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Fundamentals of Grammatology

Peter T. Daniels
Journal of the American Oriental Society
Vol. 110, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1990), pp. 727-731
DOI: 10.2307/602899
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/602899
Page Count: 5
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Fundamentals of Grammatology
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Abstract

A very influential suggestion in I. J. Gelb's Study of Writing concerns the nature of the West Semitic scripts. Usually thitherto called "alphabets," the Hebrew, Phoenician, etc., scripts are for Gelb "syllabaries" whose characters have values like bx; a corollary is that the Ethiopian script is not a syllabary but an alphabet. While this notion has been widely adopted, it remains counter-intuitive. A recent suggestion of P. Swiggers-to distinguish between "denoting" and "standing for" a syllable-helps to clarify Gelb's thinking but does not alleviate the terminological difficulties. A characteristic of Gelb's work in many fields may account for his view of the evolution of writing systems and seems to have led to the mischaracterization of some scripts noted by previous commentators. Here a typology of scripts is proposed that recognizes both a new type intermediate between syllabary and alphabet and a fundamental distinction between two kinds of syllabary.

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