Text Message

From cave painting to text messages, Stelios Mores looks at our development of written communication

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Humankind first developed the ability to talk about half a million years ago, with verbal records maintained through storytelling and song across generations. It took hundreds of thousands of years before petroglyphs were conceived and painted. The cave paintings of the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave in Southern France are the oldest known and date back to the Palaeolithic period 30,000 BC. 

By the Neolithic period around 10,000 years ago, the art form had become even more abstract, not only depicting the animals and environment within which the people of the time lived but included symbols that depicted actions and intents.

By around 9000 BC such abstract forms had given rise to pictograms on tablets and handheld tokens which depicted objects upon them. Over time this type of protowriting was developed by the people of the Middle East, China and Europe, such that by around 5000 BC it had become the basis for trade. It allowed individuals to keep records of credit and debt between members of societies. This was subsequently followed by compound pictorial representations, such that different multiples of certain objects (mostly commodities such as wheat and livestock) were being depicted by a single pictorial image. This led to the concept of numbers first being developed around 6000 years ago in the Middle East.

The advent of numbers led to an enhancement of the pictogram, with special symbols being developed which allowed individuals to depict ideas. The hieroglyphics of the Ancient Egyptians dating back to the Bronze Age of around 3200 BC consisted of around 1000 characters, and allowed those proficient in this form of writing to record complex concepts, ideas and messages.  Within this set of characters there were 22 characters which depicted consonants, establishing the beginnings of a phonetic or syllabary script which breaks down words into phonetic syllables. At around the same time, the Chinese began developing their logogram simplified traditional script which is still in use today.

Evidence of the first truly syllabary scripts date back to around 1700 BC, suggesting the existence of an Ancient Egyptian proto-alphabet which was then adopted and developed by the Semitic peoples of the region. During the 500 years that followed this led to the creation of the Phoenician proto-Canaanite alphabet around 1000 BC and then the early Greek alphabet around 900 BC. 

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By the seventh century BC the Latin alphabet had been devised by the inhabitants of Southern Italy and was mostly based on the Greek. It subsequently became the alphabet used by all the Western languages. Other alphabets such as the Brahmic scripts were developed independently in Southeast Asia during the third century BC leading to the establishment of modern scripts such as Devanagri which is used in India today, whilst the Nabataean alphabet from the first century BC led to the development of the Arabic alphabet.

So given the long and involved history of writing, perhaps it is not surprising that receiving and sending text messages has become the principle means of communicating.

Einstein Cartoon - Green.jpgLittle Einstein’s Corner - Alphabet 
There are many alphabets which people use in the world today. This exercise involves looking at and copying some of these. 
You will need a few sheets of lined A4 paper, a pencil, a sharpener and a rubber. You will also need access to the Internet on a tablet or a computer.

Go to http://wizzyschool.com

Look at and then copy a few of the alphabets. Next decide which ones are similar and which ones are different. Can you think of reasons why some are similar?

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