Writing Explained

Writing is the representation of language in a textual medium through the use of a set of signs or symbols (known as a writing system).[1] It is distinguished from illustration, such as cave drawing and painting, and non-symbolic preservation of language via non-textual media, such as magnetic tape audio.

Writing most likely began as a consequence of political expansion in ancient cultures, which needed reliable means for transmitting information, maintaining financial accounts, keeping historical records, and similar activities. Around the 4th millennium BC, the complexity of trade and administration in Mesopotamia outgrew human memory, and writing became a more dependable method of recording and presenting transactions in a permanent form.[2] In both Ancient Egypt and Mesoamerica writing may have evolved through calendrics and a political necessity for recording historical and environmental events. The oldest known use of writing in China was in divination in the royal court.

Writing as a category

Writing, more particularly, refers to two things: writing as a noun, the thing that is written; and writing as a verb, which designates the activity of writing. It refers to the inscription of characters on a medium, thereby forming words, and larger units of language, known as texts. It also refers to the creation of meaning and the information thereby generated. In that regard, linguistics (and related sciences) distinguishes between the written language and the spoken language. The significance of the medium by which meaning and information is conveyed is indicated by the distinction made in the arts and sciences. For example, while public speaking and poetry reading are both types of speech, the former is governed by the rules of rhetoric and the latter by poetics.

A person who composes a message or story in the form of text is generally known as a writer or an author. However, more specific designations exist which are dictated by the particular nature of the text such as that of poet, essayist, novelist, playwright, journalist, and more. A translator is a specialized multilingual writer who must fully understand a message written by somebody else in one language; the translator's job is to produce a document of faithfully equivalent message in a completely different language. A person who transcribes or produces text to deliver a message authored by another person is known as a scribe, typist or typesetter. A person who produces text with emphasis on the aesthetics of glyphs is known as a calligrapher or graphic designer.

Writing is also a distinctly human activity. Such writing has been speculatively designated as coincidental. At this point in time, the only confirmed writing in existence is of human origin.

Means for recording information

H.G. Wells argued that writing has the ability to "put agreements, laws, commandments on record. It made the growth of states larger than the old city states possible. It made a continuous historical consciousness possible. The command of the priest or king and his seal could go far beyond his sight and voice and could survive his death".[3]

Writing systems

The major writing systems – methods of inscription – broadly fall into four categories: logographic, syllabic, alphabetic, and featural. Another category, ideographic (symbols for ideas), has never been developed sufficiently to represent language. A sixth category, pictographic, is insufficient to represent language on its own, but often forms the core of logographies.

Logographies

A logogram is a written character which represents a word or morpheme. The vast number of logograms needed to write a language, and the many years required to learn them, are the major disadvantage of the logographic systems over alphabetic systems. However, the efficiency of reading logographic writing once it is learned is a major advantage.[4] No writing system is wholly logographic: all have phonetic components as well as logograms ("logosyllabic" components in the case of Chinese characters, cuneiform, and Mayan, where a glyph may stand for a morpheme, a syllable, or both; "logoconsonantal" in the case of hieroglyphs), and many have an ideographic component (Chinese "radicals", hieroglyphic "determiners"). For example, in Mayan, the glyph for "fin", pronounced "ka'", was also used to represent the syllable "ka" whenever the pronunciation of a logogram needed to be indicated, or when there was no logogram. In Chinese, about 90% of characters are compounds of a semantic (meaning) element called a radical with an existing character to indicate the pronunciation, called a phonetic. However, such phonetic elements complement the logographic elements, rather than vice versa.

The main logographic system in use today is Chinese characters, used with some modification for various languages of China, Japanese, and, to a lesser extent, Korean in South Korea. Another is the classical Yi script.

Syllabaries

A syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent (or approximate) syllables. A glyph in a syllabary typically represents a consonant followed by a vowel, or just a vowel alone, though in some scripts more complex syllables (such as consonant-vowel-consonant, or consonant-consonant-vowel) may have dedicated glyphs. Phonetically related syllables are not so indicated in the script. For instance, the syllable "ka" may look nothing like the syllable "ki", nor will syllables with the same vowels be similar.

