History of writing
Overview
 
The history of writing records the development of expressing language by letters or other marks. 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 symbol. True writing, in which the entire content of a linguistic utterance is encoded so that another reader can reconstruct, with a fair degree of accuracy, the exact utterance written down, is a later development, and is distinguished from proto-writing in that the latter typically avoids encoding grammatical words and affixes, making it difficult or impossible to confidently reconstruct the exact meaning intended by the writer unless a great deal of context is already known in advance.
Writing numbers for record keeping began long before writing of language.
Encyclopedia
The history of writing records the development of expressing language by letters or other marks. 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 symbol. True writing, in which the entire content of a linguistic utterance is encoded so that another reader can reconstruct, with a fair degree of accuracy, the exact utterance written down, is a later development, and is distinguished from proto-writing in that the latter typically avoids encoding grammatical words and affixes, making it difficult or impossible to confidently reconstruct the exact meaning intended by the writer unless a great deal of context is already known in advance.

Invention of writing

Writing numbers for record keeping began long before writing of language. See History of writing ancient numbers
History of writing ancient numbers
-Pre-history:The first method of counting was counting on fingers. This evolved into sign language for the hand-to-eye communication of numbers. But this was not writing....

 for how 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
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

 (specifically, ancient Sumer
Sumer
Sumer was a civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age....

) 3200 BC and Mesoamerica
Mesoamerica
Mesoamerica is a region and culture area in the Americas, extending approximately from central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, within which a number of pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and...

 600 BC. Twelve Mesoamerican scripts are known of, the oldest from Zapotec
Zapotec civilization
The Zapotec civilization was an indigenous pre-Columbian civilization that flourished in the Valley of Oaxaca of southern Mesoamerica. Archaeological evidence shows their culture goes back at least 2500 years...

 Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

.

It is debated whether writing was developed completely independently in Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 3200 BC and China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 1300 BC, or whether the appearance of writing in either or both places was due to cultural diffusion
Cultural diffusion
In cultural anthropology and cultural geography, cultural diffusion, as first conceptualized by Alfred L. Kroeber in his influential 1940 paper Stimulus Diffusion, or trans-cultural diffusion in later reformulations, is the spread of cultural items—such as ideas, styles, religions, technologies,...

 (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).
China's script is most likely their own invention because there is no evidence of contact between China and the literate civilizations of the Near East, and because of the distinct differences between the Mesopotamian and Chinese approaches to logography and phonetic representation. 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.

Similar debate surrounds the script of the Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

 Indus Valley civilization
Indus Valley Civilization
The Indus Valley Civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that was located in the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent, consisting of what is now mainly modern-day Pakistan and northwest India...

 in Ancient India 2200 BC, with the additional provisos that the script is still undeciphered and that there is debate over whether the script is true writing at all, or some kind of proto-writing or non-linguistic sign system.

An additional possibility is the undeciphered rongorongo
Rongorongo
Rongorongo is a system of glyphs discovered in the 19th century on Easter Island that appears to be writing or proto-writing. It cannot be read despite numerous attempts at decipherment. Although some calendrical and what might prove to be genealogical information has been identified, not even...

 script of Easter Island
Easter Island
Easter Island is a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian triangle. A special territory of Chile that was annexed in 1888, Easter Island is famous for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai, created by the early Rapanui people...

. However, it is debated whether this system is true writing at all, and if it is, whether it is yet another case of cultural diffusion of writing. The oldest example is from 1851, 139 years after their first contact with Europeans. The most probable explanation is that the script was inspired by Spain's written annexation proclamation in 1770.

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
Cherokee syllabary
The Cherokee syllabary is a syllabary invented by Sequoyah to write the Cherokee language in the late 1810s and early 1820s. His creation of the syllabary is particularly noteworthy in that he could not previously read any script. He first experimented with logograms, but his system later developed...

, invented by Sequoyah
Sequoyah
Sequoyah , named in English George Gist or George Guess, was a Cherokee silversmith. In 1821 he completed his independent creation of a Cherokee syllabary, making reading and writing in Cherokee possible...

, and the Pahawh Hmong
Pahawh Hmong
Pahawh Hmong is an indigenous semi-syllabic script, invented in 1959, to write the Hmong language.-Form:Pahawh is written left to right...

 system for writing the Hmong language
Hmong language
Hmong or Mong is the common name for a dialect continuum of the West Hmongic branch of the Hmong–Mien/Miao–Yao language family spoken by the Hmong people of Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi, northern Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos...

.

Writing systems

Writing system
Writing system
A writing system is a symbolic system used to represent elements or statements expressible in language.-General properties:Writing systems are distinguished from other possible symbolic communication systems in that the reader must usually understand something of the associated spoken language to...

s are distinguished from other possible symbolic communication
Symbolic communication
Symbolic communication is exchange of messages that change a priori expectation of events. Examples of this are modern communication technology as also exchange of information amongst animals....

 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 sign
Information sign
An information sign is a very legibly printed and very noticeable placard that informs people of the purpose of an object, or gives them instruction on the use of something. An example is a traffic sign such as a stop sign....

s, painting
Painting
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

, map
Map
A map is a visual representation of an area—a symbolic depiction highlighting relationships between elements of that space such as objects, regions, and themes....

s, and mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

 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
Origin of language
The origin of language is the emergence of language in the human species. This is a highly controversial topic. Empirical evidence is so limited that many regard it as unsuitable for serious scholars. In 1866, the Linguistic Society of Paris went so far as to ban debates on the subject...

). However the development of writing systems, and the process by which they have supplanted traditional oral
Orality
Orality is thought and verbal expression in societies where the technologies of literacy are unfamiliar to most of the population. The study of orality is closely allied to the study of oral tradition...

 systems of communication has 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 great benefit of writing systems is their ability to maintain a persistent record of information expressed in a language, which can be retrieved independently of the initial act of formulation.

Recorded history

Scholars make a reasonable distinction between prehistory
Prehistory
Prehistory is the span of time before recorded history. Prehistory can refer to the period of human existence before the availability of those written records with which recorded history begins. More broadly, it refers to all the time preceding human existence and the invention of writing...

 and history
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 of early writing, but have disagreed concerning when prehistory becomes history and when proto-writing became "true writing". The definition is largely subjective. Writing, in its most general terms, is a method of recording information and is composed of glyph
Glyph
A glyph is an element of writing: an individual mark on a written medium that contributes to the meaning of what is written. A glyph is made up of one or more graphemes....

s (also known as graphemes).

The emergence of writing in a given area is usually followed by several centuries of fragmentary inscriptions. With the presence of coherent texts (from the various writing systems and the systems' associated literature), historians mark the "historicity" of that culture.

