Daniel Hahn

Does knotted string constitute ‘writing’?

Quipus, the accounting devices used by the Incans, are one of Silvia Ferrara’s many fascinating examples of speech made visible

Quipu, dating from the Inca Imperial Epoch 1300-1532. [Alamy]

What particularly excites Silvia Ferrara, the author of The Greatest Invention, is not language per se but writing – that is, the specific tool created for recording and conveying language visually. Sound made visible, tangible. The impulse to communicate might be innate, but writing is cultural, and in no way inevitable.

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