Syllabaries are best suited to languages with relatively simple syllable structure, such as Japanese. Other languages that use syllabic writing include the Linear B script for Mycenaean Greek; Cherokee; Ndjuka, an English-based creole language of Surinam; and the Vai script of Liberia. Most logographic systems have a strong syllabic component. Ethiopic, though technically an alphabet, has fused consonants and vowels together to the point that it's learned as if it were a syllabary.

Alphabets

See also: History of the alphabet.

An alphabet is a small set of symbols, each of which roughly represents or historically represented a phoneme of the language. In a perfectly phonological alphabet, the phonemes and letters would correspond perfectly in two directions: a writer could predict the spelling of a word given its pronunciation, and a speaker could predict the pronunciation of a word given its spelling.

As languages often evolve independently of their writing systems, and writing systems have been borrowed for languages they were not designed for, the degree to which letters of an alphabet correspond to phonemes of a language varies greatly from one language to another and even within a single language.

Abjads

In most of the writing systems of the Middle East, it is usually only the consonants of a word that are written, although vowels may be indicated by the addition of various diacritical marks. Writing systems based primarily on marking the consonant phonemes alone date back to the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt. Such systems are called abjad's, derived from the Arabic word for "alphabet".

Abugidas

In most of the alphabets of India and Southeast Asia, vowels are indicated through diacritics or modification of the shape of the consonant. These are called abugidas. Some abugidas, such as Ethiopic and Cree, are learned by children as syllabaries, and so are often called "syllabics". However, unlike true syllabaries, there is not an independent glyph for each syllable.

Sometimes the term "alphabet" is restricted to systems with separate letters for consonants and vowels, such as the Latin alphabet, although abugidas and abjads may also be accepted as alphabets. Because of this use, Greek is often considered to be the first alphabet.

Featural scripts

A featural script notates the building blocks of the phonemes that make up a language. For instance, all sounds pronounced with the lips ("labial" sounds) may have some element in common. In the Latin alphabet, this is accidentally the case with the letters "b" and "p"; however, labial "m" is completely dissimilar, and the similar-looking "q" and "d" are not labial. In Korean hangul, however, all four labial consonants are based on the same basic element. However, in practice, Korean is learned by children as an ordinary alphabet, and the featural elements tend to pass unnoticed.

Another featural script is SignWriting, the most popular writing system for many sign languages, where the shapes and movements of the hands and face are represented iconically. Featural scripts are also common in fictional or invented systems, such as Tolkien's Tengwar.

Historical significance of writing systems

Historians draw a distinction between prehistory and history, with history defined by the advent of writing. The cave paintings and petroglyphs of prehistoric peoples can be considered precursors of writing, but are not considered writing because they did not represent language directly.

Writing systems always develop and change based on the needs of the people who use them. Sometimes the shape, orientation and meaning of individual signs also changes over time. By tracing the development of a script it is possible to learn about the needs of the people who used the script as well as how it changed over time.

Tools and materials

See also: writing implements. The many tools and writing materials used throughout history include stone tablets, clay tablets, wax tablets, vellum, parchment, paper, copperplate, styluses, quills, ink brushes, pencils, pens, and many styles of lithography. It is speculated that the Incas might have employed knotted threads known as quipu (or khipu) as a writing system.[5]

The typewriter and various forms of word processors have subsequently become widespread writing tools, and various studies have compared the ways in which writers have framed the experience of writing with such tools as compared with the pen or pencil.[6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

History of writing

See main article: History of writing.

The beginning of writing

By definition, the modern practice of history begins with written records; evidence of human culture without writing is the realm of prehistory.

The writing process first evolved from economic necessity in the ancient near east. Writing most likely began as a consequence of political expansion in ancient cultures, which needed reliable means for transmitting information, maintaining financial accounts, keeping historical records, and similar activities. Around the 4th millennium BC, the complexity of trade and administration outgrew the power of memory, and writing became a more dependable method of recording and presenting transactions in a permanent form.[2] The Dispilio Tablet, which was carbon dated to the 6th millennium BC, may be evidence that writing was used even earlier than that.

Archaeologist Denise Schmandt-Besserat determined the link between previously uncategorized clay "tokens" and the first known writing, cuneiform.[11] The clay tokens were used to represent commodities, and perhaps even units of time spent in labor, and their number and type became more complex as civilization advanced. A degree of complexity was reached when over a hundred different kinds of tokens had to be accounted for, and tokens were wrapped and fired in clay, with markings to indicate the kind of tokens inside. These markings soon replaced the tokens themselves, and the clay envelopes were demonstrably the prototype for clay writing tablets.[11] In both Mesoamerica and Ancient Egypt writing may have evolved through calendrics and a political necessity for recording historical and environmental events.

