Seen Not Heard: Composition, Iconicity, and the Classifier Systems of Logosyllabic Scripts

March 2–3, 2017OISeminar-2016-Rost-image.jpg

The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

Organized by Ilona Zsolnay



Writing is typically viewed from the perspective of speech — as a mode of communication that strives to accurately and unambiguously capture the spoken word in visible form. From this standpoint, however, writing can only be but a pale reflection of speech as it fails to express much of the information of the speech act — intonation, gesture, and facial expression, for example, are not generally notated in writing. Yet from a different perspective — one more compelling but less commonly considered — writing, by virtue of visibility, materiality, and permanence, is capable of expressing meaning beyond speech. Color, size, style, and format, for instance, are often recruited as vehicles of meaning by writing systems of all kinds. Logographic scripts, which employ word signs, not only make use of these same means, but can also graphically express complex semantic associations that are conditioned by culture and worldview. Seen Not Heard explores the various ways in which the earliest writing systems — Egyptian, Anatolian, and Maya hieroglyphic systems, Mesopotamian cuneiform, and Chinese writing — exploited visible language to express meaning beyond the spoken word.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

9:00–9:30 AM
Opening Remarks by Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute
Introduction by Ilona Zsolnay, Conference Organizer

Session 1: Experiencing Text

9:30–11:50 AM
Claudia Brittenham, “Text in Context: Hierarchies of Relief in Maya Sculptural Inscriptions”
David Stuart, “Intersections of Text, Image, and Object in Ancient Maya Art”

BREAK (10:30–10:50 AM)

Joshua Roberson, “The Iconicity of the Vertical in Egyptian Cosmological (Con-)Texts”
Elisabeth Rieken & Ilya Yakubovich, “Contacts between Scripts in Bronze Age Asia Minor”

LUNCH (12:00–1:30 PM)

Session 2: Form & Meaning

1:30–3:00 PM
Christopher Woods, “The Semantic Basis of Sumerian Writing”
Gebhard J. Selz, “The Obvious and the Hidden: Advantages and Disadvantages of Iconicity in the Early Mesopotamian System”
Andréas Stauder, “Writing To Be Seen: Expressive Dimensions of Writing in Ancient Egypt”

BREAK (3:00–3:20 PM)

Session 3: Classifiers & Classifications

3:20–4:50 PM
Orly Goldwasser, “Animal Classification in the Ancient Near East”
Zev Handel, “The Cognitive Role of Semantic Classifiers in Modern Chinese Writing as Reflected in Neogram Creation”
Guolong Lai, “Reexamining the Roles of the So-called Semantic Classifiers in the Warring States Chu Script”


5:00–6:00 PM

Friday, March 3, 2017

Session 4: Organization

9:00–10:30 AM
Ilona Zsolnay, “Graphic Classification in the Uruk IV and III Corpus”
Holly Pittman, “Iconicity, Syntax, and Semantics: A Structural Investigation of Pictures in an Early Writing Environment”
Piotr Michalowski, “The Semiotics of Form: Observations on Shape and Layout of Early Cuneiform Tablets”

BREAK 10:30–10:45 AM


10:45–11:15 AM
Jerry Cooper and Haicheng Wang


11:15–11:45 AM


Participant Abstracts and Bios

Claudia Brittenham (University of Chicago)
Title: “Text in Context: Hierarchies of Relief in Maya Sculptural Inscriptions” (Thursday, 9:30–10:00)
Abstract: Maya hieroglyphic writing occurs in many different contexts, ranging from monumental stone and stucco inscriptions to texts incised on shell, jade, bone, and other precious materials. (Most of the writing on paper has been lost.) In addition to semantic and phonetic content, materials, size, scale, placement, and context of texts play important roles in presenting information. On Maya sculpted monuments, texts of different size, style, and depth of relief frequently coexist, although these differences are often downplayed in line drawings. Returning to the materiality of the objects, this paper examines how textual hierarchies of relief replicate and reinforce the social hierarchies of the courts that made them.
Bio: Claudia Brittenham is associate professor of art history at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on the art of Mesoamerica, especially in Central Mexico and the Maya area. She is the author of The Murals of Cacaxtla: The Power of Painting in Ancient Central Mexico (2015); The Spectacle of the Late Maya Court: Reflections on the Murals of Bonampak (with Mary Miller; 2013); and Veiled Brightness: A History of Ancient Maya Color (with Stephen Houston and colleagues; 2009).

