Feb 11, 2013

The Start of History

History begins with writing, with the ability to document events, traditions, laws, and myths and to record and preserve them for posterity. Homo sapiens developed spoken language tens of thousands of years ago, but writing -- the inscribing of character or signs with an instrument on a surface to represent language and to communicate or record information -- is a much more merit achievement. The earliest examples of writing are from Sumer and Egypt, with China and Central America developing their systems a bit later.

First people needed counting devices (such as sticks, pebbles, or clay tokens) to keep track of commercial transactions and personal possessions. These led to systems of simple visual symbols to express ideas or objects; these are called pictograms. Next, logograms evolved; these represented specific words, but they could not easily express abstract concepts.

Around 3300 BCE, the Sumerians developed the first phonetic system by using a word symbol to stand for other words that had a similar sound but were difficult to represent with a picture symbol. The find step was the development of individual alphabetic characters, each of which represents a single sound. In “The Book before Printing”, David Diringer writes, “Alphabetic writing is the last, the most highly developed, the most convenient and the most easily adaptable system of writing.” (All Facts Considered, by Kee Malesky)