Written language is a fundamental tool for communication. The earliest forms of written languages were created to help with record keeping and were often written on clay tablets, papyrus, or leather parchment. There are records of people using tallies to keep track of numbers as early as 20,000 years ago (Hirst, 2018). Examples of early contracts, property records, and receipts indicate that writing was used in business transactions. Early writing was also used for recording important cultural artifacts such as laws, religious texts, and literature.
A key driver of widespread written communication was the invention of the alphabet. Before an alphabet existed, it took a great deal of specialization and study to understand written language (think about the complexity of the ancient Egyptian system of hieroglyphics). A basic alphabet originated in ancient Phoenicia, traveled to Greece, and later became incorporated into many countries, laying the foundation for greater literacy and, thus, more and better global communication. Yet it wasn’t until much more recently that reading and writing became widely accessible. For a very long time, many cultures continued to use oral traditions to preserve history from one generation to the next through stories, poems, and songs.
The invention of the alphabet and its use for keeping records changed how we preserve history. Written communication meant that more information could be saved and studied. It’s one of the reasons we’re able to study history today!
Next up, we’ll read about how the printing press and television took our ability to communicate even further.
Source: Strategic Education, Inc. 2020. Learn from the Past, Prepare for the Future.
Hirst, K. (2018, May 27). Clay Token System. ThoughtCo. www.thoughtco.com/clay-tokens-mesopotamian-writing-171673