Françoise Bottéro

CNRS, Paris
The Beginnings of the Chinese Writing


The beginnings of the Chinese writing are rather mysterious. It is possible that earlier documents existed, but the oldest known documents today are bone and bronze inscriptions that go back to the 13th - 12 th century BCE. In these inscriptions, mostly dealing with divinatory or commemorative concerns, the writing appears as a full-fledge system that records the language, with no real connection to the older repertoires of Neolithic signs.

I shall present the different iconic as well as non-iconic processes the scribes used to form graphs, and introduce some interesting ad hoc methods involved for visual cognition. The earliest Chinese writing looks quite figurative, but is also highly phonographic. Yet some ligatures as well as some ad hoc graphs raise questions about the relation between the script and the language. Were these phenomenon limited to the first documents of the Chinese writing or did they existed in other writings?

Session 2

Wednesday, 13 January 2021, 15:30


Images Related to the Talk

Oracle bone script

Chinese bronze inscriptions