Regarding the cultural significance of this system, their primary researcher says, "The tokens were an entirely new medium for conveying information. Compared to the previous tallies, the conceptual leap was to endow each token shape, such as the cone, sphere, or disk, with a specific meaning." "The token system was, in fact, the first code -- the earliest system of signs used for transmitting information." Denise Schmandt-Besserat, Before Writing, Volume 1, From Counting to Cuneiform (University of Texas Press, Austin: 1992), p. 161.
Perhaps the author of this quote does not realize that the sounds of spoken language are also a system of standardized symbolic signs. However, one does find that the tokens were already in existence when the proto-Sumerians invented their simple consonant-vowel words, which include na4: 'pebble, stone; token'; na5: 'chest, box'; nu: 'image, likeness, picture, figurine, statue'. Note also ni; na: 'he, she; that one'; ní: 'self; body'; ia2,7,9, í: 'five'; ia4, i4: 'pebble, counter'; imi, im, em: 'clay'; eme: 'tongue; speech'. On the basis of this evidence, the implication that the tokens as a system for transmitting information preceded the system of spoken language appears to be correct.