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Writing and alphabets

The Bible in ancient GreekThe Bible in ancient GreekThousands of years ago, as languages became more established and civilizations developed, people needed to write things down. The earliest forms of writing used pictures or symbols to represent words. Later, alphabets, which use single letters to represent the different sounds in a word, were developed. Writing with letters is far easier and quicker than using hundreds of different symbols. Many Chinese and Japanese characters are descended from ancient picture writing. The characters symbolize parts of words or whole words.

Sumerian clay tablet with ancient writingSumerian clay tablet with ancient writing

Ancient writing

The earliest known writing was developed in about 3300 BC by the Sumerians, who lived in Mesopotamia (the region of present-day Iraq). At first they scratched pictures of what they wanted to represent on to stone tablets. Later, they simplified their pictures and used a reed stylus (pen) with a wedge-shaped tip to write symbols in soft clay. This style of writing is known as cuneiform, from the Greek word for “wedge-shaped”. This picture writing was still slow to use because there were around 600 different symbols. 

There are more than 80,000 Chinese characters, but to read most newspapers and magazines you would need to know only 3000 or 4000.

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