In the first part of this course we will investigate theories concerning the origin of writing in the Ancient Near East, paying particular attention to the structure of the early cuneiform and hieroglyphic logo-syllabic systems used to write Sumerian (and, later, Akkadian and Hittite) and Egyptian. We will then trace the development of alphabets and what we think of as "the alphabet". Some later alphabetic developments (ogam, runes) will also come up for discussion. At this point we will shift our geographical focus from the Near East and Europe to the Far East, looking first at the structure and evolution of the Chinese writing system, next at the mixed system used for Japanese, and then at the quasi-featural structure of Korean Han'gul. Finally, we will turn to the New World to investigate Mayan "hieroglyphs". Throughout the course our emphasis will be on the functions and structural features of writing systems, rather than on such external characteristics as sign shapes. Note: Some of the reading is rather technical. One of the learning goals of the class is for students to develop strategies for dealing with difficult articles or book chapters.