> If one traces the use of abstract strokes that
> depict spoken sounds to classical languages, one
> is limited by surviving materials. These
> surviving materials connect to much more recent
> times than can be established for other evidence
> of advanced civilization: stones and bones--not
> much before 1000 BC. Based on our understanding
> of the development of spoken language in children,
> we should suppose that spoken language was always
> present in even the smallest communities; taught
> and standardized as communities grew--going back
> at least 30,000 years.
> Together with spoken languages, there was probably
> some abstract symbols that represented spoken
> words or phrases--but not a collection of them to
> represent all of the sounds of the language.
It seems to me that virtually by definition there was a language sufficiently complex to communicate everything known by humans all the way back to the very beginning (40,000 years ago). This same thing would apply to every type and species of life form but what sets humans apart is how complicated our behavior has been since the beginning. We moderns tend to believe complicated behavior gave rise to complicated language but, I believe, this is almost literally putting the cart before the horse. How can anything be invented without having the knowledge base to master the simpler concepts which underlie each new advancement? And how can this complex knowledge base be acquired without complex language. Logic appears to dictate that complex language preceded complex behavior.
I believe the better question here is why didn't writing appear earlier than it did? If their language was so complex as to allow the invention of agriculture and cities why didn't they bother to invent writing? Are we to believe a simple concept like writing is more complex than than taming spelt or goats? It seem more likely they had no need of writing and the apparent "prehistoric" alphabet are mere mnemonics for an individual or small group to remember some more complex utterance or instructions.
It is necessity that is the mother of invention and it's not logical to assume that writing wasn't invented earlier than it was because people weren't smart, were overly superstitious, or just hadn't thought of it. Far more likely is they had little or no use to record language in this manner. Note for instance that much of the early writing that does exists is merely lists rather than prose or sentences. This suggests that writing wasn't important for literary or scientific purposes but was (used) chiefly to record arcane processes. Why didn't they need writing so long and why are important writing from the dawn of the alphabet preserved anywhere at all? Are we really to believe writing was invented to record incantation and lists?
It certainly appears we are asking all the wrong questions. This becomes doubly obvious whemn we consider that writing started in 3200 BC but recorded history doesn't really start until 2000 BC. Why aren't important ideas from the dawn of the written word stil extant today? Lists were copied and incantation was copied but there is nothing that might be considered of any real import to any modern field from the earliest centuries of writing.