Looking Back Into Writing

Writing is a symbolic or graphical representation of any language, it developed independently in many early civilizations. Real writing system is preceded by proto-writing systems which often involve simple pictures or symbols representing objects or concepts directly. Numbers started to be written a lot earlier than languages. One of the earliest known real system of writing is cuneiform, developed in Sumer in between 3400BC-3200BC.


Stages of development in a writing system

There are various stages through which a writing system undergoes before being developed into a full fledged system of writing, these stages are discussed below:

1. Picture Writing System: In this stage, simple images called glyphs are used to depict certain objects or concepts, this stage can be further divided into three sub-stages

SVG version of Image:Jiahu writing.gif using Inkscape. Examples of the script found at the Jiahu archaeological site
*Mnemonic: In this sub-stage, glyphs are used as reminders.
*Pictographic: In this sub-stage, glyphs directly represent objects or concepts
*Ideographic: In this sub-stage, abstract symbols called graphemes are used directly to depict ideas or concepts.

2. Transitional System: In this stage, graphemes represent names along with ideas or concepts.


3. Phonetic System: In this stage, graphemes are used to represent certain sounds and meaning of graphemes are no longer dependent upon its form. This stage is further divided into three stages:

Cursive hieroglyphs from Papyrus of Ani, an example of the Egyptian Book of the Dead by Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp.
*Verbal: In this sub-stage, full words are represented by graphemes.
*Syllabic: In this sub-stage, syllables are represented by graphemes.
*Alphabetic: In this sub-stage, elementary sounds are represented by graphemes.
Writing in Mesoamerica


An inscription in Maya hieroglyphics from the site of Naranjo, (now in Peten,Guatemala) Stela 10, relating to the reign of king Itzamnaaj K’awil, 784-810.
Photo by Teoberto Maler
Writing in Mesoamerica developed independent of writing systems prevalent in old world, Mesoamerican scripts are often combination of logographs and syllables. The pattern of Mesoamerican scripts are superficially similar to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Many scripts have been documented from Mesoamerica but, the one that has been deciphered best and most well known is Mayan Script.