Jerry Cooper (The Johns Hopkins University)
Jerry Cooper is a respondent.
Bio: Jerry Cooper is W. W. Spence Professor in Semitic Languages emeritus at The Johns Hopkins University, where he taught from 1968 to 2008. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1969. Cooper’s main research interests are Sumerian literature, Mesopotamian history, gender and sexuality in the ancient world, and the early history of writing systems. He currently resides in Berkeley, where he is a visiting scholar in the University of California’s Near Eastern Studies Department.

Orly Goldwasser (Hebrew University)
Title: “Animal Classification in the Ancient Near East” (Thursday, 3:20–3:50)
Abstract: Were we to have at our disposal nothing but ancient Egyptian texts, and were the Egyptian script a non-pictorial system with no classifiers, we might conclude that Egyptian culture during the pharaonic period lacked a concept of “animal” — a generic term that refers to most living beings. Indeed, no Egyptian lexeme can be translated as “animal” or anything similar.
This lecture presents four types of sources from ancient Egypt that reveal information about the classification of what we call “animal” in the Egyptian world organization: pictorial representations, zooarchaeological data, lexical material, and the classifier system of the script. After a presentation of the Egyptian data, the Egyptian landscape of “animal” as reflected in the classifier system is compared to the classification of animals in the cuneiform script. The Sumerian–Akkadian cuneiform system includes a systematic and elaborate “noun classifier” system described and analyzed lately in detail by Gebhard Selz. The Sumerian-Akkadian mental landscape of the animal world as manifested in the cuneiform classifier system differs greatly from the Egyptian one. These differences will be highlighted and discussed.
Bio: Orly Goldwasser is professor of Egyptology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and honorary professor at the University of Göttingen. Goldwasser’s main research interests are the Egyptian language and the Egyptian scripts. In 2002, she published the book Lovers, Prophets and Giraffes: Wor(l)d Classification in Ancient Egypt. Since then she has published extensively on the Egyptian classifier system. In 2012, Goldwasser co-authored, with Colette Grinevald (Craig), a linguist and classifier expert, the study “What Are ‘Determinatives’ Good For?” A collaboration with Gebhard Selz and Grinevald, “The Question of Sumerian ‘Determinatives’: Inventory, Classifier Analysis, and Comparison to Egyptian Classifiers from the Linguistic Perspective of Noun Classification,” is currently in press. In recent years, Goldwasser has been researching the cognitive aspects of the “silent” Egyptian classifier system.

