Compare and contrast the ways in which writing emerged in urban societies between 4000 BCE and 2000 BCE. How did each use technology? How common was literacy?  

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Some of the earliest areas to develop writing were Egypt, Mesopotamia, and China. Although they had some similarities, they differed in the ways they used writing and the types of scripts they developed. One thing all of these cultures had in common was something called "scribal literacy." In other words, writing was generally known only to a small class of professional scribes, and perhaps a limited number of members of priesthoods or educated elites. Although there is not sufficient data to give an accurate number, it is likely that less than 10 percent of the population was even minimally literate.

The development of Mesopotamian script occurred at the same time as urbanization and economic centralization. Unlike China and Egypt, it underwent significant linguistic instability with the original Sumerian population being replaced by an Akkadian one which spoke a different language but adopted Sumerian writing. This meant that cuneiform developed into a hybrid system of writing mixing ideographic and phonetic symbols. This initial purpose of writing in Mesopotamia, like the uses of Linear B in the Mycenaean civilization, seemed to be administrative and commercial, although poetry and dialogues were written in the schools and writing was used in certain religious contexts. Most writing was inscribed on wet clay tablets with a stylus, although important works such as law codes were carved into stone and displayed publicly.

The earliest Chinese writing took form in relation to the development of religious rituals, in particular "oracle bones". It was purely pictographic, and used in divination. More complex and diverse uses of writing did not become common until after 2000 BC. This writing was drawn onto turtle shells and animal bones.

Egyptian writing before 2000 BC was used for religious, commercial, and administrative purposes. It was primarily ideographic with each symbol representing a concept rather than a sound. Egyptians primarily wrote on papyrus, a paper-like substance, using pens and ink.