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A History of Writing in Human Civilization

A history of writing in human civilization

What is this civilized thing called writing? Modern linguists define writing as a system of human communication by means of conventional, agreed-upon signals that represent language. The signs must be capable of being sent and received, mutually understood, and they must correspond to spoken words. Each written means began with simple pictures and plain strokes or dots - adequate for recording objects and numbers. Of all the creation of man, writing is our most exquisite intellectual accomplishment.

Contrary to a popular belief ,writing was invented not once but possibly as many as six separate times, in very distant places. Man approached writing by lengthy stages: the development of speech; the invention of pictures; the need to reinforce memory by storing information; the realization that pictures could be used for purpose; and finally, the difficult trial and error process of adapting pictures so that they represented the sounds of speech. The Origin of writing is seen through the development of civilizations over certain periods of historical times and places. Though writing developed not much more than 5000 years ago-----only yesterday in the long calendar of man’s emergence------its roots, like those of so many other inventions, lie further back in the past. (Clairborne, p.11)

Writing was invented in order to record business activities. Certain people needed to be able to keep track and records of various things. It was impossible to rely on a man’s memory for every detail, a new method was needed to keep reliable records. As cities grew more complex, so did writing. Over 500 years of evolution the outward appearance and internal structure of writing changed. The social conditions that gave rise to writing are described as a phenomenon called the urban revolution. (Clairborne, p 20).

Like speech, of which it is an extension, writing requires the capacity to make mental leaps. All languages include a few imitative words that literally sound like the ideas they represent—such as cough, buzz. But the number of things or actions that can be identified by sound is very limited, so that the vocabularies of all languages, are overwhelmingly composed of arbitrary sounds whose relationships to their meanings are purely a matter of convention.

When did human speech embodying such arbitrary abstractions begin to develop? 100,000 years ago our ancestors and even homo erectus a million years ago, were capable of speech. 40,000 years...

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