J. Cale Johnson, "Indexical iconicity in Sumerian belles lettres", in: Language and Communication, 33/1 (2013), 26–49


Logographically written languages offer rich possibilities for the use of iconic signs and configurations to encode meaning alongside ordinary denotational textuality. Although indexical iconism has been used to clarify the microstructure of conversational interactions and other performances, this paper looks at implicit metapragmatics within the text-artifact itself in two test beds (European concrete poetry and Tang Chinese poetry), before turning to Sumerian literary materials from the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1800–1600 BCE). The absence of theoretical treatises from this period has often led to the suggestion that there was no theory in ancient Mesopotamia, but this paper argues that Mesopotamian “theory” resides in the implicit metapragmatics of the same cuneiform signs that also generate the denotational meaning of the text.

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