Mesopotamia

The original Mesopotamian writing system was derived from this method of keeping accounts, and by the end of the 4th millennium BC,[12] this had evolved into using a triangular-shaped stylus pressed into soft clay for recording numbers. This was gradually augmented with using a sharp stylus, indicating what was being counted by means of pictographs. Round-stylus and sharp-stylus writing was gradually replaced by writing using a wedge-shaped stylus (hence the term cuneiform), at first only for logograms, but evolved to include phonetic elements by the 29th century BC. Around the 26th century BC, cuneiform began to represent syllables of spoken Sumerian. Also in that period, cuneiform writing became a general purpose writing system for logograms, syllables, and numbers, and this script was adapted to another Mesopotamian language, Akkadian, and from there to others such as Hurrian, and Hittite. Scripts similar in appearance to this writing system include those for Ugaritic and Old Persian.

Cretan and Greek scripts

See main article: Cretan hieroglyphs, Linear A and Linear B. Cretan hieroglyphs are found on artifacts of Crete (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 systemGeographical areaTime span[13]
Cretan HieroglyphicCreteca. 1625−1500 BC
Linear AAegean islands (Kea, Kythera, Melos, Thera), and Greek mainland (Laconia)ca. 18th century−1450 BC
Linear BCrete (Knossos), and mainland (Pylos, Mycenae, Thebes, Tiryns)ca. 1375−1200 BC

China

See also: Oracle bone script and Bronzeware script. The earlest surviving examples of writing in China are inscriptions on so-called "oracle bones", tortoise plastrons and ox scapulae used for divination, dating from around 1200 BC in the late Shang dynasty. A small number of bronze inscriptions from the same period have also been found.[14] Historians have found that the type of media used had an effect on what the writing was documenting and how it was used.

In 2003, archaeologists reported discoveries of isolated tortoise-shell carvings dating back to the 7th millennium BC, but whether or not these symbols are related to the characters of the later oracle bone script is disputed.[15] [16]

Egypt

The earliest known hieroglyphic inscriptions are the Narmer Palette, dating to c.3200 BC, and several recent discoveries that may be slightly older, though the glyphs were based on a much older artistic tradition. The hieroglyphic script was logographic with phonetic adjuncts that included an effective alphabet.

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, pharaonic, and military authorities. The hieroglyph system was always difficult to learn, but in later centuries was purposely made even more so, as this preserved the scribes' status.

The world's oldest known alphabet appears to have been developed by Canaanite turquoise miners in the Sinai desert around the mid nineteenth century BC.[17] Around 30 crude inscriptions have been found at a mountainous Egyptian mining site known as Serabit el-Khadem. This site was also home to a temple of Hathor, the "Mistress of turquoise". A later, two line inscription has also been found at Wadi el-Hol in Central Egypt. Based on hieroglyphic prototypes, but also including entirely new symbols, each sign apparently stood for a consonant rather than a word: the basis of an alphabetic system. It was not until the twelfth to the ninth centuries, however, that the alphabet took hold and became widely used.

Indus Valley

See main article: Indus script. Indus script refers to short strings of symbols associated with the Indus Valley Civilization (which spanned modern-day Pakistan and North India) used between 2600–1900 BC. In spite of many attempts at decipherments and claims, it is as yet undeciphered. The term 'Indus script' is mainly applied to that used in the mature Harappan phase, which perhaps evolved from a few signs found in early Harappa after 3500 BC,[18] and was followed by the mature Harappan script. The script is written from right to left,[19] and sometimes follows a boustrophedonic style. Since the number of principal signs is about 400-600,[20] midway between typical logographic and syllabic scripts, many scholars accept the script to be logo-syllabic[21] (typically syllabic scripts have about 50-100 signs whereas logographic scripts have a very large number of principal signs). Several scholars maintain that structural analysis indicates an agglutinative language underlies the script.