The invention of writing was not a one-time event, but a long evolution preceded by the appearance of symbol
Symbol
A symbol is something which represents an idea, a physical entity or a process but is distinct from it. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals are symbols for...

s, possibly first for cultic purposes. Canadian researchers from the University of Victoria
University of Victoria
The University of Victoria, often referred to as UVic, is the second oldest public research university in British Columbia, Canada. It is a research intensive university located in Saanich and Oak Bay, about northeast of downtown Victoria. The University's annual enrollment is about 20,000 students...

 suggest that symbolism was used by cave painters of the Neolithic Age.
"...von Petzinger and Nowell were surprised by the clear patterning of the symbols across space and time – some of which remained continually in use for over 20,000 years. The 26 specific signs may provide the first glimmers of proof that a graphic code was being used by these ancient humans shortly after their arrival in Europe from Africa, or they may have even brought this practice with them. If correct, these findings will contribute to the growing body of evidence that the “creative explosion” occurred tens of thousands of years earlier than scholars once thought.",

Developmental stages

A conventional "proto-writing to true writing" system follows a general series of developmental stages:
  • Picture writing system: glyphs directly represent objects and ideas or objective and ideational situations. In connection with this the following substages may be distinguished:
    1. The mnemonic: glyphs primarily a reminder;
    2. The pictographic (pictography): glyphs represent directly an object or an objective situation such as (A) chronological, (B) notices, (C) communications, (D) totems, titles, and names, (E) religious, (F) customs, (G) historical, and (H) biographical;
    3. The ideographic (ideography): glyphs represent directly an idea or an ideational situation.
  • Transitional system: glyphs refer not only to the object or idea which it represents but to its name as well.
  • Phonetic system: glyphs refer to sounds or spoken symbols irrespective of their meanings. This resolves itself into the following substages:
    1. The verbal: glyph (logogram
      Logogram
      A logogram, or logograph, is a grapheme which represents a word or a morpheme . This stands in contrast to phonograms, which represent phonemes or combinations of phonemes, and determinatives, which mark semantic categories.Logograms are often commonly known also as "ideograms"...

      ) represents a whole word;
    2. The syllabic: glyph represent a syllable;
    3. The alphabetic: glyph represent an elementary sound.


The best known picture writing system of ideographic
Ideogram
An ideogram or ideograph is a graphic symbol that represents an idea or concept. Some ideograms are comprehensible only by familiarity with prior convention; others convey their meaning through pictorial resemblance to a physical object, and thus may also be referred to as pictograms.Examples of...

 and/or early mnemonic
Mnemonic
A mnemonic , or mnemonic device, is any learning technique that aids memory. To improve long term memory, mnemonic systems are used to make memorization easier. Commonly encountered mnemonics are often verbal, such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something,...

 symbols are:
  • Jiahu symbols
    Jiahu symbols
    Jiahu symbols refer to the 16 distinct markings on prehistoric artifacts found in Jiahu, a neolithic Peiligang culture site found in Henan, China, and excavated in 1999 C.E...

    , carved on tortoise
    Tortoise
    Tortoises are a family of land-dwelling reptiles of the order of turtles . Like their marine cousins, the sea turtles, tortoises are shielded from predators by a shell. The top part of the shell is the carapace, the underside is the plastron, and the two are connected by the bridge. The tortoise...

     shells in Jiahu
    Jiahu
    Jiahu was the site of a Neolithic Yellow River settlement based in the central plains of ancient China, modern Wuyang, Henan Province. Archaeologists consider the site to be one of the earliest examples of the Peiligang culture. Settled from 7000 to 5800 BC, the site was later flooded and abandoned...

    , ca. 6600 BC
  • Vinča signs (Tărtăria tablets
    Tartaria tablets
    The Tărtăria tablets are three tablets, known since the late 19th century excavation at the Neolithic site of Turdaş in Transylvania Romania, by Zsófia Torma, which date to around 5300 BC...

    ), ca. 5300 BC
  • Early Indus script
    Indus script
    The term Indus script refers to short strings of symbols associated with the Indus Valley Civilization, in use during the Early Harappan and Mature Harappan period, between the 35th and 20th centuries BC. In spite of many attempts at decipherments and claims, it is as yet undeciphered...

    , ca. 3500 BC

In the Old World, true writing systems developed from neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 writing in the Early Bronze Age (4th millennium BC
4th millennium BC
The 4th millennium BC saw major changes in human culture. It marked the beginning of the Bronze Age and of writing.The city states of Sumer and the kingdom of Egypt were established and grew to prominence. Agriculture spread widely across Eurasia...

). The Sumerian
Sumerian language
Sumerian is the language of ancient Sumer, which was spoken in southern Mesopotamia since at least the 4th millennium BC. During the 3rd millennium BC, there developed a very intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism...

 archaic cuneiform script and the Egyptian hieroglyphs
Egyptian hieroglyphs
Egyptian hieroglyphs were a formal writing system used by the ancient Egyptians that combined logographic and alphabetic elements. Egyptians used cursive hieroglyphs for religious literature on papyrus and wood...

 are generally considered the earliest true writing systems, both emerging out of their ancestral proto-literate symbol systems from 3400–3200 BC with earliest coherent texts from about 2600 BC
26th century BC
The 26th century BC is a century which lasted from the year 2600 BC to 2501 BC .-Events:*c. 2900 BC – 2334 BC: Mesopotamian wars of the Early Dynastic period continue....

.

Literature and writing

Literature and writing, though obviously connected, are not synonymous. The very first writings from ancient Sumer
Sumer
Sumer was a civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age....

 by any reasonable definition do not constitute literature – the same is true of some of the early Egyptian hieroglyphics or the thousands of logs from ancient Chinese regimes. The history of literature
History of literature
The history of literature is the historical development of writings in prose or poetry which attempts to provide entertainment, enlightenment, or instruction to the reader/hearer/observer, as well as the development of the literary techniques used in the communication of these pieces. Not all...

begins with the history of writing and the notion of "literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

" has different meanings depending on who is using it. Scholars have disagreed concerning when written record-keeping became more like "literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

" than anything else and is largely subjective. It could be applied broadly to mean any symbolic record, encompassing everything from images and sculptures to letters. The oldest literary texts that have come down to us date to a full millennium after the invention of writing, to the late 3rd millennium BC
3rd millennium BC
The 3rd millennium BC spans the Early to Middle Bronze Age.It represents a period of time in which imperialism, or the desire to conquer, grew to prominence, in the city states of the Middle East, but also throughout Eurasia, with Indo-European expansion to Anatolia, Europe and Central Asia. The...

. The earliest literary authors known by name are Ptahhotep
Ptahhotep
Ptahhotep, sometimes known as Ptahhotpe or Ptah-Hotep, was an ancient Egyptian official during the late 25th century BC and early 24th century BC.-Life:...

 and Enheduanna
Enheduanna
Enheduanna , also transliterated as Enheduana, En-hedu-ana or EnHeduAnna , was an Akkadian princess as well as High Priestess of the Moon god Nanna in the Sumerian city-state of Ur...

, dating to ca. the 24th
24th century BC
The 24th century BC is a century which lasted from the year 2400 BC to 2301 BC.-Events:*c. 2900 BC – 2334 BC: Mesopotamian wars of the Early Dynastic period continue.*c. 2360 BC: Hekla-4 eruption....

 and 23rd
23rd century BC
The 23rd century BC is a century which lasted from the year 2300 BC to 2201 BC.-Events:*2334 BC – 2279 BC: Sargon of Akkad's conquest of Mesopotamia....

 centuries BC, respectively. In the early literate societies, as much as 600 years passed from the first inscriptions to the first coherent textual sources (ca. 3200 to 2600 BC).

Locations and timeframes


Proto-writing

The early writing systems of the late 4000–3000 BC were not a sudden invention. Rather, they were a development based on earlier traditions of symbol
Symbol
A symbol is something which represents an idea, a physical entity or a process but is distinct from it. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals are symbols for...

 systems that cannot be classified as writing proper, but have many characteristics strikingly similar to writing. These systems may be described as proto-writing. They used ideographic
Ideogram
An ideogram or ideograph is a graphic symbol that represents an idea or concept. Some ideograms are comprehensible only by familiarity with prior convention; others convey their meaning through pictorial resemblance to a physical object, and thus may also be referred to as pictograms.Examples of...

 and/or early mnemonic
Mnemonic
A mnemonic , or mnemonic device, is any learning technique that aids memory. To improve long term memory, mnemonic systems are used to make memorization easier. Commonly encountered mnemonics are often verbal, such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something,...

 symbols to convey information yet were probably devoid of direct linguistic
Natural language
In the philosophy of language, a natural language is any language which arises in an unpremeditated fashion as the result of the innate facility for language possessed by the human intellect. A natural language is typically used for communication, and may be spoken, signed, or written...

 content.
These systems emerged in the early Neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 period, as early as the 7th millennium BC
7th millennium BC
During the 7th millennium BC, agriculture spreads from Anatolia to the Balkans.World population was essentially stable at around 5 million people, living mostly scattered across the globe in small hunting-gathering tribes...

.

Even after the Neolithic, several cultures have gone through a period of using systems of proto-writing as an intermediate stage before the adoption of writing proper. The "Slavic runes
Pre-Cyrillic Slavic writing
There is some evidence that the early Slavs may have used a writing system or a form of proto-writing prior to the introduction of Christianity and of the Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets in the mid 9th century...

" (7th/8th century) mentioned by a few medieval authors may have been such a system. The Quipu
Quipu
Quipus or khipus were recording devices used in the Inca Empire and its predecessor societies in the Andean region. A quipu usually consisted of colored, spun, and plied thread or strings from llama or alpaca hair. It could also be made of cotton cords...

 of the Incas (15th century), sometimes called "talking knots", may have been of a similar nature. Another example is the system of pictographs invented by Uyaquk
Uyaquk
Uyaquq was a Yupik Moravian missionary and linguistic genius who went from being an illiterate adult to inventing a series of writing systems for his native language and then producing translations of the Bible and other religious works in a period of five years.Uyaquk was born in into a family of...

 before the development of the Yugtun syllabary
Yugtun script
The Yugtun or Alaska script is a syllabary invented around the year 1900 by Uyaquk to write the Yugtun dialect of Central Alaskan Yup'ik. Uyaquk, who was monolingual in Yup'ik, initially used indigenous pictograms as a form of proto-writing that served as a mnemonic in preaching the Bible...

 (ca. 1900).

Europe and Near East

The Vinča signs show an evolution of simple symbols beginning in the 7th millennium BCE, gradually increasing in complexity throughout the 6th millennium and culminating in the Tărtăria tablets
Tartaria tablets
The Tărtăria tablets are three tablets, known since the late 19th century excavation at the Neolithic site of Turdaş in Transylvania Romania, by Zsófia Torma, which date to around 5300 BC...

 of ca. 5300 BC with their rows of symbols carefully aligned, evoking the impression of a "text".

The Dispilio Tablet
Dispilio Tablet
The Dispilio Tablet is a wooden tablet bearing inscribed markings , unearthed during George Hourmouziadis's excavations of Dispilio in Greece and carbon 14-dated to about 7300 BP...

 of the late 6th millennium is similar. The hieroglyphic scripts of the Ancient Near East
Ancient Near East
The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia , ancient Egypt, ancient Iran The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia...

 (Egyptian, Sumerian proto-Cuneiform and Cretan) seamlessly emerge from such symbol systems, so that it is difficult to say at what point precisely writing emerges from proto-writing. Adding to this difficulty is the fact that very little is known about the symbols' meanings.

China

In 2003, tortoise
Tortoise
Tortoises are a family of land-dwelling reptiles of the order of turtles . Like their marine cousins, the sea turtles, tortoises are shielded from predators by a shell. The top part of the shell is the carapace, the underside is the plastron, and the two are connected by the bridge. The tortoise...

 shells were found in 24 Neolithic graves excavated at Jiahu
Jiahu
Jiahu was the site of a Neolithic Yellow River settlement based in the central plains of ancient China, modern Wuyang, Henan Province. Archaeologists consider the site to be one of the earliest examples of the Peiligang culture. Settled from 7000 to 5800 BC, the site was later flooded and abandoned...

, Henan
Henan
Henan , is a province of the People's Republic of China, located in the central part of the country. Its one-character abbreviation is "豫" , named after Yuzhou , a Han Dynasty state that included parts of Henan...

 province, northern China, with radiocarbon dates from the 6th millennium BC. According to some archaeologists, the symbols
Jiahu symbols
Jiahu symbols refer to the 16 distinct markings on prehistoric artifacts found in Jiahu, a neolithic Peiligang culture site found in Henan, China, and excavated in 1999 C.E...

 carved on the shells had similarities to the 2nd millennium BC Oracle bone script
Oracle bone script
Oracle bone script refers to incised ancient Chinese characters found on oracle bones, which are animal bones or turtle shells used in divination in Bronze Age China...

. Others have dismissed this claim as insufficiently substantiated, claiming that simple geometric designs such as those found on the Jiahu shells cannot be linked to early writing.

Southeastern Nigeria

Nsibidi
Nsibidi
Nsibidi is a system of symbols indigenous to what is now southeastern Nigeria that is apparently ideographic, though there have been suggestions that it includes logographic elements...

 is a system of symbols indigenous to what is now southeastern Nigeria
Nigeria
Nigeria , officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a federal constitutional republic comprising 36 states and its Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The country is located in West Africa and shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, and Niger in...

 and dates back before 1400 AD. There are thousands of Nsibidi symbols which were used on anything from calabash
Calabash
Lagenaria siceraria , bottle gourd, opo squash or long melon is a vine grown for its fruit, which can either be harvested young and used as a vegetable, or harvested mature, dried, and used as a bottle, utensil, or pipe. For this reason, the calabash is widely known as the bottle gourd...

es to tattoos and to wall designs. Nsibidi is used for the Ekoid
Ekoid languages
The Ekoid languages are a dialect cluster, such as Ekajuk and Ejagham , spoken principally in southeastern Nigeria and in adjacent regions of Cameroon. They have long been associated with the Bantu languages, without their status being precisely defined...

 and Igboid languages
Igboid languages
Igboid languages constitute a branch of the Volta–Niger language family. It includes Ekpeye and the Igbo languages:*Ekpeye*Igbo: Igbo proper, Ikwerre, Ika, Izi , Ogba, and Ukwuani-Aboh-Ndoni,spoken mainly in southern Nigeria....

, and the Aro people
Aro people
The Aro people or Aros is an Igbo subgroup with Akpa and Ibibio elements who originated from Arochukwu kingdom in present day Abia state, Southeastern Nigeria. The Aros can also be found in about 250 other settlements mostly in the Southeastern region and adjacent areas...

 are known to write nsibidi messages on the bodies of their messengers.

Bronze Age writing

Writing emerged in a variety of different cultures in the Bronze age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

. Examples include the cuneiform
Cuneiform
Cuneiform can refer to:*Cuneiform script, an ancient writing system originating in Mesopotamia in the 4th millennium BC*Cuneiform , three bones in the human foot*Cuneiform Records, a music record label...

 writing of the Sumerians, Egyptian hieroglyphs
Hieroglyphs
Hieroglyph or hieroglyphics may refer to:*Anatolian hieroglyphs*Chinese character*Cretan hieroglyphs*Cursive hieroglyphs*Dongba script*Egyptian hieroglyphs*Hieroglyphic Luwian*Mayan hieroglyphs...

, Chinese logographs, and the Olmec script of Mesoamerica. The Chinese script likely developed independently of the Middle Eastern scripts, around 1600 BC. The pre-Columbian
Pre-Columbian
The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during...

 Mesoamerican writing systems
Mesoamerican writing systems
Mesoamerica, like India, Mesopotamia, China, and Egypt, is one of the few places in the world where writing has developed independently. Mesoamerican scripts deciphered to date are logosyllabic, combining the use of logograms with a syllabary, and they are often called hieroglyphic scripts...

