Thursday, 15 November 2007

Written Communication

What exactly is written communication? To define this I must define communication.
Communication is the process whereby information is transmitted using a common set of rules. There are various ways this can be accomplished, and the simplest method is speech. But obviously speech isn't always practical, and that's why written communication exists. Written communication is all around us - on signs, product packaging and the like. And it has adapted and evolved to represent the needs of the society that uses it.

Written communication has its origins in cave paintings - some forty-thousand years old. The purpose of cave paintings is not known, but it is speculated that they had religious/spiritual significance, and were used to record events. Until six thousand years ago, man had relatively little need for written communication, but this changed as trade and finance developed. There was simply too much information for all of it to be stored in the memory, so people began to record it in a permanent form. The mesopotamians had a system of clay tokens to representing commodities, and by the fourth millenium BC this had evolved into using a stylus to carve numbers into soft clay. The mesopotamiams then started carving pictures to represent what was being counted, and the development of written language began.

There are broadly four methods of writing; Logographies, Syllabaries, Alphabets and Featural scripts. Logographies represent words with single symbols that look like what they are representing. Chinese is an example of this. A Syllabary language is one that represents syllables with single characters - Japanese for example. An Alphabet language uses letters to form the basis of words - for example, English. And lastly, a Featural language uses symbols to denote certain sounds.

The world's oldest known alphabet was developed by the Egyptians in 2000BC from their hieroglyphic system, and it spread to Canaan and eventually the rest of the world. As it spread, people realised the importance of a system of language that was easily constructed by everyone and could be written with the most basic of tools. Written language continued to develop as technology improved. Letters and words were carved into clay and wood, and then into forms of paper. The invention of printing in the mid 1400s by Johannes Gutenberg revolutionised the written word even more. Letters became more standardised, and the idea of different typefaces emerged.

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