Turkmenistan

Archaeologists have recently discovered that there was a civilization in Central Asia using writing 4,000 years ago. An excavation near Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, revealed an inscription on a piece of stone that was used as a stamp seal.[22]

Phoenician writing system and descendants

The Phoenician writing system was adapted from the Proto-Caananite script sometime before the 14th century BC, which in turn borrowed principles of representing phonetic information from Egyptian hieroglyphics. This writing system was an odd sort of syllabary in which only consonants are represented. This script was adapted by the Greeks, who adapted certain consonantal signs to represent their vowels. The Cumae alphabet, a variant of the early Greek alphabet, gave rise to the Etruscan alphabet, and its own descendants, such as the Latin alphabet and Runes. Other descendants from the Greek alphabet include Cyrillic, used to write Russian, among others. The Phoenician system was also adapted into the Aramaic script, from which the Hebrew script and also that of Arabic are descended.

The Tifinagh script (Berber languages) is descended from the Libyco-Berber script which is assumed to be of Phoenician origin.

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 writing by approximately 500 years.[23] [24] [25] It is thought to be Olmec.

Of several pre-Columbian scripts in Mesoamerica, the one that appears to have been best developed, and the only one to be deciphered, is the Maya script. The earliest inscriptions which are identifiably Maya date to the 3rd century BC. Maya writing used logograms complemented by a set of syllabic glyphs, somewhat similar in function to modern Japanese writing.

Dacia

Three stone slabs were found by Romanian archaeologist Nicolae Vlassa, in mid 20th century (1961) in Tartaria, somewhere in noways Transylvania, Romania, historical land of Dacia, inhabited by Getaes, which were a population derived from Thracian.One of the slabs contains 4 groups of pictographs divided by lines. Some of the characters are found also ancient writings of Greeks, but also in Phoenician, Etruscan, Old Italic and Iberia.The round slab is dated as being older with about 1 millennium than the Sumerian writings found in Uruk, which were dated end of millennium IV BC, beginning of millennium II BC.If the scientific dogmas are accepting that on that slab is a writing expression of those time, this is the oldest evidence of human writing.The origin and the timing of the writings are widely disputed, because there are no precise evidence in situ, the slabs acannot be carbon dated, because of the bad treatment of the Cluj museum. There are indirect carbon dates found on a skeleton discovered near the slabs, that certifies the 5300-5500 BC period.Other hypothesis are that the slabs are imported from Cyclades islands, because of other artifacts found in the same site.

Creation of textual or written information

See also: Literature.

Composition

See main article: Composition (language).

Creativity

See main article: Creativity and Creative writing.

Author

See main article: Author.

Writer

See main article: Writer.

Critiques

See main article: Peer critique.

See also

Further reading

Haarmann, H. 1990 Writing from Old Europe. The Journal of Indo-European Studies 17Lazarovici, Gh., Fl. Drasovean & Z. Maxim 2000 The Eagle - the Bird of death, regeneration resurection amd mesenger of Godds. Archaeological and ethnological problems. Tibiscum, 57-68Lazarovici, Gh., Fl. Drasovean & Z. Maxim 2000 The eye - symbol, gesture, expresion.Tibiscum, 115-128Makkay, J. 1969 The Late Neolithic Tordos Group of Signs. Alba Regia 10, 9-50Makkay, J. 1984 Early Stamp Seals in South-East Europe. BudapestMasson, E. 1984 L' écriture dans les civilisations danubiennes néolithiques. Kadmos 23, 2, 89-123. Berlin & New York.Maxim, Z. 1997 Neo-eneoliticul din Transilvania. Bibliotheca Musei Napocensis 19. Cluj-NapocaMilojcic, Vl. 1963 Die Tontafeln von Tartaria (Siebenbürgen), und die Absolute Chronologie des mitteleeuropäischen Neolithikums.Germania 43, 266-268Paul, I. 1990 Mitograma de acum 8 milenii. Atheneum 1, p. 28Paul, I. 1995 Vorgeschichtliche untersuchungen in Siebenburgen. Alba IuliaVlassa, N. 1962 --- (Studia UBB 2), 23-30.Vlassa, N. 1962 --- (Dacia 7), 485-494;Vlassa, N. 1965 --- (Atti UISPP, Roma 1965), 267-269Vlassa, N. 1976 Contribuții la Problema racordării Neoliticul Transilvaniei, p. 28-43, fig. 7-8Vlassa, N. 1976 Neoliticul Transilvaniei. Studii, articole, note. Bibliotheca Musei Napocensis 3. Cluj-NapocaWinn, Sham M. M. 1973 The Sings of the Vinca CultureWinn, Sham M. M. 1981 Pre-writing in Southeast Europe: The Sign System of the Vinca culture. BARMerlini, Marco]; Gheorghe Lazarovici (2008). [|Luca, Sabin Adrian]. ed. "Settling discovery circumstances, dating and utilization of the Tărtăria Tablets"Lazarovici, Gheorghe and Merlini Marco: 2005 “New archaeological data referring to Tărtăria tablets”, in Documenta Praehistorica XXXII, Department of Archeology Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana. Ljubljana:205-2019.MERLINI Marco 2004 La scrittura è natta in Europa?, Roma (2004)...