 (including among others Olmec
Olmec
The Olmec were the first major Pre-Columbian civilization in Mexico. They lived in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, in the modern-day states of Veracruz and Tabasco....

 and Maya script
Maya script
The Maya script, also known as Maya glyphs or Maya hieroglyphs, is the writing system of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization of Mesoamerica, presently the only Mesoamerican writing system that has been substantially deciphered...

s) are also generally believed to have had independent origins.
It is thought that the first true alphabetic writing was developed around 2000 BC for Semitic
Semitic
In linguistics and ethnology, Semitic was first used to refer to a language family of largely Middle Eastern origin, now called the Semitic languages...

 workers in the Sinai by giving mostly Egyptian hieratic
Hieratic
Hieratic refers to a cursive writing system that was used in the provenance of the pharaohs in Egypt and Nubia that developed alongside the hieroglyphic system, to which it is intimately related...

 glyphs Semitic values(see History of the alphabet
History of the alphabet
The origins of the alphabet are unknown, but there are several theories as to how it developed. One popular proposal — the Proto-Sinaitic theory — is that the history of the alphabet began in Ancient Egypt, more than a millennium into the history of writing...

 Proto-Sinaitic alphabet
Proto-Sinaitic alphabet
Proto-Sinaitic is a Middle Bronze Age script attested in a very small collection of inscriptions at Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai Peninsula. Due to the extreme scarcity of Proto-Sinaitic signs, very little is known with certainty about the nature of the script...

). The Ge'ez writing system of Ethiopia is considered Semitic. It is likely to be of semi-independent origin, having roots in the Meroitic Sudanese ideogram system. Most other alphabets in the world today either descended from this one innovation, many via the Phoenician alphabet
Phoenician alphabet
The Phoenician alphabet, called by convention the Proto-Canaanite alphabet for inscriptions older than around 1050 BC, was a non-pictographic consonantal alphabet, or abjad. It was used for the writing of Phoenician, a Northern Semitic language, used by the civilization of Phoenicia...

, or were directly inspired by its design. In the case of Italy, about 500 years passed from the early Old Italic alphabet
Old Italic alphabet
Old Italic refers to several now extinct alphabet systems used on the Italian Peninsula in ancient times for various Indo-European languages and non-Indo-European languages...

 to Plautus
Plautus
Titus Maccius Plautus , commonly known as "Plautus", was a Roman playwright of the Old Latin period. His comedies are the earliest surviving intact works in Latin literature. He wrote Palliata comoedia, the genre devised by the innovator of Latin literature, Livius Andronicus...

 (750 to 250 BC), and in the case of the Germanic peoples
Germanic peoples
The Germanic peoples are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group of Northern European origin, identified by their use of the Indo-European Germanic languages which diversified out of Proto-Germanic during the Pre-Roman Iron Age.Originating about 1800 BCE from the Corded Ware Culture on the North...

, the corresponding time span is again similar, from the first Elder Futhark
Elder Futhark
The Elder Futhark is the oldest form of the runic alphabet, used by Germanic tribes for Northwest Germanic and Migration period Germanic dialects of the 2nd to 8th centuries for inscriptions on artifacts such as jewellery, amulets, tools, weapons and runestones...

 inscriptions to early texts like the Abrogans
Abrogans
The Abrogans, or Codex Abrogans , is probably the oldest extant book written in the German language. It is a manuscript dictionary of synonyms from Latin into Old High German dating from the 8th century . Several copies were made, but only one has survived to the present, that in the library of St...

(ca. 200 to 750 CE).

Cuneiform script

The original Sumerian writing system derives from a system of clay tokens used to represent commodities. By the end of the 4th millennium BC
4th millennium BC
The 4th millennium BC saw major changes in human culture. It marked the beginning of the Bronze Age and of writing.The city states of Sumer and the kingdom of Egypt were established and grew to prominence. Agriculture spread widely across Eurasia...

, this had evolved into a method of keeping accounts, using a round-shaped stylus impressed into soft clay at different angles for recording numbers. This was gradually augmented with pictographic writing using a sharp stylus to indicate what was being counted. Round-stylus and sharp-stylus writing were gradually replaced around 2700-2500 BC by writing using a wedge-shaped stylus (hence the term cuneiform
Cuneiform script
Cuneiform script )) is one of the earliest known forms of written expression. Emerging in Sumer around the 30th century BC, with predecessors reaching into the late 4th millennium , cuneiform writing began as a system of pictographs...

), at first only for logogram
Logogram
A logogram, or logograph, is a grapheme which represents a word or a morpheme . This stands in contrast to phonograms, which represent phonemes or combinations of phonemes, and determinatives, which mark semantic categories.Logograms are often commonly known also as "ideograms"...

s, but developed to include phonetic elements by the 29th century BC. About 2600 BC cuneiform began to represent syllables of the Sumerian language
Sumerian language
Sumerian is the language of ancient Sumer, which was spoken in southern Mesopotamia since at least the 4th millennium BC. During the 3rd millennium BC, there developed a very intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism...

. Finally, cuneiform writing became a general purpose writing system for logograms, syllables, and numbers. From the 26th century BC, this script was adapted to the Akkadian language
Akkadian language
Akkadian is an extinct Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. The earliest attested Semitic language, it used the cuneiform writing system derived ultimately from ancient Sumerian, an unrelated language isolate...

, and from there to others such as Hurrian
Hurrian language
Hurrian is a conventional name for the language of the Hurrians , a people who entered northern Mesopotamia around 2300 BC and had mostly vanished by 1000 BC. Hurrian was the language of the Mitanni kingdom in northern Mesopotamia, and was likely spoken at least initially in Hurrian settlements in...

, and Hittite
Hittite language
Hittite is the extinct language once spoken by the Hittites, a people who created an empire centred on Hattusa in north-central Anatolia...

. Scripts similar in appearance to this writing system include those for Ugaritic
Ugaritic alphabet
The Ugaritic script is a cuneiform abjad used from around 1400 BCE for Ugaritic, an extinct Northwest Semitic language, and discovered in Ugarit , Syria, in 1928. It has 30 letters...

 and Old Persian
Old Persian language
The Old Persian language is one of the two directly attested Old Iranian languages . Old Persian appears primarily in the inscriptions, clay tablets, and seals of the Achaemenid era...

.

Egyptian hieroglyphs

Writing was very important in maintaining the Egyptian empire, and literacy was concentrated among an educated elite of scribes. Only people from certain backgrounds were allowed to train to become scribes, in the service of temple, pharisaic, and military authorities. The hieroglyph system was always difficult to learn, but in later centuries may have been intentionally made even more difficult, as this preserved the scribes' position.

Various scholars believe that Egyptian hieroglyphs "came into existence a little after Sumerian script, and ... probably [were]... invented under the influence of the latter ...", although it is pointed out and held that "the evidence for such direct influence remains flimsy” and that “a very credible argument can also be made for the independent development of writing in Egypt..." (See further Egyptian hieroglyphs).

Elamite scripts

The undeciphered Proto-Elamite script emerges from as early as 3200 BC and evolves into Linear Elamite
Linear Elamite
Linear Elamite is a Bronze Age writing system used in Elam, known from a few monumental inscriptions only. It was used contemporarily with Elamite Cuneiform and likely records the Elamite language....

 by the later 3rd millennium, which is then replaced by Elamite Cuneiform
Elamite Cuneiform
Elamite cuneiform was a logo-syllabic script used to write the Elamite Language.- History and Decipherment:The Elamite Language is the now extinct language spoken by Elamites, who inhabited the regions of Khuzistān and Fārs in Southern Iran...

 adopted from Akkadian.