Zev Handel (University of Washington, Seattle)
Title: “The Cognitive Role of Semantic Classifiers in Modern Chinese Writing as Reflected in Neogram Creation” (Thursday, 3:50–4:20)
Abstract: In the modern Chinese writing system, the vast majority of Chinese characters are logograms, which is to say, they represent morphemes of spoken language. The majority of these characters are of the type traditionally termed xíngshēng, sometimes called “semantic-phonetic compound” in English. These characters consist in origin of a semantic (or, more properly, taxonymic) element and a phonetic element, each of which bears a non-arbitrary relationship to the spoken morpheme that the character represents. These functional elements are (more or less) closed sets and comprise meaningful structural subsystems within the writing system, with striking parallels to subsystems in other early logographic writing systems, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs and Sumerian cuneiform. 
In this paper I focus on an analysis of the closed set of so-called “radicals,” or “semantic determinatives,” those elements which can fill the semantic slot in a semantic-phonetic compound. I argue from several perspectives that, even though many of these elements are isomorphic to Chinese logograms that represent Chinese spoken morphemes, when viewed systemically they have a role independent of speech units. They can therefore be considered a system of classificatory signs (“semantic classifiers”) that is embedded in and interfaces with the glottographic functions of the graphic units of which they form a part. The role of these non-glottographic elements within the larger glottographic system can be explored from several perspectives, ancient and modern.
Over the course of the first 1,500 years of script development, from roughly the 13th century BC to the 2nd century AD, changes to the forms of the written graphs resulted in the conflation of some once-distinct classifiers and in the obfuscation of others. The result in later times was a split between what we might call “active” or “productive” semantic classifiers and “legacy” or “opaque” semantic elements, with the active ones continuing to be utilized in the creation of new and variant characters. At the same time, this evolving set of semantic elements became embedded within a lexicographic classification system, which took on an independent life from at least as early as AD 100 and that continues down to the present day, and provided a metalinguistic framework for talking about the role and meaning of semantic elements.
Because of the unbroken history of use of the Chinese script from its creation down to the present day, the cognitive and functional role of these elements can be investigated in ways that are not available to researchers interested in similar systems in ancient Sumerian, Egyptian, and Maya writing. Recent psycholingustic studies provide insights into the role that these classifiers play in helping young students learn, remember, and recognize graphs of their writing system, as well as into how they interface with cognitive categories in the minds of script users. Such studies can be supplemented by an empirical examination of the role that these classifiers play in the ongoing creation of new characters. By focusing on character creation in the last few centuries, we can ascertain with a high degree of certainty which classifiers are cognitively “active” and how they relate to the mental categorization of modern words and morphemes. For example, the classifiers for METAL and ROCK taxons have specific roles in the creation of new characters to represent elements of the periodic table.
Bio: Zev Handel is associate professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Washington, Seattle. His main areas of research are Chinese historical phonology and dialectology, Sino-Tibetan historical-comparative reconstruction, and East Asian writing systems. He received a BA in mathematics from Harvard, and an MA and PhD in Chinese from the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently finishing a monograph exploring the adaptation of the Chinese script to the writing of other languages from a comparative linguistic-typological perspective.

Guolong Lai (University of Florida)
Title: “Reexamining the Roles of the So-called ‘Semantic Classifiers’ in the Warring States Chu Script” (Thursday, 4:20–4:50)
Abstract: In this paper, I reexamine the roles that the so-called “semantic classifiers” played in the Chu script of the Warring States period (ca. 453–221 BC) by analyzing the structure of a character in the semantic context of connected texts. Methodically this is to rectify the common practice in the field of Chinese paleography to analyze individual character anachronistically based on the so-called “original meaning” given in the much later dictionary of Shuowen jiezi (ca. AD 100). The concept of “semantic classifier” (xingfu) was also developed largely in the Shuowen tradition and was projected back onto much earlier oracle bones and bronze inscriptions of the Shang (ca. 1600–ca. 1046 BC) and Zhou (ca. 1046–221 BC) periods. The so-called “semantic classifiers” were not only always used to classify meaning, but they also played other social and cultural roles along with functions of the writing system in early China.
Bio: Guolong Lai is associate professor of Chinese art and archaeology at the University of Florida. He attended Jilin University (BA 1991, international law), Peking University (MA 1994, archaeology and paleography), and UCLA (PhD 2002, art history). His research interests include early Chinese art and archaeology, paleography, collecting history and provenance studies, and the history of heritage conservation in modern China. He is the author of Excavating the Afterlife: The Archaeology of Early Chinese Religion (2015); co-authored two exhibition catalogs: Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor and His Legacy (2011) and A Bronze Menagerie: Mat Weights of Early China (2006); co-editor of two conference volumes: Collectors, Collections and Collecting the Arts of China: Histories and Challenges (2014) and Unmasking Ideology: The Vocabulary, Symbols, and Legacy of Imperial and Colonial Archaeology (forthcoming). He is the founding co-editor of a bilingual (Chinese and English) academic journal, Zhejiang University Journal of Art and Archaeology (2014–).

