UNCERTAINTY AND CRITICISM

The old systems of expression – for instance, the scripts of the most ancient languages – betray vagueness in a variety of ways which we would not tolerate in our writing today. Thus in some Semitic scripts only the consonants in the words are indicated. The reader has to insert the omitted vowels according to the his knowledge and the context. The hieroglyphic script behaves very similarly, though not precisely in the same way; and for that reason the pronunciation of Ancient Egyptian remains unknown to us. The sacred script of the Egyptians is indefinite in yet other ways. For instance, it is left to the arbitrary decision of the scribe whether he arranges the pictures from the right to the left or from left to right. In order to be able to read it one must obey the rule of reading towards the faces of the figures, birds, and so on. But the scribe might also arrange the pictographs in vertical columns, and in making inscriptions on comparatively small objects he allowed considerations of decorativeness and space to influence him in altering the sequence the signs in yet other ways. The most disturbing thing about the hieroglyphic script is, no doubt, that it makes no separation between words. The pictures are placed across the page at an equal distances apart; and in general it is impossible to tell whether a sign is still part of the preceding word or forms the beginning of a new word.1

Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, p.268

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