Indus scripts

The Middle Bronze Age Indus script
Indus script
The term Indus script refers to short strings of symbols associated with the Indus Valley Civilization, in use during the Early Harappan and Mature Harappan period, between the 35th and 20th centuries BC. In spite of many attempts at decipherments and claims, it is as yet undeciphered...

 which dates back to the early Harappa
Harappa
Harappa is an archaeological site in Punjab, northeast Pakistan, about west of Sahiwal. The site takes its name from a modern village located near the former course of the Ravi River. The current village of Harappa is from the ancient site. Although modern Harappa has a train station left from...

n phase of around 3000 BC in ancient north western India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 and what is now Pakistan
Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

, has not yet been deciphered. It is unclear whether it should be considered an example of proto-writing (a system of symbols or similar), or if it is actual writing of the logographic-syllabic type of the other Bronze Age writing systems. Mortimer Wheeler
Mortimer Wheeler
Brigadier Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler CH, CIE, MC, FBA, FSA , was one of the best-known British archaeologists of the twentieth century.-Education and career:...

 recognises the style of writing as boustrophedon
Boustrophedon
Boustrophedon , is a type of bi-directional text, mostly seen in ancient manuscripts and other inscriptions. Every other line of writing is flipped or reversed, with reversed letters. Rather than going left-to-right as in modern English, or right-to-left as in Arabic and Hebrew, alternate lines in...

, where "this stability suggests a precarious maturity".

Anatolian hieroglyphs

Anatolian hieroglyphs are an indigenous hieroglyphic script native to western Anatolia
Anatolia
Anatolia is a geographic and historical term denoting the westernmost protrusion of Asia, comprising the majority of the Republic of Turkey...

 first appearing on Luwian royal seals from the 14th century BC, used to record the Hieroglyphic Luwian
Hieroglyphic Luwian
Hieroglyphic Luwian is a variant of the Luwian language, recorded in official and royal seals and a small number of monumental inscriptions. It is written in a hieroglyphic script known as Anatolian hieroglyphs...

 language.

Cretan and Greek scripts

Cretan hieroglyphs are found on artifacts of Crete
Crete
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

 (early-to-mid-2nd millennium BC, MM I to MM III, overlapping with Linear A from MM IIA at the earliest). Linear B, the writing system of the Mycenaean Greeks, has been deciphered while Linear A has yet to be deciphered. The sequence and the geographical spread of the three overlapping, but distinct writing systems can be summarized as follows:
Writing system Geographical area Time spanBeginning date refers to first attestations, the assumed origins of all scripts lie further back in the past.
Cretan Hieroglyphic
Cretan hieroglyphs
Cretan hieroglyphs are hieroglyphs found on artifacts of Bronze Age Minoan Crete . Symbol inventories have been compiled by Evans , Meijer , Olivier/Godart...

Crete
Crete
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

ca. 1625−1500 BC
Linear A
Linear A
Linear A is one of two scripts used in ancient Crete before Mycenaean Greek Linear B; Cretan hieroglyphs is the second script. In Minoan times, before the Mycenaean Greek dominion, Linear A was the official script for the palaces and religious activities, and hieroglyphs were mainly used on seals....

Aegean islands
Aegean Islands
The Aegean Islands are the group of islands in the Aegean Sea, with mainland Greece to the west and north and Turkey to the east; the island of Crete delimits the sea to the south, those of Rhodes, Karpathos and Kasos to the southeast...

 (Kea
Kea (island)
Kea , also known as Gia or Tzia , Zea, and, in Antiquity, Keos , is an island of the Cyclades archipelago, in the Aegean Sea, in Greece. Kea is part of the Kea-Kythnos peripheral unit. Its capital, Ioulis, is inland at a high altitude and is considered quite picturesque...

, Kythera, Melos, Thera
Santorini
Santorini , officially Thira , is an island located in the southern Aegean Sea, about southeast from Greece's mainland. It is the largest island of a small, circular archipelago which bears the same name and is the remnant of a volcanic caldera...

), and Greek mainland (Laconia
Laconia
Laconia , also known as Lacedaemonia, is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the southeastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. Its administrative capital is Sparti...

)
ca. 18th century−1450 BC
Linear B
Linear B
Linear B is a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, an early form of Greek. It pre-dated the Greek alphabet by several centuries and seems to have died out with the fall of Mycenaean civilization...

Crete (Knossos
Knossos
Knossos , also known as Labyrinth, or Knossos Palace, is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and probably the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilization and culture. The palace appears as a maze of workrooms, living spaces, and store rooms close to a central square...

), and mainland (Pylos
Pylos
Pylos , historically known under its Italian name Navarino, is a town and a former municipality in Messenia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Pylos-Nestoras, of which it is the seat and a municipal unit. It was the capital of the former...

, Mycenae
Mycenae
Mycenae is an archaeological site in Greece, located about 90 km south-west of Athens, in the north-eastern Peloponnese. Argos is 11 km to the south; Corinth, 48 km to the north...

, Thebes
Ancient Thebes (Boeotia)
See Thebes, Greece for the modern city built on the ancient ruins.Ancient Thebes was a Boeotian city-state , situated to the north of the Cithaeron range, which divides Boeotia from Attica, and on the southern edge of the Boeotian plain...

, Tiryns
Tiryns
Tiryns is a Mycenaean archaeological site in the prefecture of Argolis in the Peloponnese, some kilometres north of Nauplion.-General information:...

)
ca. 1375−1200 BC

Early Semitic alphabets

The first pure alphabet
Alphabet
An alphabet is a standard set of letters—basic written symbols or graphemes—each of which represents a phoneme in a spoken language, either as it exists now or as it was in the past. There are other systems, such as logographies, in which each character represents a word, morpheme, or semantic...

s (properly, "abjad
Abjad
An abjad is a type of writing system in which each symbol always or usually stands for a consonant; the reader must supply the appropriate vowel....

s", mapping single symbols to single phonemes, but not necessarily each phoneme to a symbol) emerged around 1800 BC in Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

, as a representation of language developed by Semitic
Semitic
In linguistics and ethnology, Semitic was first used to refer to a language family of largely Middle Eastern origin, now called the Semitic languages...

 workers in Egypt, but by then alphabetic principles had a slight possibility of being inculcated into Egyptian hieroglyphs for upwards of a millennium. These early abjads remained of marginal importance for several centuries, and it is only towards the end of the Bronze Age that the Proto-Sinaitic script splits into the Proto-Canaanite alphabet
Proto-Canaanite alphabet
Proto-Canaanite is the name given to the Proto-Sinaitic script when found in Canaan. the early Phoenician script before some cut-off date, typically 1050 BCE. The Phoenician, Hebrew, and other Canaanite dialects were largely indistinguishable before that time...

 (ca. 1400 BC)
Byblos syllabary and the South Arabian alphabet
South Arabian alphabet
The ancient Yemeni alphabet branched from the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet in about the 9th century BC. It was used for writing the Yemeni Old South Arabic languages of the Sabaean, Qatabanian, Hadramautic, Minaean, Himyarite, and proto-Ge'ez in Dʿmt...

 (ca. 1200 BC). The Proto-Canaanite was probably somehow influenced by the undeciphered Byblos syllabary
Byblos syllabary
The Byblos syllabary, also known as the Pseudo-hieroglyphic script, Proto-Byblian, Proto-Byblic, or Byblic, is officially an undeciphered writing system, known from ten inscriptions found in Byblos. The inscriptions are engraved on bronze plates and spatulas, and carved in stone...

 and in turn inspired the Ugaritic alphabet
Ugaritic alphabet
The Ugaritic script is a cuneiform abjad used from around 1400 BCE for Ugaritic, an extinct Northwest Semitic language, and discovered in Ugarit , Syria, in 1928. It has 30 letters...

