Short History of Written Language

This week the main topic in typography was the history of writing. It’s probably useless to try to cover all of it, since it’s obviously a way too complex and large subject for one entry…

So, like always, here is my short summary:

  • about 3500 BCE the cuneiform script (wedge writing) emerged in the Middle-East
  • about the same time in Egypt the writing system of hieroglyphs started seriously developing
  • perhaps even older is the Chinese writing system of logograms, so basically these first three systems are considered the beginning of written language
  • the phonemic script (English is one of them) is a writing system in which every letter stands for a sound and has no particular meaning on its own, developed by the Greek

Of course there are other writing systems like the Japanese one using Chinese characters, syllabaries and to some extend the Latin alphabet (which used the Greek alphabet as a role model) but the most important ones are mentioned.

In the 8th century Charlemagne reformed the West-European way of writing which hadn’t changed since the Roman Empire. The Carolingian minuscule was a uniform script with clear spacing between each word and the use of capitals. Additionally punctuation was added. Nowadays we take all these specifications for granted.

Another really important historical personality is Johannes Gutenberg, who started a media revolution as he invented modern book printing. Up until then most books had been re-written by hand by monks (censorship). Now everyone who could afford was able to print books with a high number of copies. This was the basis for the alphabetization of the masses and the spreading of new ideas free from religious censorship.

I gave a lot of external Wikipedia links in this one, because there might be someone who feels my summary is too “skinny” but that’s what I try to offer you: Short and precise summaries of my classes 😉