Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The History of Writing

This is a guest post by Louise Baker. Louise ranks online degrees for Zen College Life. She most recently wrote about the best colleges online.

Ever since time began, man felt the need to express all his thoughts, feelings and desires within the format of the written word. It is very likely that man evolved the concept of writing long before he established the capacity for any form of intelligibly audible exposition.

Early Writings

The earliest forms of writing were more than likely simplistic scratchings on clay, sand or rock. Recently, certain clay tokens were found which had the possibility of being the earliest example of written communication in ancient times. In the prehistoric times, certain pictograms upon numerous cave walls have been collectively acknowledged to be the fundamental precipitators of the written word as we know it today. Interestingly enough, the pictures operated with the same underlying compulsions which would have spawned the written word; the need to convey thoughts, ideas and the ability to mark and record daily business transactions in a tangible and understandable medium. For the longest time, writing consisted of pictographs recorded on malleable substances such as clay or soft rock. Cuneiform and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics combined elements of pictures and words to express thoughts as fully as possible in what is considered some of the most advanced writing systems at those times. In the Orient, however, the standard for the written characters of most Oriental cultures stems directly from one source... the Chinese; whose influence is established in the writing systems of both Vietnam and Japan.

The Evolution of Writing

Writing would then continue to evolve in varying states from culture to culture. The Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and many other cultures would go on to develop extremely sophisticated writing systems, but with a rudimentary element of established format which would allow for easier accessibility to many as opposed to just a few specialized learners. In addition, the change in writing materials, from papyrus and parchment to the invention of paper in about 100 A.D., writing would become more widespread and less time consuming. (When compared to the previous materials available, that is.) The Eastern cultures, in particular, would yield some of the most dynamic writings and evolution of complex writing systems ever known. The Arab culture, with its particularly difficult codex of written language, relied on Western cultures to simplify its writings into something more manageable.

The Alphabet

The continuation of the evolution of writing would eventually yield one of man's most significant tools for written communication... a standardized Alphabet representative of a variety of sounds established by a series of vowels and consonants. With the advent of the Alphabet, sounds could be more easily conveyed into a tangible medium for a more comprehensive understanding of what the written text represented. Roughly about the fourth millennium, there are a number of examples of such systems being used in the writing of those times, but it wasn't until about 1850 B.C. that a formally standardized Alphabet was used for purely such a purpose. And in about 100 A.D., the Romans gave us what would eventually become the single most recognized system of writing in the world, our modern 26 letter Alphabet.

Who says the Romans never did anything for anyone?

Image: The Rosetta Stone on display at the British Museum since 1802 by Chris Devers

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Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond