A brief history of writing [Archives:2003/688/Education]

November 24 2003

By Dr. Bashar Ghazi Askar
[email protected]

Writing is an attempt at codifying speech sounds. Writing is the major tool by which man can record thoughts, feelings , events and pass them to others. In fact, writing followed speech by thousands of years. The earliest form of writing can be seen in cave paintings in which events were recorded through the use of pictures.
It is believed that the earliest known system of writing was invented by the Sumerians in the southern part of Iraq some 6000 years ago. The Babylonians, Assyirians and other ancient peoples also used this system in other parts of the universe. It is called ” cuneiform” writing.” The word ” cuneiform” refers to the characters used by those ancient folks. Thus a circle might represent the sun and animal's picture represent the animal itself.
At a later stage, picture writing developed in which pictures began to represent ideas behind the objects as well as the objects themselves. This new type of picture -writing is called ” ideography.” In this sense, the circle might represent the sun as well as heat, light or other things associated with the sun whereas the eye with tear drops might refer to sadness or crying. In course of time, man learnt to express more complicated ideas through the same symbols.
Gradually the symbols used to represent ideas. Eventually objects began to be simplified and were made by a bone or a straight strokes and angles. The Sumerians used clay as a writing surface and they pressed the tool onto it. This method of writing was much faster than if they were to scratch the clay.
The ancient Egyptians used hieroglyphic writing. In this system of writing, phonetic symbols were introduced when an ideogram stood for more than one word and referred to different ideas. The hieroglyphic writing contained three elements: pictures, ideograms and phonetic symbols. Such writing systems appeared in ancient China and India, each civilization emerging from its own location and adding something new to the progress of the human civilization..
The alphabetic writing was invented at some point during the 18th or 17th century B.C. by the Phoenicians who inhabited the eastern Mediterranean region. Cuneiform script was written from left to right. whereas Hieroglyphic writing could be written in any direction.
It is believed that the word ” alphabet” is of Semitic origin. It is a combination of two Phoenician characters: `alpha '(an ox's head) and `beta '(house). The Phoenicians carried their alphabetic writing through trade to Europe where the Greek and later Roman characters developed.
Initially, all letters were produced in the same way. When printing was introduced, two kinds of script began to appear in most alphabets: print script for printing and cursive script for handwriting.