Definitions

writing

writing

[rahy-ting]
writing, the visible recording of language peculiar to the human species. Writing enables the transmission of ideas over vast distances of time and space and is a prerequisite of complex civilization. Where, and by whom writing was first developed remains unknown, but scholars place the beginning of writing at 6,000 B.C. The norm of writing is phonemic; i.e., it attempts to symbolize all significant sounds of the language and no others (see phonetics). When the goal is established as one letter for one phoneme (and vice versa), the result is a complete alphabet. Few alphabets attain this phonemic ideal, but some ancient ones (e.g., Sanskrit) and some modern new ones (e.g., Finnish) have been very successful. The contemporary important writing not of alphabetic type is that in Chinese characters, in which thousands of symbols are used, each representing a word or concept, and Japanese, where each character represents a syllable. The Chinese system is so distant from the language that the same characters are used in writing mutually unintelligible dialects, e.g., Cantonese and Mandarin. In some languages, as in English and French, the modern freezing of spelling has removed the writing more and more from pronunciation and has resulted in the need to teach spelling and the growth of fallacies like the "silent" letter (a letter is really either the symbol of a sound or it is unnecessary). Writing was developed independently in Egypt (see hieroglyphic), Mesopotamia (see cuneiform), China, and among the Zapotec, Olmec, and Maya in Central America. There are some areas where the question as to whether writing was adopted or independently developed is in doubt, as at Easter Island. Ancient writing, at first pictographic in nature, is best known from stone and clay inscriptions, but the use of perishable materials, mainly palm leaf, papyrus, and paper, began in ancient times. See accent; calligraphy; punctuation; paleography.

See J. H. Ober, Writing: Man's Greatest Invention (1964); O. Ogg, The 26 Letters (rev. ed. 1971); J. A. Fishman, Advances in the Creation and Revision of Writing Systems (1977); A. Gaur A History of Writing (1984); G. Sampson Writing Systems (1985); R. Harris, The Origin of Writing (1986).

System of human visual communication using signs or symbols associated by convention with units of language—meanings or sounds—and recorded on materials such as paper, stone, or clay. Its precursor was pictography. Logography, in which symbols stand for individual words, typically develops from pictography. Logography requires thousands of symbols for all possible words and names. In phonographic systems, the symbol associated with a word also stands for similar- or identical-sounding words. Phonographic systems may evolve to the point where symbols represent syllables, constituting a syllabary. An alphabet provides symbols for all the consonants and vowels.

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or futhark

Writing system used by Germanic peoples of northern Europe, Britain, Scandinavia, and Iceland from roughly the 3rd to the 16th or 17th century AD. Of uncertain origins, it is clearly derived from one of the alphabets of the Mediterranean area. Three main varieties were used in different regions and time periods: Early, or Common Germanic (Teutonic); Anglo-Saxon, or Anglian; and Nordic, or Scandinavian. More than 4,000 runic inscriptions and several runic manuscripts are extant, of which about 2,500 come from Sweden.

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or ogam writing or ogum writing

Alphabetic script used for writing the Irish and Pictish (see Picts) languages on stone monuments, mostly circa AD 400–600. In its simplest form, it consists of four sets of strokes, or notches, each set containing five letters composed of from one to five strokes, thus creating 20 letters. A fifth set of five symbols, called forfeda (“extra letters”), was probably a later development. Most inscriptions are short and consist only of names. Of the more than 400 inscriptions known, about 330 are from Ireland.

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Examples illustrating the evolution of cuneiform writing.

System of writing employed in ancient times to write a number of languages of the Middle East. The original and primary writing material for cuneiform texts was a damp clay tablet, into which the scribe would press a wedge-shaped stroke with a reed stylus. A configuration of such impressions constituted a character, or sign. Proto-cuneiform signs dating from circa 3200–3000 BC were drawn rather than impressed and were largely pictographic (see pictography), though these features were lost as the script evolved. A single cuneiform sign could be a logogram (an arbitrary representation of a word) or a syllabogram (a representation of the sound of a syllable). The first language to be written in cuneiform was Sumerian (see Sumer). Akkadian began to be written in cuneiform circa 2350 BC. Later the script was adapted to other South Asian languages. Cuneiform was slowly displaced in the first millennium BC by the rise of Aramaic, written in an alphabet script of Phoenician origin. Knowledge of the value of cuneiform signs was lost until the mid-19th century, when European scholars deciphered the script.