Piotr Michalowski (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)
Title: “The Semiotics of Form: Observations on Shape and Layout of Early Cuneiform Tablets” (Friday, 10:00–10:30)
Abstract: The modern process of reading cuneiform most often centers on the linear deciphering of individual signs and their processing to identify recognizable linguistic patterns. Mesopotamian writing did not provide proper word separation — except for one short interlude during which word dividers were employed — thus requiring concentrated focus on the internal dynamics of the flow of characters. But the ancient writers often took a broader view and considered the very shape and layout of objects on which they wrote as meaningful elements that conveyed certain types of information. In some of the earliest Mesopotamian tablets the layout not only revealed the type of transaction that was registered, but was also utilized for expressing the syntax of information flow. While these formal methods were abandoned in the third millennium BC, tablet shape and to a lesser extent layout was exploited for other semiotic roles in conjunction with administrative as well as literary tablets. This paper explores such issues with particular focus on early Sumerian writings.
Bio: Piotr Michalowski is the George G. Cameron Emeritus Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations at the University of Michigan, where he taught for thirty-five years, having also worked at UCLA and on the Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary. He is the author of numerous articles and books on all aspects of early Mesopotamian cultures, on literature, history, historiography, magic, languages, etc. His most recent book is The Correspondence of the Kings of Ur: An Epistolary History of an Ancient Mesopotamian Kingdom (2011).

Holly Pittman (University of Pennsylvania)
Title: “Iconicity, Syntax, and Semantics: A Structural Investigation of Pictures in an Early Writing Environment” (Friday, 9:30–10:00)
Abstract: While it is frequently observed that certain of the earliest signs in the proto-cuneiform writing system drew directly from a previously existing pool of conventional imagery known primarily through seal imagery, little work has been done to systematically compare the structures of early writing systems and the larger visual universe in which they evolved. This paper investigates the structural solutions for image construction in comparison with the contemporary textual evidence, considering iconicity, syntax, and semantics. Following a focused discussion of the Uruk IV through the Ur Archaic textual phases, this paper concludes with a comparative overview of the structure of imagery in relation to text in the Mesopotamian tradition into the Ur III period, arguing that a parallel but distinct structural development can be observed in both visual systems.
Bio: Holly Pittman, Bok Family Professor in the Humanities, University of Pennsylvania, has excavated in Cyprus, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran and has had primary publication responsibilities of the art and especially the glyptic art from the sites of Malyan in the Fars province of Iran, Uruk-period Tell Brak, and Uruk-period Hacienbi Tepe. She co-curated the traveling exhibition “Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur” from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Her current research interests revolve around the excavations of the sites of Konar Sandal South and North in the region of Jiroft in south-central Iran. Professor Pittman has participated in two seasons of excavation of the two mounds and the exploration and survey of the region.

Elisabeth Rieken and Ilya Yakubovich (University of Marburg)
Title: “Contacts between Scripts in Bronze Age Asia Minor” (Thursday, 11:20–11:50)
Abstract: The study of language contact has long evolved into an independent subfield of linguistics possessing its own methodology. In particular, it is acknowledged that structural interference between languages, unlike lexical borrowings, requires the existence of stable bilingual communities. The study of contacts between writing systems has naturally received less attention, because, more frequently than not, their morphosyntactic structure usually mirrors that of the languages they are meant to render, or their historical prototypes. A greater autonomy of the scripts is, however, observed in those societies where epigraphic communities were small and exclusive. Under such conditions, the pressure of other scripts practiced in the same communities could, in principle, override the faithfulness constraints governing the correspondence between structure of writing and morphosyntax of the spoken language. We intend to illustrate this basic point with reference to the situation in the Kingdom of Hattusa in the 14–13th centuries BC.
Two writing systems coexisted in Anatolia in the Amarna Age. One of them was the cuneiform, the international script of the Bronze Age Near East, which not only continued to be used for the production of new Akkadian texts, but was also adapted for writing the indigenous Hittite compositions. The other one was the Anatolian hieroglyphic script, which had probably originated in the Hittite and Luwian bilingual environment but was associated early on with the Luwian language. Nevertheless, it remains likely that a sizeable proportion of the Hattusa literati, who happened to be fluent in both Hittite and Luwian, took up the study of both scripts. In our presentation we intend to trace the consequences of this state of affairs for the partial structural convergence between Anatolian cuneiform and Anatolian hieroglyphs, even at the cost of violating the norm of the respective spoken languages on both sides. 
Bio: Elisabeth Rieken (PhD 1996, Ruhr-Universität Bochum) is professor of comparative Indo-European linguistics at the University of Marburg. Her research focuses on the Anatolian language family and includes both the synchronic and diachronic studies. More recently, she published several articles on phonological values of specific Hieroglyphic Luwian signs and the evolution of the Hieroglyphic Luwian writing system as a whole. Her contributions on language contact between Luwian and Hittite proved contact linguistics to be a fruitful area of research in Anatolian studies and, in future work, she plans to broaden the perspective by drawing the attention to contact phenomena between the writings systems of these two languages.
Bio: Ilya Yakubovich (PhD 2008, University of Chicago) is a research associate at the Philip University of Marburg. Among his research interests are contacts between languages and writing systems, Anatolian and Iranian philology, and Indo-European linguistics. He is the author of several publications devoted to the structure and evolution of the cuneiform and hieroglyphic scripts in ancient Anatolia. One of them, “Hittite-Luvian Bilingualism and the Origin of Anatolian Hieroglyphs” (Acta Linguistica Petropolitana 4/1 [2008]: 9–36) earned him the Oliver Gurney Memorial Award for the best paper in Anatolian Studies written by a junior scholar (2009, First Prize).

