How Writing Evolved – The Origins of ABC

How Writing Evolved – The Origins of ABC

Writing is no secret to anyone nowadays. But, in early times, this was a privilege, reserved only for the upper classes or the clergy. It is interesting how writing evolved.

how writing evolved

Photo Source: fanpop.com

But does anybody know how writing evolved? Watch its journey through time, below:

In early ancient times, priests, governors and scribes were the only ones to know writing. An ancient Egyptian text says: “Writing for he who knows it is the best profession. It brings more pleasure than bread and beer, than clothing and ointments. It is more precious than a legacy in Egypt or a tomb in the West.”

In Egypt, like in other early civilizations, writing was not only a mean of individual promotion. It was the mean through which entire societies advanced to higher levels of complexity.

Early writings consisted of pictographs, called hieroglyphs depicting objects or concepts.

how writing evolved

Photo Source: eugenerayarchitect.blogspot.ro

how writing evolvedPhoto Source: vhp.uoregon.edu

Notice the main idea depicted through larger symbols, while details are scattered around them in smaller and more general symbols.

As societies became more complex, writing systems evolved in a more symbolic recording of thoughts and actions, through more simple and versatile symbols. They could be combined to communicate different meanings. For example, the Sumerian symbol for mouth, combined with the one for dish, meant “to eat”.

how writing evolved

Photo Source: ilovetypography.com

In their evolution, signs became phonetic indicators. This process helped scribes record languages through a limited set of characters, from hundreds in Egyptian, to thousands in Chinese. This took years to learn and work was simplified as carved symbols became less figurative and easier to execute.

Writing helped rulers govern more efficiently, as they were asking for written reports. These were much more efficient than spoken ones.

While written languages had thousands of characters, they were well-guarded secrets and people had to ask scribes and other officials to help them understand the laws. In China, this went on for a lot of time, as knowing the many characters was reserved only to the rich and the few people who advanced through talent and merit and became servant scribes of Chinese rulers.

how writing evolved

Family members in Chinese characters; Photo Source: mainlymagyar.wordpress.com

In the Mediterranean world, due to emerging of phonetic alphabets, reading and writing became accessible to larger segments of the population. The single word “alphabet” comes from the first two Greek letters, alpha and beta. Greeks took the alphabet from the Phoenicians, adapted it and left it to Romans. The Latin alphabet was later transmitted, slightly modified, to the majority of languages worldwide.

how writing evolved

The Greek alphabet; Photo Source: crabbycats.com

Phonetic writing had major consequences for the Western civilization. The Greek and Latin alphabets consisted in only 24 consonants and vowels. Students had less signs to learn, thus being able to reproduce the spoken language. Literacy became more common among once illiterate categories, such as women and craftsmen. In 500 BC, literacy and knowledge level in the Mediterranean area had prepared the way for the huge intellectual advancement in the Classical era.

What would be your favorite writing style? Do you find hieroglyphs or the modern alphabet more interesting?

Katie Zahel
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