A brief history of writingScience 

A brief history of writing

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Throughout the ages we have been able to retrace and record our history thanks to the invention of a written language. Whilst many languages became defunct over the course of human progression and as empires came and went, the history recorded by them was passed down and transcribed. But can we trace back the first form of written communication?

Writing can be best described as expressing language through a medium of letters and or other marks to describe an event. As such, we can comfortably say that written communication can be traced back to our early ancestors, as cave paintings and other forms of art have survived the test of time and continue to inform us as to the lives of early humans. From there however, the development of a written language is long and convoluted.

cave painting
“written communication can be traced back to our early ancestors, as cave paintings”

Some of the oldest scripts ever recovered date back to 3000 BC in Mesopotamia, with Mesoamerican scripts having only been dated back to 300 BC and 1200 BC for China. Other major civilizations that occupied Egypt and India are also credited with some of the oldest recorded writing samples, some tenuously dated past 3000 BC. However, these languages, much like the civilization that created them would disappear – but their influence on modern writing structure can still be seen.

The remnants of these writing structures can still be witnessed today through the different written languages and styles of countries across the world. Cyrillic, Arabic, Latin and Kanji alphabets are some of the prime examples of the continued development of written languages across the world, with sometimes major differences within those alphabets depending on the country and its’ own history. History that happens to be shared.

World alphabets & writing systems
World alphabets & writing systems. source; wikimedia.org; author; User:Nickshanks

The spread of written language can also be attributed to the constant trading of goods and services as well as the colonisation that took place around the world as civilisations and empires began to grow and consolidate their power. This explains the prevalence of certain alphabets which would otherwise be foreign to a specific geographical location – think of the Spanish Conquistadors in Latin America, European explorers across Africa and North America.

As such, it is believed that ancient Chinese characters are an independent invention because there is no evidence of contact between ancient China and the literate civilizations that surrounded it. China has famously been wary of opening up its borders throughout history, which led them to cultivate an entirely different language, written alphabet and civilization.

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