書き言葉の発生，すなわち文字の発生は，実用本位のものか，儀礼的なものか．この究極の問題について，Nicholas et al. が明快な議論を展開している．論文のアブストラクトがよい要約になっているので，引用しよう (459) ．
A comparison of the evidence for the earliest scripts in different parts of the world suggests that an apparent preponderance of ceremonial; and symbolic usage should not be interpreted too literally. It seems to have more to do with archaeological preservation --- the better survival in archaeological contexts of the durable materials preferred as vehicles for ceremonial texts --- than with any deep-seated differences in the function of the scripts. It may well be that the earliest Chinese, Egyptian or Mesoamerican texts were largely as utilitarian in their application as those of Mesopotamia.
Some materials survive better than others, and for various reasons scribes chose relatively perishable substances for utilitarian texts, and more permanent vehicles for more formal ones. They were guided not only by the substance's durability, but also by its value and its convenience. Carving an inscription in stone improves its chance of survival for posterity; furthermore, the material may have been chosen for its intrinsic value (whether aimed at the inscription, or at the object, like a bowl or a statue, on which the inscription is found); and the labour of carving the text on a stone is itself an enhancement of the value of the object. As a general rule, therefore, we may expect surviving inscriptions to be those serving ceremonial purposes and found on durable materials. (472)
The main factor in deciding which script style was to be used was not purely the tools and media used for writing but also the content of the text. Likewise the amount of time devoted to a particular inscription (in turn reflecting the value attached to the text) will have had an effect on the form of the script used, with formality on ceremonial, informality on utilitarian vehicles: thus bones and tortoise-shells, though still formal, have more narrative content and generally have more cursive characters than the bronzes. (477)
The medium based for writing depended largely upon the content of the message. Because of the differential preservation of writing media, formal ceremonial texts, written on more durable substances, dominate in the archaeological record, giving a biased picture of the uses of early writing. The occasional survival of more perishable substances, together with certain other evidence, helps to correct this bias. (478--79)
そして，結論として "[T]he stimulus to move from individual symbols or emblems to a coherent writing system is more likely to have come from the needs of administration than from a wish to disseminate propaganda." (479) と述べている．書き言葉は，あくまで実用本位で生まれてきたという明快な結論だ．
この議論は，古生物学において生き残りやすい化石の種類を考察する化石生成学 (taphonomy) の発想と酷似している．「#2865. 生き残りやすい言語証拠，消えやすい言語証拠――化石生成学からのヒント」 ([2017-03-01-1]) を参照されたい．また，文字の起源と発達を考慮するにあたっての書写材料の重要性については，「#2456. 書写材料と書写道具 (1)」 ([2016-01-17-1])，「#2457. 書写材料と書写道具 (2)」 ([2016-01-18-1])，「#2465. 書写材料としての紙の歴史と特性」 ([2016-01-26-1])，「#2933. 紙の歴史年表」 ([2017-05-08-1]) を要参照．
・ Postgate, Nicholas, Tao Wang, and Toby Wilkinson. "The Evidence for Early Writing: Utilitarian or Ceremonial?" Antiquity 69 (1965): 458--80.
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