University of Cambridge > > Zangwill Club > What the science of reading can contribute to the history of writing, and vice versa

What the science of reading can contribute to the history of writing, and vice versa

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact John Mollon.

Historians who work on the history of writing are often unaware of the ways in which the science of how we read constrains and shapes that history. This paper will argue that some of the unsolved mysteries facing historians have ready solutions once the neuroscience is factored in. In particular, we will discuss the question of why the alphabet did not sweep through the world for about a millennium after its invention, and what sort of educational background the inventors of the alphabet must have had.

In return, I will humbly suggest that scientists studying reading may also benefit from a deeper engagement with the history of writing. This part of the paper will touch on three questions: the interrelationship of “meaning” and “sound” in writing systems; the question of whether each language has its ideal writing system; and whether there is a “most natural” writing system for humans developing writing for the first time. These issues, discussed in the scientific literature, can be enriched by reference to the historical record.

This talk is part of the Zangwill Club series.

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