Joshua Roberson (University of Memphis)
Title: “The Iconicity of the Vertical in Egyptian Cosmological (Con-)Texts” (Thursday, 10:50–11:20)
Abstract: The cosmological texts of the New Kingdom stand at the zenith of ancient Egyptian speculation on the form and function of the world as a divine construct. In addition, their elaborate illustrations represent some of the most detailed and complex figural representations of the so-called “afterlife” ever produced. Within this broad tradition, which includes at least eight major compositions that may be described loosely as “Books” of the Underworld and Sky, one motif dominates all levels of the ancient discourse: the circumnavigation of the cosmos by the sun, whose diurnal and nocturnal voyages were believed to perpetuate the created world and to facilitate the apotheosis of the individual deceased. This solar journey was described in the cosmological texts as an episodic progression through a series of discrete regions, which might be described variously as twelve hours of the night, six caverns of the underworld, the upper and lower sky, etc. In terms of its illustration, this cosmic landscape appears at first highly linear. However, that appearance is merely an artifact of the well-known affinity for registers in Egyptian art. A more nuanced evaluation of the texts and images reveals that the solar journey was conceived as a winding descent to the lowest point of the cosmos followed by a symmetrical ascent to its highest reaches — a logical extension of the sun’s apparently circular transit through the visible, daytime sky. Within this general framework, the notion of the akhet, a liminal zone of transition between regions of perceptibility and imperceptibility, plays a key role.
This paper explores a series of highly iconic images and conspicuously placed texts that appear to function as visual cues, signifying the presence of an akhet or akhet-like transition. These cues appear invariably as a crossing of the horizontal register system by a vertical axis, drawing the viewer’s eye to key episodes in the solar journey. The occurrence of these conspicuously vertical transitional zones at predictable moments in the text (sunrise, sunset, midnight, noon) effectively punctuates and anchors the surrounding narrative. Furthermore, the heraldic nature of the akhet itself, which appears in the hieroglyphic script as two symmetrical hills flanking a central solar disk, is reflected also in the heraldic arrangement of figures and landscape elements within the vertical tableaux. The combination of symmetry and verticality, and the crossing of horizontal registers, results in a layout of texts that is itself tri-dimensional, trans-temporal, and highly iconic. In this way, text and image combine on a large scale as explicit “hyper-logograms” for these moments of transition, which also signify implicitly the preceding and following episodes that they punctuate.
Bio: Joshua Aaron Roberson received his PhD in Egyptology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2007. He serves currently as assistant professor of art history (Egyptology) at the Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology of the University of Memphis. He has worked at numerous sites in Egypt since 2001, including Saqqara and Abydos, on behalf of the University of Pennsylvania; the Opet and Ptah precincts of Karnak temple, on behalf of the French National Center for Scientific Research; and Elephantine Island, on behalf of the German Archaeological Institute. He has conducted research on royal and private tombs in the Valley of the Kings and el-Asasif necropolis, with support from the American Research Center in Egypt and the United States Department of State. His previous monographs include The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Earth, published on behalf of Brown University (2012), and The Awakening of Osiris and the Transit of the Solar Barques, through the Universities of Freiburg and Göttingen (2013), as well as numerous scholarly articles and book chapters. He is currently preparing a lexicon of ancient Egyptian cryptography of the New Kingdom and a new volume of Ramesside inscriptions.

