliest forms of Sumerian cuneiform writing -- not only of numbers).
What is the origins of this quotation?

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