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The History of Writing | #BEKANTAN Tales

Writing /ˈrīdiNG/ :  the process of using symbols (letters of the alphabet, punctuation and spaces) to communicate thoughts and ideas in a readable form.

The First Writing

Writing first originated in the strip of fertile land stretching from the Nile River up into the area often referred to as the Fertile Crescent. it is the territory that stretches up the east Mediterranean coast and then curves east through northern Syria and down the Euphrates and the Tigris to the Persian Gulf.

The first known writing derives from the lower reaches of the two greatest rivers in this extended region, the Nile and the Tigris. Those two civilizations were the Egyptian and the Sumerian (in what is now Iraq). The date of the Sumerian script dated back around 3100 BC and the Egyptian version a century or so later.

Evolution of a Script

The earliest writing systems begin with small images used as words, literally depicting the thing in question. It is often called pictograms. Some physical objects are too difficult to depict. And many words are concepts rather than objects.

There are several ways in which early writing evolves beyond the pictorial stage. First is by combining pictures to suggest a concept. Second, is by a form of pun, in which a pictorial version of one object is modified to suggest another quite different object which sounds the same when spoken.

Mesopotamian Cuneiform System (3100 BC)

Around 3200 BC, temple officials in Sumer develop a reliable and lasting method of keeping track of the animals and other goods which are the temple’s wealth. it is a scribes on lumps of wet clay, it drew a simpified picture of the item in question. They then make a similar mark in the clay for the number counted and recorded. When allowed to bake hard in the sun, the clay tablet becomes a permanent document.

history of writing bekantan tales bekantan creative agency jakarta pusat kantorkuu citywalk sudirman

As writing develops, a standardized method of doing it begins to emerge. This is essential to the very purpose of writing, making it capable of carrying a message over unlimited distances of space or time. Doing so depends on the second scribe, in a faraway place or the distant future, being able to read what the first scribe has written

In Mesopotamia clay remains the most common writing surface, and the standard writing implement becomes the end of a sharply cut reed. These two ingredients define this early human script. Characters are formed from the wedge-shaped marks which the reed makes when pressed into the damp clay, so the style of writing becomes known as cuneiform (from the Latin cuneus, meaning wedge).

Egypt – 3000BC (Hieroglyph & Papyrus)

The second civilization to develop writing, shortly after the Sumerians, is Egypt. The Egyptian characters are much more directly pictorial in kind than the Sumerian, but the system of suggesting objects and concepts is similar. The Egyptian characters are called hieroglyphs by the Greeks in about 500 BC, because by that time this form of writing is reserved for holy texts; hieros and glypho mean ‘sacred’ and ‘engrave’ in Greek.

The Egyptian scribe uses a fine reed pen to write on the smooth surface of the papyrus scroll. Inevitably the act of writing causes the hieroglyphs to become more fluid than the strictly formal versions carved and painted in tombs.

history of writing bekantan tales bekantan creative agency jakarta pusat kantorkuu citywalk sudirman

There gradually emerge three official versions of the script (known technically as hieratic) which is used by the scribes. There is one, the most formal, for religious documents; one for literature and official documents; and one for private letters.

Chinese Pinyin (1600 BC)

The last of the early civilizations to develop writing is China, in about 1600 BC. But China outdoes the others in devising a system which has evolved, as a working script, from that day to this. Chinese characters are profoundly ill-suited to such labour-saving innovations as printing, typewriting or word-processing. Yet they have survived. They have even provided the script for an entirely different language, Japanese.

history of writing bekantan tales bekantan creative agency jakarta pusat kantorkuu citywalk sudirman

The Non-phonetic Chinese script has been a crucial binding agent in China’s vast empire. Officials from far-flung places, often unable to speak each other’s language, have been able to communicate fluently in writing.


Contributor: Benaya Stephen

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