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Writing, the art of expressing; ideas by visible signs or characters inscribed on some material. It is either ideographic or phonetic. Ideographic writing may be either pictorial, representing objects by imitating their forms, or symbolic, by indicating their nature or proportions. Phonetic writing may be syllabic or alphabetic; in the former each character represents a syllable, in the latter a single letter. Of the origin of this art nothing is positively known. The Egyptians ascribed it to Thoth; the Greeks to Mercury or Cadmus; and the Scandinavians to Odin. The first step toward writing was probably the rude pictorial representation of objects, without any indication of the accessories of time or place; the next the application of a symbolic signification to some of these figures, so that the picture of two legs, for example, represented not only two legs, but also the act of walking. Pictures, abbreviated for convenience, gradually became conventional signs, and in time these characters were made to stand for the sounds of spoken language. - The various systems of writing of the ancient world had probably at least three different sources, the Egyptian, the Assyrian, and the Chinese systems, all of which were originally hieroglyphic.
The Egyptians practised four distinct styles of writing, the hieroglyphic, hieratic, demotic or enchorial, and Coptic. Hieroglyphic writing, which was in use much earlier than 3000 B. C, was probably at first entirely ideographic; its symbols became gradually used to represent abstract ideas, and in time some acquired a phonetic value. The phonetic characters are both syllabic and alphabetic. In the latter pictorial figures are used to express the initial letters of the words which they represent; for example, the figure of an eagle (akhom) stands for a, of an owl (mulag) for m, etc. The hieratic writing, which probably came into use before 2000 B. C, was a simplified form of the hieroglyphic style, in which the pictorial symbols developed through a stage of linear hieroglyphs into a kind of cursive hand. The demotic or enchorial writing was a still simpler form of the hieroglyphic, and a nearer approach to an alphabetic system. It was in use from about the 7th century B. C. till the 2d century A. D., when it was gradually superseded by the Coptic, which grew out of the hieratic and demotic under Greek influences. (See Egypt, Language And Llteeatuee Of, And Coptic Language.) The Ethiopians also used hieroglyphs similar to those of the Egyptians, and their current written language resembled the Egyptian demotic, but its alphabet had fewer symbols.
At a later period a third graphic system, somewhat analogous to the Coptic, came into use, which may be called Ethiopic Greek. For the present Ethiopic or Abyssinian system, see Ethiopia, Languages and Literatiter of. With what people the Assyrian cuneiform or sphenographic system of writing originated is not known, but it was originally without doubt a hieroglyphic system, and became gradually modified by the different nations which occupied the Assyrian empire, until it assumed the form of the present known inscriptions. There are three classes of cuneiform characters, the Assyrian or Babylonian, the Scythian or Median, and the Persian. The first is the most complicated, containing from 600 to 700 symbols; the second is less complicated, but contains about 100 symbols, or three times as many as the third, which is almost purely alphabetic. (See Cuneiform Inscriptions.) For the Chinese graphic system, see China, Language and Literatuer of. Of these three original systems, the Egyptian is by far the most important, for from its hieratic symbols was probably derived the Phoenician alphabet, the parent of almost all the principal graphic systems of the world.
The Egyptians never entirely accomplished the separation of ideograms and phonetic symbols, but the Phoenicians adopted only the latter, and thus originated the first purely alphabetic system of writing. M. Francois Lenormant distinguishes five main branches of the Phoenician alphabet, viz.: 1, the Semitic, which subdivides into two groups, the Hebrew-Samaritan and the Aramaean, the latter including Palmyrene, Pamphylian, the square Hebrew characters, Estranghelo and the other Syrian alphabets, the Sabsean or Mendaitic, the Auranitic, the Nabathsean, and the Arabic, including the Cufic and nesJchi or copy hand; 2, the central or Greek, comprising the various Hellenic alphabets and their derivatives, the latter subdividing into the Albanian, Asiatic (Asia Minor), and the Italian; 3, the western, including but a single family, comprising the systems of writing which grew out of the spread of the Phoenician alphabet in Spain; 4, the northern or Runic (see Runes); 5, the Indo-Homerite (Himyarite), which seems to have had its origin in southern Arabia, and to have spread thence to Africa, Ariana, and India, the Indian branch giving rise to the ancient Magadhi alphabet, the supposed parent of the Dêvanagari or written Sanskrit, the Pali, and many others.
The first or Semitic branch has been treated under Semitic Race and Languages, and Arabic Language and Literature. Of the central branch, the Italian subdivision is the parent of the Lombardic, Visigothic, AngloSaxon, Gallic, Merovingian, and German graphic styles, all of which were in use before Charlemagne, and of those which followed him, including the Caroline, the Capetian, and the modern Gothic. The Roman letters were used in Italy until the latter part of the 6th century, when the Lombardic style was introduced. This was also sometimes called Roman, because used by the popes in their bulls; it continued in use until the 13th century. The Visigothic style, carried into Spain by the Visigoths, was legally abolished in 1091, and Latin letters were adopted for all public instruments. In France the Merovingian style prevailed from the close of the 6th century to the end of the 8th. Charlemagne introduced the Caroline, which, having degenerated before the close of the 10th century, was restored by Hugh Capet, and was subsequently called the Capetian. It was in use in England, France, and Germany till the middle of the 12th century, when the modern Gothic spread over all Europe. The present German alphabet is a modification of this.
