History of Writing

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History of writing

The history of writing is primarily the development of expressing language by letters or other marks[1] and also the study and description of these developments.In the history of how systems of representation of language through graphic means have evolved in different human civilizations, more complete writing systems were preceded by proto-writing, systems of ideographic and/or early mnemonic symbols. True writing, in which the content of a linguistic utterance is encoded so that another reader can reconstruct, with a fair degree of accuracy, the exact utterance written down[A 1] is a later development. It is distinguished from proto-writing which typically avoids encoding grammatical words and affixes, making it more difficult or impossible to reconstruct the exact meaning intended by the writer unless a great deal of context is already known in advance. One of the earliest forms of written expression is cuneiform.

Writing systems

History of writing

Writing numbers for the purpose of record keeping began long before the writing of language. See History of writing ancient numbers for how the writing of numbers began.It is generally agreed that true writing of language (not only numbers) was invented independently in at least two places: Mesopotamia (specifically, ancient Sumer) around 3200 BC and Mesoamerica around 600 BC. Several Mesoamerican scripts are known, the oldest being from the Olmec or Zapotec of Mexico.It is debated whether writing systems were developed completely independently in Egypt around 3200 BC and in China around 1200 BC,[3] or whether the appearance of writing in either or both places was due to cultural diffusion (i.e. the concept of representing language using writing, if not the specifics of how such a system worked, was brought by traders from an already-literate civilization).Chinese characters are probably an independent invention, because there is no evidence of contact between China and the literate civilizations of the Near East,[4] and because of the distinct differences between the Mesopotamian and Chinese approaches to logography and phonetic representation.[5] Egyptian script is dissimilar from Mesopotamian cuneiform, but similarities in concepts and in earliest attestation suggest that the idea of writing may have come to Egypt from Mesopotamia.[6] In 1999, Archaeology Magazine reported that the earliest Egyptian glyphs date back to 3400 BC, which "...challenge the commonly held belief that early logographs, pictographic symbols representing a specific place, object, or quantity, first evolved into more complex phonetic symbols in Mesopotamia."[7]Similar debate surrounds the Indus script of the Bronze Age Indus Valley civilization in Ancient India (3200 BC). In addition, the script is still undeciphered and there is debate over whether the script is true writing at all, or instead some kind of proto-writing or non-linguistic sign system.An additional possibility is the undeciphered Rongorongo script of Easter Island. It is debated whether this is true writing, and if it is, whether it is another case of cultural diffusion of writing. The oldest example is from 1851, 139 years after their first contact with Europeans. One explanation is that the script was inspired by Spain's written annexation proclamation in 1770.[8]Various other known cases of cultural diffusion of writing exist, where the general concept of writing was transmitted from one culture to another but the specifics of the system were independently developed. Recent examples are the Cherokee syllabary, invented by Sequoyah, and the Pahawh Hmong system for writing the Hmong language.

Literature and writing

Writing systems are distinguished from other possible symbolic communication systems in that one must usually understand something of the associated spoken language to comprehend the text. By contrast, other possible symbolic systems such as information signs, painting, maps, and mathematics often do not require prior knowledge of a spoken language. Every human community possesses language, a feature regarded by many as an innate and defining condition of mankind (see Origin of language). However the development of writing systems, and their partial supplantation of traditional oral systems of communication, have been sporadic, uneven and slow. Once established, writing systems on the whole change more slowly than their spoken counterparts, and often preserve features and expressions which are no longer current in the spoken language. The greatest benefit of writing is that it provides the tool by which society can record information consistently and in greater detail, something that could not be achieved as well previously by spoken word. Writing allows societies to transmit information and share knowledge.

Literature and writing, though obviously connected, are not synonymous. The very first writings from ancient Sumer by any reasonable definition do not constitute literature. The same is true of some of the early Egyptian hieroglyphics and the thousands of ancient Chinese government records. The history of literature begins with the history of writing. Scholars have disagreed concerning when written record-keeping became more like literature than anything else, but "literature" can have several meanings. The term could be applied broadly to mean any symbolic record, from images and sculptures to letters. The oldest surviving literary texts date from a full millennium after the invention of writing, to the late 3rd millennium BC. The earliest literary authors known by name are Ptahhotep (who wrote in Egyptian) and Enheduanna (who wrote in Sumerian), dating to around the 24th and 23rd centuries BC, respectively. In the early literate societies, as much as 600 years passed from the first inscriptions to the first coherent textual sources: i.e. from around 3200 to 2600 BC.

Recorded history


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