Gebhard J. Selz (Vienna University)
Title: “The Obvious and the Hidden: Advantages and Disadvantages of Iconicity in the Early Mesopotamian System” (Thursday, 2:00–2:30)
Abstract: Seeing and hearing play a crucial part in inter-human communication. They both belong to quite different semiotic systems, a fact which, however, is not always properly considered. This paper discusses in which respect both systems contributed to the emergent Mesopotamian writing system and to what extent they influenced writing prior to its turn to mere glottography. I argue that visual perception is primarily space-oriented, whereas hearing is evidently time-bound. It will be shown that the specifics of both systems originally entail specific advantages and disadvantages. The hypothesis elaborated — and exemplified — is that logosyllabic scripts attempt to make use of both systems precisely, because their combination relates writing, (prolonged) information transmission, not only to the fixing of oral utterances but also to various sorts of indexicality. With respect to the iconic elements of the logosyllabic scripts this indexicality was widely used for establishing and transmitting conceptual metaphors, specifically “unspoken ideas.” In conclusion, I contend that these observations also help to understand the persistence, longevity, and dissemination of (the cuneiform) logographic writing system.
Bio: Gebhard Selz is professor emeritus of the chair for Ancient Oriental Languages and Oriental Archeology at the Oriental Institute of Vienna University. He received his PhD in 1985 at Freiburg University with “Untersuchungen zur Götterwelt des altsumerischen Stadtstaates in Lagas” and his habiliation in 1995 with “Altsumerische Wirtschafturkunden aus Lagas.” He works on religious, mental, and economic history of the third millennium BC Mesopotamia, and has also published articles on the early cuneiform writing systems. He is presently preparing a book on early Mesopotamian belief systems.

Andréas Stauder (École pratique des hautes études, PSL Research University)
Title: “Writing to Be Seen: Expressive Dimensions of Writing in Ancient Egypt” (Thursday, 2:30–3:00)
Abstract: In relation to alphabeticism and Enlightenment, Western ideologies of writing have focused heavily on writing’s instrumental function of representing language in an ideally transparent and hence (allegedly) more easily processed way. To make the implications of such ideologies fully explicit, writing would then be meant to ultimately efface itself behind the representational function to which it should be fully subservient, to the point that writing should ideally not even be seen as such: “visible speech,” the very visuality of which, however, should be backgrounded as much as its necessary materialized realization permits. This pervasive and at times naturalized conception of writing as a merely ancillary code is abundantly contradicted by actual practices of writing in all cultural areas including in the West itself. Given the above general background, the present paper illustrates various tenets of how ancient Egyptian writing specifically (hieroglyphic mainly, but not excluding hieratic) is or can be made expressive on levels of its own in relation to its visual, spatial, and aesthetic determinations.  Egyptian writing, to begin with, carries strong indexical dimensions of its own, often embodied in its visual forms: as a social (including in-group) index, as an index of formal culture, and as part of a cultural code more broadly. On another level, the visual dimension of signs of writing is a major locus of play in ludic or otherwise extended practices of Egyptian writing, making writing expressive of meanings beyond the ones in the represented linguistic chain. As native practices with signs make clear, a sign of writing has not just two facets (signifier, signified), but many, among which such to do with its visual determinations are centrally played upon. On the textual level, additional levels of meaning expressed in writing can form connected intratextual threads or echoes across a written text, at times to the point that the overall semantic texture of such written text vastly transcends whatever can be rendered in a direct, linear translation.
Layout can also be expressive of its own: through the indexicality of format and materiality, and through the strategic distribution of elements across the visual space of the written field, with layout in some cases mirroring, or even adding to, the poetic structure of a text. Beyond layout, the visual texture of hieroglyphic writing is expressive in general and can be altered in various ways in extended practices of writing. In the distinct modes of seeing and reading such practices induce, hieroglyphic writing moves even further away from being a transparent representation for continuously flowing speech. Signs of writing are made to resonate with one another directly with the effect that signs are made to be seen as signs (rather than merely as standing, or substituting, for something else), their inherent iconicity being thus enhanced further and writing foregrounded as such.
Bio: Andréas Stauder is professor (directeur d’études) at the École pratique des hautes études, PSL Research University, in the Department for Ancient Egyptian Language and Linguistics. His research concerns Egyptian-Coptic linguistics, earlier Egyptian written culture and literature, and ancient writing systems. He is area editor of the section “Language” of the UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology and co-directs the project “Materiality and Semantics of Writing” (part of the National Centre of Competence in Research “eikones,” Swiss National Science Foundation and University of Basel). His publications include two monographic studies, Linguistic Dating of Middle Egyptian Literary Texts (2013) and The Earlier Egyptian Passive: Voice and Perspective (2014), and two co-edited volumes, Forms and Functions: Studies in Ancient Egyptian Grammar (2015) and Coping with Obscurity: The Brown Workshop on Earlier Egyptian Grammar (2016).

David Stuart (University of Texas at Austin)
Title: “Intersections of Text, Image, and Object in Ancient Maya Art” (Thursday, 10:00–10:30)
Abstract: Ancient Maya writing was a logosyllabic system in use between 300 BC and AD 1550, mostly for elite religious and political texts on monuments, portable objects, and in manuscripts.  Throughout its history the script retained a strong iconic aspect, where signs were developed and composed in close coordination with the intricate visual codes of iconography. In fact, the history and uses of Maya writing must be analyzed within a conceptual framework where text and image, while usually functionally distinguished, operated in constant mutual reliance. This paper explores this deep interrelatedness and focuses in particular on examples where hieroglyphs (verbal representations) worked independently from text, as “things” that were held, stood upon, or otherwise interacted with in royal portraits. Hieroglyphs were also at times objectified as physical monuments, appearing as three-dimensional sculptures and even larger architectural forms. In the artistic culture of the ancient Maya, words easily existed as material things that operated in special contexts and with particular meanings of their own.
Bio: David Stuart is the David and Linda Schele Professor of Mesoamerican Art and Writing at the University of Texas at Austin. He received his PhD in anthropology from Vanderbilt University in 1995, and taught at Harvard University before arriving at the University of Texas at Austin in 2004, where he now teaches in the Department of Art and Art History. His interests in the traditional cultures of Mesoamerica are wide ranging, but his primary research focuses on the archaeology and epigraphy of ancient Maya civilization, and for the past three decades he has been very active in the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphic writing. Over the past two decades his major research has centered on the art and epigraphy at Copan (Honduras), Palenque (Mexico), Piedras Negras, La Corona, and San Bartolo (Guatemala). Stuart’s early work on the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphs led to a MacArthur Fellowship (1984–1989) and a UNESCO Lifetime Achievement Award, presented in Mexico City in 2012. His books include Palenque: Eternal City of the Maya (2008) and The Order of Days: The Maya World and the Truth about 2012 (2011). Stuart is currently the director of the Mesoamerica Center at the University of Texas at Austin, which fosters multi-disciplinary studies on ancient American art and culture.

Haicheng Wang (University of Washington, Seattle)
Haicheng Wang is a respondent.
Bio: Haicheng Wang is Mary and Cheney Cowles Endowed Associate Professor of Chinese Art in the School of Art + Art History + Design, University of Washington, Seattle. His research interest focuses on the art and archaeology of early China, especially the comparative studies between Bronze Age China and other early civilizations. Recent publications include Writing and the Ancient State (2014), a chapter on urbanization and writing in The Cambridge World History (2015), and “Administrative Reach and Documentary Coverage in Ancient States” (Archeo-Nil 26, 2016).

