Example research essay topic: A History Of Writing In Human Civilization – 1,827 words

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
mans 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
mans 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 representsuch 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
ago homo sapiens must have been capable of
performing the mental skills that are involved in
speech and even writing. Writing was invented in
many places , often independently. From roughly
3000 B.C. to 1000 B.C., writing arose in more than
half a dozen societies. Some inventors knew though
that writing existed in other societies. The
Sumerians, thought to be the first inventors of
writing, were in southern Mesopotamia in the
fourth Millennium B.C.

Their earliest script
appears around 3100 B.C., as the Urban revolution
came into place. Soon afterwards the Egyptians
reinvented writing nearly a thousand miles away.
It is likely enough that the Egyptians got the
idea from the Sumerians, but the idea is all they
could have taken. For one thing, the Egyptian
script is very different in its symbols. Also, the
pictures used in both systems vary. The means of
recording both systems were also very different.
The Sumerians inscribed their pictures on soft
clay tablets; the Egyptians carved theirs on stone
monuments, painted or drew on pottery and rolls of
papyrus. Sometime around 2500 B.C., writing was
invented for the third time by the Elamites, whose
territory lay in area known today as Iran, 200
miles east of Sumer.

How the script came to be and
what course of development it followed remain
unknown by researchers. The inhabitants of Elam
later discarded their own script and took over
cuneiform, adapting the Sumerian signs. In the
same period, writing was invented yet again by the
civilization in the Indus valley, in present day
Pakistan. As with Egypt and Elam, their is
evidence of contact with Sumer, but again the
script and implements of writing are quite
different. Also the inscriptions were carved on
stone and monuments. The people of the Indus
Valley did not use papyrus or clay tablets but
perhaps they wrote on a perishable item such as
wood or leather.

Soon after 2000 B.C. writing was
invented for the fifth time, in the maritime
kingdom of Crete. The Cretans almost certainly got
the notion of writing from foreign parts, but the
actual script is highly original. The Cretans were
by the 17th century B.C. using two scripts: Linear
A and Linear B. Crete has one of the strangest
artifacts in the history of writing: the Phaistos
disk.

The symbols on the disk are unlike the
linear scripts. The most striking feature is that
the symbols were impressed with stamps instead of
a stylus, the tool usually associated with writing
on clay. By 1500 B.C. another invention of writing
had appeared in Asia Minor: Hittite hieroglyphs.
Hittite hieroglyphs, which do not resemble
Egyptian hieroglyphs, were written in alternating
directions. The script numbered as many as 419
symbols, mostly pictographic. The Hittites used
hieroglyphs when they carved inscriptions on stone
monuments and rocks, but for everyday purposes
they wrote in cuneiform, borrowed by Mesopotamia.
At about the same time, writing was invented
again, far to the east, in the Valley of Yellow
River in China.

Early Chinese symbols were
pictorial and very indigenous, as were the writing
materials: bamboo and silk. From all these
beginnings many new scripts were to arise and
further refinements were to be made. The
revolutionary advance to alphabetic writing was
the main growth in writing. Cuneiform is an
ancient form of writing named for the shape of its
word signs. It is the earliest known form of
writing or picture script. Writing was first
written with scratching signs on damp clay with a
pointed stick or reed.

The clay was written on
while moist and left to dry in the sun afterwards.
People found it was easier and quicker to make a
stylized representation of an object by making a
few marks on clay than drawing pictures. So
instead they drew straight lines or curves, thus
the beginning of cuneiform. Cuneiform was written
mostly on clay tablets but also on envelopes of
clay used for transport, seals and monuments.
Egyptian Hieroglyphs is the earliest script, and
the longest duration. The first hieroglyphs are in
the form of short label texts on stone and pottery
objects. The script was originally employed for
different kinds of texts, but as other writings
developed, hieroglyphic was increasingly confined
to religious and monumental contexts. The signs of
the hieroglyphic script are largely pictorial in
character.

