Why? (your e-mail, Part Three)Steven Davis sent in a link to the history of Hangul (the Korean alphabet), and it's entirely fascinating: Hangul. Of particular note is this excerpt:
In explaining the need for the new script, King Sejong explained that the Korean language was fundamentally different from Chinese; using Chinese characters (known as hanja) to write was so difficult for the common people that only privileged aristocrats (yangban, 양반) could read and write fluently. The majority of Koreans were effectively illiterate before the invention of Hangul.
Hangul was designed so that even a commoner could learn to read and write; the Haerye says "A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days."
That's very, very forward thinking for a ruler in the 15th century.
Brian Witte sent in a link to Quipu, Here's his description:
Quipu were a system of knotted and braided cords used for record keeping in one of the largest empires (Incas) the world has ever seen. Most of the quipu were burned by the Spanish and their knowledge suppressed. A few survive, though, and modern scholars think the information density in them is sufficient to be fully-fledged written language. In other words, they may have recorded more than just types and tallies: poems and songs recorded with knots and twists (although there is no proven link between spoken language and the quipu).
They are enormously beautiful and staggering dense, as you can see here: Quipu.
Evan S. sent along an excellent read on the evolution of writing, which is titled--hmm--The Evolution of Writing. It's fairly wonky and extremely interesting, including discussing tokens as a precursor to writing.