Why Do We Write?

Writing is, of course, a means of communication. But when did we start turning verbal “sounds” into “speech” and then create “alphabets” to represent those sounds?

Anthropologists often say that it was the use of tools that helped primitive humans evolve; but others say it was the gradual adoption of abstract symbols in to “letters” combined to create “words” that convey abstract concepts and emotions that was really the key to human evolution.

Apes can be trained to paint, but there is no chimpanzee alphabet.  So arguably, it is the invention of a “language”, with an alphabet and writing that is the signpost of higher species evolution.  The evolution from primitive”stick drawings” of hunters stalking prey to an “alphabet“ that could describe the same event, as well as convey abstract  thoughts,  is what makes humans unique.

There is no single origin for writing.  It appears independently in different parts of the world. The first people who “wrote” were the Sumerians and the Egyptians around 3500-3200 BC.  We don’t know who did it first, but it seems the Egyptians used some Sumerian symbols for their hieroglyphics.  Egyptian hieroglyphics were still “pictures” of things that conveyed abstract meanings; it was not until the 18th century A.D. that Egyptian hieroglyphics were decoded — thanks to the Rosetta Stone which conveniently provided a Greek “translation”.

Modern writing is merely another form of hieroglyphics, using similar symbolic characters to express thoughts and record events; in several different languages.

Which makes one wonder; when our civilization is as dead and buried as ancient Egypt was once to us, would there be some future “Rosetta Stone” available for a future Jean-François Champollion  to decipher? Or will our civilization be as dark and dead as Ancient Egypt once was?


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