A few are indeterminate in form, but
most characters are recognizable pictures which
may exhibit fine detail and coloring, although not
always realistic. Many people think that it is a
kind of primitive picture-writing because of its
artistic beauty. But it is a full writing system,
capable of communicating the same kind of
information as our own alphabet although it does
so in a different manner. The script is a mixed
system: its components do not all perform the same
function; some of the signs convey meaning, others
convey sound. An English student of archaeology
named Arthur Evans discovered a form of writing
and named it Linear B. This writing was used in
the Bronze Age and was also written on clay
tablets.

The Linear B script consists of three
elements: syllabic signs, ideograms and numerals.
The syllabic signs are used to spell out the
phonetic shape of the word. The ideograms were not
used as a means of writing a word, but as a symbol
to indicate what the numerals were counting,
therefore usually found before numerals. Linear B
consists of 87 signs which can be divided into
three classes: the basic syllabary, consisting of
signs for the five vowels, twelve consonants, and
the combination of them; the optional signs, which
may be employed to give a more accurate spelling;
and the unidentified signs. Linear A is merely the
ancestor of Linear B. Abstract phrases such as I
can called for something flexible enough to record
speech itself. The Answer? The Alphabet.

What
exactly is the alphabet? Seven different
alphabetic scripts are employed today, but all of
them rest on a single principle: an alphabet
consists of a fixed set of written signs, each
standing, in theory at least, for a single spoken
sound; all the signs can be used interchangeably
to form the various words of a given language.
This remarkable system arose as the result of a
great burst of cultural standing that took place
for 1000 years around 2500 B.C. Beginning about
1000 B.C., Phoenician traders carried their
alphabet from the Mediterranean ports, spreading
the seed for all the alphabets in the world.
(Hooker, p. 54) Three ancient scripts incorporate
the traits-the form and number of the characters,
the sounds they express, the sequences they
follow, even the names of the characters
themselves-that mark them as possible predecessors
of the Phoenician alphabet, which emerged around
1100 B.C. By 1000 B.C. their alphabet had come
into full flower. This fertile Phoenician alphabet
was a script of 22 characters, and it was a modern
alphabet in all respects but one: it had no
vowels.

Where the Phoenicians went, so did their
alphabet. New scribes who took it up added their
own refinements making from that single script a
sturdy communication tool that would survive and
lend itself to any language spoken by man. Once
launched, the alphabet spread rapidly, with its
economy of symbols, its flexibility and its direct
relationship to the sounds of spoken words, made
writing far easier to learn and manage. Even today
the story of writing and its beginnings are far
from completely told, researchers continue to find
new evidence in the form of writing of our
ancestors. But we know the origin of writing
developed through ancient civilizations over
periods of time where the need for writing
evolved. c.100,000-40,000 B.C.

Modern man evolves
physiological capability of speech. c.30,000 B.C.
Primitive cave paintings appear in Europe.
c.20,000-6500 B.C. Notches on animal bones, a
forerunner of writing in Africaand elsewhere,
indicate beginnings of record keeping. c.3500-3000
B.C. Earliest known pictograph writing appears in
Sumer. c.3000 B.C.

Egyptians use hieroglyphic
writing. c.2800-2600 B.C. The Sumerian writing
system becomes cuneiform. c.2500 B.C. Cuneiform
begins to spread throughout the Near East. c.2300
B.C.

Indus Valley people use pictorial symbols .
c.2000 B.C. Sequential pictographic inscriptions,
considered a true system of writing, appear on
clay tablets in Crete. c.1500 B.C. Hittites invent
their own form of hieroglyphic writing; Chinese
develop ideographs. c.1400 B.C. People in the
trading port of Ugarit devise an alphabet.
c.1100-900 B.C.

Phoenicians spread precursor of
modern alphabet across the sea to Greece. c.800
B.C. Greeks develop concept of modern alphabet,
with vowels. Bibliography Clairborne, Robert.
Reading the past . University of California
press/British Museum, 1990.

Research essay sample on A History Of Writing In Human Civilization