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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). It is distinguished from illustration, such as cave drawing and painting, and the recording of language via a non-textual medium such as magnetic tape audio.

Writing began as a consequence of the burgeoning needs of accounting. 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 (Robinson, 2003, p. 36).

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 person who transcribes, translates 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. It has been said that a monkey, randomly typing away on a typewriter (in the days when typewriters replaced the pen or plume as the preferred instrument of writing) could re-create Shakespeare-- but only if it lived long enough (this is known as the infinite monkey theorem). Such writing has been speculatively designated as coincidental. It is also speculated that extra-terrestrial beings exist who may possess knowledge of writing. The fact is that the only known writing is human writing.

Means for recording information

Wells argues 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. The command of the priest or king and his seal could go far beyond his sight and voice and could survive his death" (Wells in Robinson, 2003, p. 35).

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 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. 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

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.

In most of the alphabets of the Mid-East, only consonants are indicated, or vowels may be indicated with optional diacritics. Such systems are called abjads. 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. 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" is 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

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.

For more information see writing implements.

History of early writing

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

The writing process involved from economic necessity in the ancient near east. Archaeologist Denise Schmandt-Besserat determined the link between previously uncategorized clay "tokens" and the first known writing, cuneiform. 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.

Mesopotamia

The original Mesopotamian writing system was derived from this method of keeping accounts, and by the end of the 4th millennium BC, this had evolved into using a triangular-shaped stylus pressed into soft clay for recording numbers. This was gradually augmented with pictographic writing using a sharp stylus to indicate what was being counted. 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.

Turkmenistan

An unknown civilization in Central Asia 4,000 years ago, hundreds of years before Chinese writing developed. An excavation near Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, revealed an inscription on a piece of stone that was used as a stamp seal.

China

In China historians have found out a lot about the early Chinese dynasties from the written documents left behind. From the Shang Dynasty most of this writing has survived on bones or bronze implements. Markings on turtle shells (used as oracle bones) have been carbon-dated to around 1500 BC. Historians have found that the type of media used had an effect on what the writing was documenting and how it was used.

There have recently been discoveries of tortoise-shell carvings dating back to c. 6000 BC, but whether or not the carvings are of sufficient complexity to qualify as writing is under debate. If it is deemed to be a written language, writing in China will predate Mesopotamian cuneiform, long acknowledged as the first appearance of writing, by some 2000 years.

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 was developed in central Egypt around 2000 BC from a hieroglyphic prototype, and over the next 500 years spread to Canaan and eventually to the rest of the world.

Indus Valley

Indus script refers to short strings of symbols associated with the Indus Valley Civilization used between 26001900 BC. In spite of many attempts at decipherments and claims, it is as yet undeciphered. The script generally refers to that used in the mature Harappan phase, which perhaps evolved from a few signs found in early Harappa after 3500 BC,, and was followed by the mature Harappan script. The script is written from right to left, and sometimes follows a boustrophedonic style. Since the number of principal signs is about 400-600, midway between typical logographic and syllabic scripts, many scholars accept the script to be logo-syllabic (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. However, this is contradicted by the occurrence of signs supposedly representing suffixes at the beginning or middle of words.

Phoenician writing system and descendants

The Phoenician writing system was adapted from the Proto-Caananite script in around the 11th century BC, which in turn borrowed ideas from Egyptian hieroglyphics. This writing system was an abjad — that is, a writing system 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 the Cyrillic alphabet, 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 dated to about 500 BC.

Of several pre-Colombian 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, and writing was in continuous use until shortly after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century AD. Maya writing used logograms complemented by a set of syllabic glyphs, somewhat similar in function to modern Japanese writing.

Creation of text or information

Creativity

Author

Writer

Critiques

Writers sometimes search out others to evaluate or criticize their work. To this end, many writers join writing circles, often found at local libraries or bookstores. With the evolution of the Internet, writing circles have started to go online.

See also

  • Kishotenketsu
  • Linguistics
  • List of writers' conferences
  • Literacy
  • Literary award
  • Literary criticism
  • Literary festival
  • Literature
  • Manuscript
  • Orthography
  • Pencil
  • Printing
  • Publishing
  • Scriptorium
  • Story bible
  • Speech communication
  • Typography
  • White papers
  • Word processing
  • Writer
  • Writer's block
  • Writing bump
  • Writing circle
  • Writing slate
  • Writing style
  • Writing systems
  • Writer's voice
  • References

    Further reading

    External links

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