Christopher Woods (University of Chicago)
Title: “The Semantic Basis of Sumerian Writing” (Thursday, 1:30–2:00)
Abstract: A perennial preoccupation in the study of early writing systems is the degree to which these earliest forms of written communication reflect speech. Nowhere is this concern more keenly present than in study of the earliest writing from Mesopotamia, for which the vast gulf that separates speech from writing raises questions about the very language that underlies the script. Overlooked in the debate over the presumed Sumerian basis of early cuneiform is the more fundamental question of whether the writing system, in its original conception, was language-based in the first place. Alternatively, was it a system in which graphs first and foremost represented things, and only secondarily the words attached to those things? That is, what was the nature of the original representational relationship between symbol and referent? This paper explores these questions and addresses the primary evidence for these two propositions as well as some underlying theoretical considerations and cross-cultural parallels for analogous semiotic systems.
Bio: Christopher Woods is associate professor of Sumerology in the Oriental Institute, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and the Program in the Ancient Mediterranean World at the University of Chicago. He received his BS from Yale University and his PhD in Assyriology from Harvard University and was a junior fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows before joining the faculty of the University of Chicago. His research interests include Sumerian writing and language as well as early Mesopotamian religion, literature, and administration. He is author of The Grammar of Perspective: The Sumerian Conjugation Prefixes as a System of Voice (2008) and Igituh, Idu, Lanu, and the Group Vocabularies (Materials for the Sumerian Lexicon 18, in press), and he is currently completing a monograph on early cuneiform writing to be titled The Origins and Development of Writing in Ancient Mesopotamia: A History, 3500–2000 BCE.

Ilona Zsolnay (University of Chicago)
Title: “Graphic Classification in the Uruk IV and III Corpus” (Friday, 9:00–9:30)
Abstract: Abstract: Semantic classifiers, traditionally called determinatives but also referred to as complements, semographs, or semantograms, are an integral component to each of the four pristine logosyllabic writing systems: Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Chinese, and Mesoamerican. In his seminal study on early writing systems, Assyriologist and linguist I. J. Gelb writes that disambiguation was the primary function of the early determinative; thus, in the hieroglyphic, cuneiform, and Chinese writing systems, determinatives were inserted in order to differentiate between multivalent signs. For example, Sumerian APIN, signifying either “plough” or “plougher,” came to be written GIŠAPIN “plough” and LU₂APIN “plougher,” depending on the referent. As the Egyptian and Mesopotamian systems developed, according to Gelb, these determinatives eventually served as simple classifiers, regardless as to a need for clarity. Eventually, he contends, determinatives in all three systems came to serve as phonetic indicators. As such, the determinative was an aid in pronunciation and syntactical assignment. However, recent evaluation of the Mesopotamian Archaic corpus suggests that the divisions and developments of determinatives are not as clear-cut as Gelb might have us think. This presentation investigates the evidence for traditional classifiers in the Mesopotamian Archaic corpus and other possible visual methods used for categorization.
Bio: Ilona Zsolnay (2016–2018 Oriental Institute Postdoctoral Fellow and Penn Museum Consulting Scholar, Babylonian Section) is an Assyriologist (PhD, Brandeis University) who specializes in ancient Near Eastern religion(s) and is the author of multiple articles that investigate the intersection of deities, clergy, and the body politic. Zsolnay is also the sole editor of Being a Man: Negotiating Ancient Constructs of Masculinity (Routledge, 2016) and ANE area editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Bible and Gender Studies (ed. Julia O'Brien, 2014). As Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow and Project Manager for the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, Zsolnay supervised the Penn Museum extension of this vast international project. Managing a workforce of approximately thirty students, she enabled the legible digital imaging of the museum’s 30,000 inscribed tablets and objects. The results of this effort have had a significant impact on the accessibility of inscribed objects to both national and international communities. During her tenure at Penn, she taught both advanced and introductory Akkadian and has served on both the Bilinguals in Late Mesopotamian Scholarship and Royal Inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian Period projects.


Ilona Zsolnay