Consider a fictional species of sapient creatures descended from arthropods that greatly resembled Hymenopterans and termites in both their physical biology and behavior. Their social lifestyle varies on an individual basis between nomadic (solitary or in small packs) and colonial (large eusocial communities of usually related individuals, headed by one or more breeding mothers). Technologically, they're still at the "Stone Age" level, with wood and stone being the primary materials for tool-making and no form of metalworking whatsoever.

  1. Would it be plausible for such a species to have developed a written form of their spoken language, which in its current form is an intricate logophonetic script comprising both ideograms and a phonetic alphabet/syllabary?
  2. What would be more plausible for the aforementioned language's origins: A logographic system were each symbol represented an idea and formed an entire word in its own right? Or an alphabet/syllabary that phonetically represented individual speech sounds, with the meanings inferred from both the combination of those sounds and the context they're placed in? Or are both approaches equally plausible? If there are pros and cons for each, I'd appreciate an explanation of them.
  • $\begingroup$ Feasible is a bit fuzzy here. See history of writing - we didn't really have writing in our stone age. And we are the only species we know to ever develop writing at all, that's whole sample we have. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Apr 21, 2017 at 0:01
  • $\begingroup$ What form does their language take prior to the development of writing? That will drive the written form in specific directions. $\endgroup$
    – EvilSnack
    Apr 21, 2017 at 1:51
  • $\begingroup$ @EvilSnack: Please define "form" as used within your question, so that I can give a good answer. $\endgroup$
    – MarqFJA87
    Apr 21, 2017 at 3:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Mołot: That's a valid point, though absence of evidence to alternative ways of written language emergence isn't in itself evidence of absence of such alternative ways. $\endgroup$
    – MarqFJA87
    Apr 21, 2017 at 3:16

1 Answer 1


1 - The Maya (who had written language long before they had metalworking) prove that being 'Stone Age' isn't a fundamental barrier to developing writing. 'Stone Age' is a measure of what materials you use, not of complexity of culture.

Writing was developed several times independently on Earth, but always in a civilization - fairly large/populous settled cultures. With a large settled community and social stratification comes government and a need to keep records.

Nothing, I suppose, prevents the idea of writing being invented pretty much anywhere - but small hunter-gatherer bands would probably lack a reason to develop or preserve the idea.

So, if your 'large eusocial communities' are comparable in size and complexity to the early civilizations that invented writing on Earth, no reason it would be implausible.

2 - As far as I know, it seems that all the Earth examples started with pictographic and/or logographic symbols. Alphabet/phonological writing is a later development. So if their minds are human-like, the same would probably hold.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for citing the Maya; I had a gut feeling that I was forgetting something important when it comes to the development of writing systems in human history. For the record, the bit about the variance in social lifestyle has real-life precedent in lion social organization, which oscillates between "nomadism" (loners or pairs) and "residence" (forming actual prides). Also, I cannot help but note that you haven't asked about what the species' culture is like; I assume that it's a minor/negligible factor? $\endgroup$
    – MarqFJA87
    Apr 21, 2017 at 14:20

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