There are no traces of writing in Britain before the Roman conquest, when Latin letters were introduced. What is called the Roman-Saxon, resembling the Roman, prevailed until the middle of the 8th century; the set Saxon succeeded it, lasting until the middle of the 9th; this was followed by the running-hand Saxon of the time of Alfred; the mixed Saxon, combining the Rotaian, Lombardic, and Saxon letters; and the elegant Saxon, which was introduced in the 10th century, and did not become obsolete until the middle of the 12th. The charters which remain in this style are remarkable for their small, round, neat, and extremely legible characters. The Norman style, quaint, affected, illegible, and composed of letters nearly Lombardic, came in with "William the Conqueror. The modern Gothic dates in England from the 12th century; the old English from the middle of the 14th; the set chancery and common chancery from the latter part of the same century. The English court hand, a barbarous corruption of the Norman, was contrived by the lawyers in the 16th century, and lasted till the reign of George II., when it was abolished by law. In the northern parts of Ireland and Scotland characters similar to the Saxon prevailed until the end of the 16th century.
The Russian alphabet is a modified form of that invented by the missionary Cyril for the use of the Slavic tribes of Bulgaria and Moravia among whom he preached the gospel in the 9th century. It is founded upon the Greek alphabet, but that not being sufficient to express all the Slavic sounds, he added to it numerous symbols. It was modified by Peter the Great, who reduced the number to 36 characters. (See Glagolitic, and Russia, Language and Literature of.) The Wallachs adopted the Cyrillic alphabet in the 15th century, but further diminished it to 27 symbols;: and since 1856 the Latin alphabet has mostly supplanted it. For the Mexican picture writing and the Central American hieroglyphs,, see Hieroglyphics. The Japanese graphic system, whieh is a modification of the Chinese,, is treated under Japan, Language and Literature of. - The utmost diversity exists among different nations in the manner or direction of writing; but in general the Semitic races wrote from right to left, and the Aryan from left to right.
The Egyptian hieroglyphs are sometimes without any arrangement, but are generally written either in columns or horizontal lines, according to the shape of the surface to be inscribed; when horizontal, they are sometimes to be read from right to left and sometimes from left to right, the figures of men and animals always being turned toward the beginning of the line. The hieratic and demotic characters are always written from right to left. The Ethiopic system of writing was originally from right to left, but it was early changed to the opposite direction. The Himyaritic inscriptions read from right to left, but sometimes in the manner called boustrophedon, first from left to right and then from right to left (Gr. ßovtponov, turning like oxen in ploughing). The cuneiform inscriptions are always from left to right. The Chinese and Japanese write in columns, beginning at the top and passing from right to left. The Mexican picture writing was also in columns, but read from the bottom upward. The Greeks at first imitated the Phoenicians and wrote from right to left; from this they passed to the doustrophedon style, and finally, about the middle of the 5th century B. C, to the modern European method. (For the distinctions between capitals, uncials, and cursives, see Manuscript; and for methods of pointing, see Punctuation.) The various materials used in writing are treated under Book, Ink, Paper, Papyrus, Parchment, Pen, and Pencil. - The necessity of some rule for the reduction of unwritten languages and foreign graphic systems to a uniform orthography in Roman characters early led to attempts at the construction of a standard alphabet.
The first who gave especial attention to the subject was Sir William Jones, who published in the "Transactions" of the Asiatic society (Calcutta, 1788) his essay " On the Orthography of Asiatic words in Roman Letters." He discarded the English vowel system and adopted the German or Italian method, but failed to apply the same method to the consonant system. He was followed by Sir Charles Trevelyan, Volney, Monier Williams, M. Muller, and other English, French, and German scholars; but no generally satisfactory system was devised till 1853, when Prof. Lepsius of the university of Berlin published his " Standard Alphabet." This was adopted as a standard in 1854 by the church missionary society of England, and experience in the transcription of several African languages having proved its general availability, it has since been accepted by other missionary societies, by the American board of foreign missions, and by many linguists. In this alphabet are recognized only three primary vowels, a, i, and u, pronounced as in the German and Italian languages. Between these are ranged the various other vowel sounds of different languages, expanding them to 30 in all, including diphthongs.
The consonants are divided into explosives, subdivided into fortes, lenes, and nasales, fricatives, subdivided into fortes, lenes, and semivocales, and liquids, 48 different sounds in all being recognized. To represent these 78 vocalic and consonantal sounds, Roman letters distinguished from each other by various diacritical marks are used in all but nine cases, in two of which the Arabic and Greek rough breathings are represented by their appropriate signs, and in the remaining seven Greek characters are employed. The alphabetic characters and their respective sounds are as follows, according to the edition of the " Standard Alphabet" of 1863:- See Tonssaint and Tassin, Nouveau traite de diplomatique (6 vols. 4to, Paris, 1750-65); T. Astle, " Origin and Progress of Writing" (London, 1784; new eds., 1803 and 1876); Jules Oppert, Remarques sur les caractères distinctifs des différentes families linguistiques (8vo, Paris, 1860); Léon de Rosny, Les écritures figuratives des differents peuples anciens et modernes (Paris, 1860); H. Wuttke, Geschichte der Schrift (Berlin, 1872 et seq.); Francois Lenormant, Essai sur la propagation de Valphaiet phenicien dans l'ancien monde (new ed., Paris, 1875); and other authorities quoted in the article Manuscript.