 (ca. 1300 BC).

Chinese writing

In China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, historians have learned much about the early Chinese dynasties from the written documents left behind. From the Shang Dynasty
Shang Dynasty
The Shang Dynasty or Yin Dynasty was, according to traditional sources, the second Chinese dynasty, after the Xia. They ruled in the northeastern regions of the area known as "China proper" in the Yellow River valley...

 most of this writing has survived on bones or on bronze. Markings on turtle shells, or jiaguwen, are attested from the late Shang (1200–1050 BC). The writings from the Shang Dynasty are the direct ancestor of modern Chinese characters used throughout East Asia.

Mesoamerica

A stone slab with 3,000-year-old writing was discovered in the Mexican state of Veracruz, and is an example of the oldest script in the Western Hemisphere preceding the oldest Zapotec
Zapotec civilization
The Zapotec civilization was an indigenous pre-Columbian civilization that flourished in the Valley of Oaxaca of southern Mesoamerica. Archaeological evidence shows their culture goes back at least 2500 years...

 writing dated to about 500 BC.

Of several pre-Columbian
Pre-Columbian
The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during...

 scripts in Mesoamerica
Mesoamerica
Mesoamerica is a region and culture area in the Americas, extending approximately from central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, within which a number of pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and...

, the one that appears to have been best developed, and fully deciphered, is the Maya script
Maya script
The Maya script, also known as Maya glyphs or Maya hieroglyphs, is the writing system of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization of Mesoamerica, presently the only Mesoamerican writing system that has been substantially deciphered...

. The earliest inscriptions which are identifiably Maya date to the 3rd century BC, and writing was in continuous use until shortly after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century AD. Maya writing used logograms complemented by a set of syllabic glyphs, somewhat similar in function to modern Japanese writing.

Iron Age writing

The Phoenician alphabet is simply the Proto-Canaanite alphabet
Proto-Canaanite alphabet
Proto-Canaanite is the name given to the Proto-Sinaitic script when found in Canaan. the early Phoenician script before some cut-off date, typically 1050 BCE. The Phoenician, Hebrew, and other Canaanite dialects were largely indistinguishable before that time...

 as it was continued into the Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 (conventionally taken from a cut-off date of 1050 BC). This alphabet gave rise to the Aramaic
Aramaic alphabet
The Aramaic alphabet is adapted from the Phoenician alphabet and became distinctive from it by the 8th century BC. The letters all represent consonants, some of which are matres lectionis, which also indicate long vowels....

 and Greek
Greek alphabet
The Greek alphabet is the script that has been used to write the Greek language since at least 730 BC . The alphabet in its classical and modern form consists of 24 letters ordered in sequence from alpha to omega...

, as well as, likely via Greek transmission, to various Anatolian and Old Italic
Old Italic alphabet
Old Italic refers to several now extinct alphabet systems used on the Italian Peninsula in ancient times for various Indo-European languages and non-Indo-European languages...

 (including the Latin
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

) alphabets in the 8th century BC. The Greek alphabet for the first time introduces vowel signs. The Brahmic family
Brahmic family
The Brahmic or Indic scripts are a family of abugida writing systems. They are used throughout South Asia , Southeast Asia, and parts of Central and East Asia, and are descended from the Brāhmī script of the ancient Indian subcontinent...

 of India
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

 originated independently. The Greek and Latin alphabets in the early centuries of the Common Era gave rise to several European scripts such as the Runes and the Gothic
Gothic alphabet
The Gothic alphabet is an alphabet for writing the Gothic language, created in the 4th century by Ulfilas for the purpose of translating the Christian Bible....

 and Cyrillic
Cyrillic alphabet
The Cyrillic script or azbuka is an alphabetic writing system developed in the First Bulgarian Empire during the 10th century AD at the Preslav Literary School...

 alphabets while the Aramaic alphabet evolved into the Hebrew
Hebrew alphabet
The Hebrew alphabet , known variously by scholars as the Jewish script, square script, block script, or more historically, the Assyrian script, is used in the writing of the Hebrew language, as well as other Jewish languages, most notably Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic. There have been two...

, Syriac
Syriac alphabet
The Syriac alphabet is a writing system primarily used to write the Syriac language from around the 2nd century BC . It is one of the Semitic abjads directly descending from the Aramaic alphabet and shares similarities with the Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, and the traditional Mongolian alphabets.-...

 and Arabic
Arabic alphabet
The Arabic alphabet or Arabic abjad is the Arabic script as it is codified for writing the Arabic language. It is written from right to left, in a cursive style, and includes 28 letters. Because letters usually stand for consonants, it is classified as an abjad.-Consonants:The Arabic alphabet has...

 abjads and the South Arabian alphabet
South Arabian alphabet
The ancient Yemeni alphabet branched from the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet in about the 9th century BC. It was used for writing the Yemeni Old South Arabic languages of the Sabaean, Qatabanian, Hadramautic, Minaean, Himyarite, and proto-Ge'ez in Dʿmt...

 gave rise to the Ge'ez abugida.

Writing in Antiquity

In history of the Greek alphabet
History of the Greek alphabet
The history of the Greek alphabet starts with the adoption of Phoenician letter forms and continues to the present day. This article concentrates on the early period, before the codification of the now-standard Greek alphabet....

, the Greeks borrowed the Phoenician alphabet and adapted it to their own language. The letters of the Greek alphabet are the same as those of the Phoenician alphabet, and both alphabets are arranged in the same order. The adapter of the Phoenician system also added three letters to the end of the series, called the "supplementals." Several varieties of the Greek alphabet developed. One, known as Western Greek or Chalcidian, was west of Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 and in southern Italy. The other variation, known as Eastern Greek
History of the Greek alphabet
The history of the Greek alphabet starts with the adoption of Phoenician letter forms and continues to the present day. This article concentrates on the early period, before the codification of the now-standard Greek alphabet....

, was used in present-day Turkey
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

 and by the Athenians, and eventually the rest of the world that spoke Greek adopted this variation. After first writing right to left, the Greeks eventually chose to write from left to right, unlike the Phoenicians who wrote from right to left. Greek is in turn the source for all the modern scripts of Europe.

A tribe known as the Latins
Latins
"Latins" refers to different groups of people and the meaning of the word changes for where and when it is used.The original Latins were an Italian tribe inhabiting central and south-central Italy. Through conquest by their most populous city-state, Rome, the original Latins culturally "Romanized"...

, who became known as the Romans, also lived in the Italian peninsula like the Western Greeks. From the Etruscans
Etruscan civilization
Etruscan civilization is the modern English name given to a civilization of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany. The ancient Romans called its creators the Tusci or Etrusci...

, a tribe living in the first millennium BCE in central Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, and the Western Greeks, the Latins adopted writing in about the 5th century. Previously using their native Anglo-Saxon runes, the Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 began using Roman letters to write Old English
Old English language
Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons and their descendants in parts of what are now England and southeastern Scotland between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century...

 as they Christianized
Christianization
The historical phenomenon of Christianization is the conversion of individuals to Christianity or the conversion of entire peoples at once...

 from Anglo-Saxon paganism following Augustine of Canterbury's
Augustine of Canterbury
Augustine of Canterbury was a Benedictine monk who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 597...

 mission to Britain in the 6th century.