External links

Notes and References

  1. Peter T. Daniels, "The Study of Writing Systems", in The World's Writing Systems, ed. Bright and Daniels, p. 3
  2. Robinson, 2003, p. 36
  3. Book: Wells, H.G.. A Short History Of The World. 1922. 41.
  4. Smith, Frank. Writing and the writer. Routledge, 1994, pg. 142.
  5. The Khipu Database Project, http://khipukamayuq.fas.harvard.edu/index.html
  6. Do the write thing?. Chandler. Daniel. Daniel Chandler. 1990. Electric Word. 17. 27–30.
  7. The phenomenology of writing by hand. Chandler. Daniel. Daniel Chandler. 1992. Intelligent Tutoring Media. 3. 2/3. 65–74. 10.1080/14626269209408310.
  8. Writing strategies and writers' tools. Chandler. Daniel. Daniel Chandler. 1993. English Today: the International Review of the English Language. 9. 2. 32–8.
  9. Who needs suspended inscription?. Chandler. Daniel. Daniel Chandler. 1994. Computers and Composition. 11. 3. 191–201. 10.1016/8755-4615(94)90012-4.
  10. Book: Chandler, Daniel. Daniel Chandler

    . The Act of Writing: A Media Theory Approach. Daniel Chandler. 1995. Aberystwyth. Prifysgol Cymru.

  11. Book: Rudgley, Richard. Richard Rudgley

    . The Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age. Richard Rudgley. 2000. 48–57. Simon & Schuster. New York.

  12. The Origin and Development of the Cuneiform System of Writing, Samuel Noah Kramer, Thirty Nine Firsts In Recorded History pp 381–383
  13. Beginning date refers to first attestations, the assumed origins of all scripts lie further back in the past.
  14. Book: Boltz, William. The Cambridge History of Ancient China. Michael. Loewe. Edward L.. Shaughnessy. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. 1999. 978-0-521-47030-8. Language and Writing. 74–123.
  15. News: Archaeologists Rewrite History. China Daily. 12 June 2003. 4 January 2012.
  16. News: 'Earliest writing' found in China.. Signs carved into 8,600-year-old tortoise shells found in China may be the earliest written words, say archaeologists.. BBC News. 17 April 2003. 4 January 2012.
  17. Goldwasser, Orly. "How the Alphabet Was Born from Hieroglyphs", Biblical Archaeology Review, Mar/Apr 2010
  18. Whitehouse, David (1999) 'Earliest writing' found BBC
  19. (Lal 1966)
  20. (Wells 1999)
  21. (Bryant 2000)
  22. News: Ancient writing found in Turkmenistan.. A previously unknown civilisation was using writing in Central Asia 4,000 years ago, hundreds of years before Chinese writing developed, archaeologists have discovered. An excavation near Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, revealed an inscription on a piece of stone that seems to have been used as a stamp seal.. BBC. 2008-03-30. 2001-05-15.
  23. News: Writing May Be Oldest in Western Hemisphere.. A stone slab bearing 3,000-year-old writing previously unknown to scholars has been found in the Mexican state of Veracruz, and archaeologists say it is an example of the oldest script ever discovered in the Western Hemisphere.. New York Times. 2008-03-30. 2006-09-15.
  24. News: 'Oldest' New World writing found. Ancient civilisations in Mexico developed a writing system as early as 900 BC, new evidence suggests.. BBC. 2008-03-30. 2006-09-14.
  25. News: Oldest Writing in the New World. A block with a hitherto unknown system of writing has been found in the Olmec heartland of Veracruz, Mexico. Stylistic and other dating of the block places it in the early first millennium before the common era, the oldest writing in the New World, with features that firmly assign this pivotal development to the Olmec civilization of Mesoamerica.. Science. 2008-03-30.