A cognitive archaeology of writing: Concepts, models, goals

In Philip Boyes, Philippa Steele & Natalia Elvira Astoreca (eds.), The social and cultural contexts of historic writing practices. Oxford: Oxbow. pp. 55-72 (2021)
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Complex systems like literacy and numeracy emerge through multigenerational interactions of brains, behaviors, and material forms. In such systems, material forms – writing for language and notations for numbers – become increasingly refined to elicit specific behavioral and psychological responses in newly indoctrinated individuals. These material forms, however, differ fundamentally in things like semiotic function: language signifies, while numbers instantiate. This makes writing for language able to represent the meanings and sounds of particular languages, while notations for numbers are semantically meaningful without phonetic specification. This representational distinction is associated with neurofunctional and behavioral differences in what neural activity and behaviors like handwriting contribute to literacy and numeracy. In turn, neurofunctional and behavioral differences place written representations for language and numbers under different pressures that influence the forms they take and how those forms change over time as they are transmitted across languages and cultures.

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Karenleigh Anne Overmann
University of Bergen


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