Medieval writing

A "Renaissance" of classical education would appear in Carolingian Empire in the 8th century.

Modern writing

The nature of writing has been constantly evolving, particularly due to the development of new technologies over the centuries. The pen
Pen
A pen is a device used to apply ink to a surface, usually paper, for writing or drawing. Historically, reed pens, quill pens, and dip pens were used, with a nib of some sort to be dipped in the ink. Ruling pens allow precise adjustment of line width, and still find a few specialized uses, but...

, the printing press
Printing press
A printing press is a device for applying pressure to an inked surface resting upon a print medium , thereby transferring the ink...

, the computer
Computer
A computer is a programmable machine designed to sequentially and automatically carry out a sequence of arithmetic or logical operations. The particular sequence of operations can be changed readily, allowing the computer to solve more than one kind of problem...

 and the mobile phone
Mobile phone
A mobile phone is a device which can make and receive telephone calls over a radio link whilst moving around a wide geographic area. It does so by connecting to a cellular network provided by a mobile network operator...

 are all technological developments which have altered what is written, and the medium through which the written word is produced. Particularly with the advent of digital technologies, namely the computer and the mobile phone, characters can be formed by the press of a button, rather than making the physical motion with the hand.

The nature of the written word had evolved over time to make way for an informal, colloquial written style, where an everyday conversation can occur through writing rather than speaking. Written communication can also be delivered with minimal time delay (e-mail
E-mail
Electronic mail, commonly known as email or e-mail, is a method of exchanging digital messages from an author to one or more recipients. Modern email operates across the Internet or other computer networks. Some early email systems required that the author and the recipient both be online at the...

, SMS
SMS
SMS is a form of text messaging communication on phones and mobile phones. The terms SMS or sms may also refer to:- Computer hardware :...

), and in some cases, with an imperceptible time delay (instant messaging
Instant messaging
Instant Messaging is a form of real-time direct text-based chatting communication in push mode between two or more people using personal computers or other devices, along with shared clients. The user's text is conveyed over a network, such as the Internet...

). Writing creates the possibility to break spatial boundaries and travel through time, since a word normally spoken could only exist in the time and space it is spoken in. It creates a certain immortality, that could not be experienced without writing. Socially, writing is seen as an authoritative means of communication, from legal documentation, law and the media all produced through the medium. The growth of multimedia literacy can be seen as the first steps toward a postliterate society
Postliterate society
A postliterate society is a hypothetical society in which multimedia technology has advanced to the point where literacy, the ability to read or write, is no longer necessary or common. The term appears as early as 1962 in Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy...

.

Materials of writing

There is no very definite statement as to the material which was in most common use for the purposes of writing at start of the early writing systems. In all ages it has been customary to engrave on stone or metal, or other durable material, with the view of securing the permanency of the record; and accordingly, in the very commencement of the national history of Israel, it is read of the two tables of the law written in stone, and of a subsequent writing of the law on stone. In the latter case there is this peculiarity, that plaster (sic
Sic
Sic—generally inside square brackets, [sic], and occasionally parentheses, —when added just after a quote or reprinted text, indicates the passage appears exactly as in the original source...

, lime or gypsum) was used along with stone, a combination of materials which is illustrated by comparison of the practice of the Egyptian engravers, who, having first carefully smoothed the stone, filled up the faulty places with gypsum or cement, in order to obtain a perfectly uniform surface on which to execute their engravings. Metals, such as stamped coin
Coin
A coin is a piece of hard material that is standardized in weight, is produced in large quantities in order to facilitate trade, and primarily can be used as a legal tender token for commerce in the designated country, region, or territory....

s, are mentioned as a material of writing; they include lead, brass, and gold. To the engraving of gems there is reference also, such as with seals or signets.

The common materials of writing were the tablet and the roll, the former probably having a Chaldean origin, the latter an Egyptian. The tablets of the Chaldeans are among the most remarkable of their remains. There are small pieces of clay, somewhat rudely shaped into a form resembling a pillow, and thickly inscribed with cuneiform characters. Similar use has been seen in hollow cylinders, or prisms of six or eight sides, formed of fine terra cotta, sometimes glazed, on which the characters were traced with a small stylus, in some specimens so minutely as to be capable of decipherment only with the aid of a magnifying-glass.

In Egypt the principal writing material was quite of a different sort. Wooden tablets are indeed found pictured on the monuments; but the material which was in common use, even from very ancient times, was the papyrus. This reed, found chiefly in Lower Egypt, had various economic means for writing, the pith was taken out, and divided by a pointed instrument into the thin pieces of which it is composed; it was then flattened by pressure, and the strips glued together, other strips being placed at right angles to them, so that a roll of any length might be manufactured. Writing seems to have become more widespread with the invention of papyrus
Papyrus
Papyrus is a thick paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, a wetland sedge that was once abundant in the Nile Delta of Egypt....

 in Egypt. That this material was in use in Egypt from a very early period is evidenced by still existing papyrus of the earliest Theban dynasties. As the papyrus, being in great demand, and exported to all parts of the world, became very costly, other materials were often used instead of it, among which is mentioned leather, a few leather mills of an early period having been found in the tombs. Parchment
Parchment
Parchment is a thin material made from calfskin, sheepskin or goatskin, often split. Its most common use was as a material for writing on, for documents, notes, or the pages of a book, codex or manuscript. It is distinct from leather in that parchment is limed but not tanned; therefore, it is very...

, using sheepskins left after the wool was removed for cloth, was sometimes cheaper than papyrus, which had to be imported outside Egypt. With the invention of wood-pulp paper, the cost of writing material began a steady decline.

See also

Main:Phonetics
Phonetics
Phonetics is a branch of linguistics that comprises the study of the sounds of human speech, or—in the case of sign languages—the equivalent aspects of sign. It is concerned with the physical properties of speech sounds or signs : their physiological production, acoustic properties, auditory...

, Palaeography
Palaeography
Palaeography, also spelt paleography is the study of ancient writing. Included in the discipline is the practice of deciphering, reading, and dating historical manuscripts, and the cultural context of writing, including the methods with which writing and books were produced, and the history of...

, logograms, logographic, Vinča signs, Asemic writing
Asemic writing
Asemic writing is a wordless open semantic form of writing. The word asemic means "having no specific semantic content". With the nonspecificity of asemic writing there comes a vacuum of meaning which is left for the reader to fill in and interpret. All of this is similar to the way one would...


General: Alphabet
Alphabet
An alphabet is a standard set of letters—basic written symbols or graphemes—each of which represents a phoneme in a spoken language, either as it exists now or as it was in the past. There are other systems, such as logographies, in which each character represents a word, morpheme, or semantic...

, Palaeography
Palaeography
Palaeography, also spelt paleography is the study of ancient writing. Included in the discipline is the practice of deciphering, reading, and dating historical manuscripts, and the cultural context of writing, including the methods with which writing and books were produced, and the history of...

, Inscriptions, Book
Book
A book is a set or collection of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of hot lava, paper, parchment, or other materials, usually fastened together to hinge at one side. A single sheet within a book is called a leaf or leaflet, and each side of a leaf is called a page...

, Manuscript
Manuscript
A manuscript or handwrite is written information that has been manually created by someone or some people, such as a hand-written letter, as opposed to being printed or reproduced some other way...

, Shorthand
Shorthand
Shorthand is an abbreviated symbolic writing method that increases speed or brevity of writing as compared to a normal method of writing a language. The process of writing in shorthand is called stenography, from the Greek stenos and graphē or graphie...

, Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

, writing system
Writing system
A writing system is a symbolic system used to represent elements or statements expressible in language.-General properties:Writing systems are distinguished from other possible symbolic communication systems in that the reader must usually understand something of the associated spoken language to...

