The spread of written language systems across the world was documented in The New Atlas of World History: Global Events at a Glance, published by Princeton University Press. Recently, a video was created and posted by Business Insider (and also Tech Insider) to visually illustrate the dawn of the era of written language systems, from Sumerian pictographs on down to the Latin alphabet. While watching the animation, be aware of the fact the main (modern) titling is in English, written in the Latin character set. When casting your mind back in time, consider the tremendous divergence that occurred across the world in linguistic evolution between the main types of character systems:
- Alphabets (where consonants and vowels are all given individual characters) such as most European languages (most of whom are based on Latin and Greek),
The Greek alphabet
- Abjad (where alphabets only represent consonants; vowels are either left unwritten or indicated by diacritical marks) such as ancient Phoenician, as well as Hebrew and Arabic,
The Phoenician alphabet
- Abugida (where consonants are considered the main character, and vowels are modifiers of the consonant) such as Ethiopic (Ge’ez) and Devanagari,
The Ethiopic alphabet
- Logographic systems (where characters represent ideas primarily, and only secondarily are bound to phonetic equivalents), such as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, modern Chinese hanzi and Japanese kanji.
Each of these different types of script systems, whether pictographic or phonographic, don’t only alter one’s capability to read and understand the ideas of others as they were recorded. They also fundamentally affect the very way we think. Each type of character set links to our auditory and visual memory systems differently.
So what’s in a short two-hand-a-half minute video? Three thousand years of the amazing evolution of the very way we think today. We believe that’s a technology propagation story worth sharing. Enjoy!
p.s. Did you catch the glaring error in the image on top? That’s right! The calendar goes from 1 BCE to 1 CE without a “Year 0 (Zero)” in between. It would be more than six centuries before Brahmagupta (ब्रह्मगुप्त) would coin the term and the rules to compute with it. Apparently the creators of the video need to brush up on their Sanskrit a little more!