, ogham
Ogham
Ogham is an Early Medieval alphabet used primarily to write the Old Irish language, and occasionally the Brythonic language. Ogham is sometimes called the "Celtic Tree Alphabet", based on a High Medieval Bríatharogam tradition ascribing names of trees to the individual letters.There are roughly...

, Indus script
Indus script
The term Indus script refers to short strings of symbols associated with the Indus Valley Civilization, in use during the Early Harappan and Mature Harappan period, between the 35th and 20th centuries BC. In spite of many attempts at decipherments and claims, it is as yet undeciphered...

, Mixtec
Mixtec
The Mixtec are indigenous Mesoamerican peoples inhabiting the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla in a region known as La Mixteca. The Mixtecan languages form an important branch of the Otomanguean language family....

, uncial
Uncial
Uncial is a majuscule script commonly used from the 3rd to 8th centuries AD by Latin and Greek scribes. Uncial letters are written in either Greek, Latin, or Gothic.-Development:...

s, hanja
Hanja
Hanja is the Korean name for the Chinese characters hanzi. More specifically, it refers to those Chinese characters borrowed from Chinese and incorporated into the Korean language with Korean pronunciation...

, Zapotec
Zapotec civilization
The Zapotec civilization was an indigenous pre-Columbian civilization that flourished in the Valley of Oaxaca of southern Mesoamerica. Archaeological evidence shows their culture goes back at least 2500 years...

, kanji
Kanji
Kanji are the adopted logographic Chinese characters hanzi that are used in the modern Japanese writing system along with hiragana , katakana , Indo Arabic numerals, and the occasional use of the Latin alphabet...

, Aurignacian
Aurignacian
The Aurignacian culture is an archaeological culture of the Upper Palaeolithic, located in Europe and southwest Asia. It lasted broadly within the period from ca. 45,000 to 35,000 years ago in terms of conventional radiocarbon dating, or between ca. 47,000 and 41,000 years ago in terms of the most...

, Chinese character
Chinese character
Chinese characters are logograms used in the writing of Chinese and Japanese , less frequently Korean , formerly Vietnamese , or other languages...

s, Ugarit
Ugarit
Ugarit was an ancient port city in the eastern Mediterranean at the Ras Shamra headland near Latakia, Syria. It is located near Minet el-Beida in northern Syria. It is some seven miles north of Laodicea ad Mare and approximately fifty miles east of Cyprus...

, katakana
Katakana
is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana, kanji, and in some cases the Latin alphabet . The word katakana means "fragmentary kana", as the katakana scripts are derived from components of more complex kanji. Each kana represents one mora...

, Acheulean
Acheulean
Acheulean is the name given to an archaeological industry of stone tool manufacture associated with early humans during the Lower Palaeolithic era across Africa and much of West Asia, South Asia and Europe. Acheulean tools are typically found with Homo erectus remains...

, Ethnoarchaeology
Ethnoarchaeology
Ethnoarchaeology is the ethnographic study of peoples for archaeological reasons, usually through the study of the material remains of a society . Ethnoarchaeology aids archaeologists in reconstructing ancient lifeways by studying the material and non-material traditions of modern societies...

, Hoabinhian
Hoabinhian
The term Hoabinhian was first used by French archaeologists working in Northern Vietnam to describe Holocene period archaeological assemblages excavated from rock shelters. It has become a common term in the English based literature to describe stone artifact assemblages in Southeast Asia that...

, Gravettian
Gravettian
thumb|right|Burins to the Gravettian culture.The Gravettian toolmaking culture was a specific archaeological industry of the European Upper Palaeolithic era prevalent before the last glacial epoch. It is named after the type site of La Gravette in the Dordogne region of France where its...

, Oldowan, Uruk
Uruk
Uruk was an ancient city of Sumer and later Babylonia, situated east of the present bed of the Euphrates river, on the ancient dry former channel of the Euphrates River, some 30 km east of modern As-Samawah, Al-Muthannā, Iraq.Uruk gave its name to the Uruk...

, Etruscan, Cretan hieroglyphs
Cretan hieroglyphs
Cretan hieroglyphs are hieroglyphs found on artifacts of Bronze Age Minoan Crete . Symbol inventories have been compiled by Evans , Meijer , Olivier/Godart...

, Nabataean, Luwian, Olmec
Olmec
The Olmec were the first major Pre-Columbian civilization in Mexico. They lived in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, in the modern-day states of Veracruz and Tabasco....

, Busra, Tamil
Tamil language
Tamil is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by Tamil people of the Indian subcontinent. It has official status in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and in the Indian union territory of Pondicherry. Tamil is also an official language of Sri Lanka and Singapore...

, Kannada
Other: History of art
History of art
The History of art refers to visual art which may be defined as any activity or product made by humans in a visual form for aesthetical or communicative purposes, expressing ideas, emotions or, in general, a worldview...

 (Ancient art
Ancient art
Arts of the ancient world refer to the many types of art that were in the cultures of ancient societies, such as those of ancient China, India, Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Greece and Rome.-Egypt:...

), Oral literature
Oral literature
Oral literature corresponds in the sphere of the spoken word to literature as literature operates in the domain of the written word. It thus forms a generally more fundamental component of culture, but operates in many ways as one might expect literature to do...

, History of developmental dyslexia
History of developmental dyslexia
Identified by Oswald Berkhan in 1881,the term 'dyslexia' was later coined in 1887 by Rudolf Berlin,an ophthalmologist practicing in Stuttgart, Germany....


Systems:

Further reading

21st century sources
  • Powell, Barry B.
    Barry B. Powell
    Barry B. Powell is the Halls-Bascom Professor of Classics Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, author of the widely used textbook Classical Myth and many other books. He is a specialist in Homer and in the history of writing...

     2009. Writing: Theory and History of the Technology of Civilization, Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-14051-6256-2
  • Steven R. Fischer A History of Writing, Reaktion Books 2005 CN136481
  • Hoffman, Joel M. 2004. In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language. New York University Press. Chapter 3.


Late 20th century sources
  • Andrew Robinson
    W. Andrew Robinson
    W. Andrew Robinson is a British author and former newspaper editor.Andrew Robinson was educated at the Dragon School, Eton College where he was a King's Scholar, University College, Oxford where he read Chemistry and finally the School of Oriental and African Studies in London...

    , The Story of Writing, Thames & Hudson 1995 (second edition: 1999). ISBN 0500281564
  • Hans J. Nissen, P. Damerow, R. Englund, Archaic Bookkeeping, University of Chicago Press, 1993, ISBN 0500016658
  • Denise Schmandt-Besserat
    Denise Schmandt-Besserat
    Denise Schmandt-Besserat is a French-American archaeologist and retired professor of art and archaeology of the ancient Near East.-Career:...

        HomePage, How Writing Came About, University of Texas Press, 1992, ISBN 0-292-77704-3.
  • Saggs, H., 1991. Civilization Before Greece and Rome Yale University Press. Chapter 4.
  • Jack Goody, The Logic of Writing and the Organization of Society, Cambridge University Press, 1986

Earlier 20th century sources
  • Smith, William Anton. The Reading Process. New York: The Macmillan company, 1922.
  • Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopedia Britannica; A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information. Cambridge, Eng: University Press, 1911. "Writing".
  • Clodd, Edward. The Story of the Alphabet. Library of useful stories. New York: D. Appleton and Co, 1910.
  • Rawlings, Gertrude Burford. The Story of Books. London: Newnes, 1901.

External links

General
Broadcasts
The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
x
OK