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Writing

signs, pictures, characters, system, object, limited, denote, sound and pictorial

WRITING. The art of fixing thoughts in a visible and lasting shape, so as to make them intelligible to others and capable of preservation. This may be done in many ways which, however, in general fall into two great classes: picture writing, where the actual pie•ture or symbol de notes the object or idea as a whole, and phonetic writing, where the characters employed denote the spoken word or the elements contained therein, either syllables or single sounds, such as vowels and consonants. The phonetic signs are usually believed to have been developed from the more primitive pictographic methods. In the widest sense of the term various mnemonic systems might be described as writing, but com monly the term is restricted to markings upon some more or less durable surface. It is, how ever. rather to the picture that we must look for the origin of the complicated systems which lie at the basis of all human progress into a higher and more complex civilization. In its most primitive form picture-writing is merely a representation of an object or group of ob jects, which almost of necessity tells its own story. Even here it is not long before a certain degree of symbolism or at any rate conventional ity is introduced, and it heroines somewhat diffi cult, for the stranger to interpret the series of pictures. Interesting examples of the conven tionalized forms are to he found among the In dians and also in Polynesia, and it is possible that in them lies the key to sonic of the curious signs and devices which decorate the seals of Myeemean Crete. Such pictures, are. however, at best limited in scope, and are usually hut n means of expression. The pictures tend more and more to become ideograms, i.e. symbols with a conventionalized meaning, as when an arrow stands for an enemy. Here we have obviously a form of writing intelligible only to the instructed. Naturally the pictures also tend to become con ventional rather than natural. and this trans formation becomes very rapid whew for carving on stone writing with a brush or pen on soft ma terial becomes common. Many of the Chinese characters are good examples of ancient philtres modified by a cursive script. Even the ideogram. however, does not suffice and we therefore ad vance to the further step where the picture or character derived from it suggests a sound rather than an object; thus the picture of an rim would denote 1, etc. In a monosyllable language, like Chinese, the same sound may have many mean ings, as the sound eye in English in the example above quoted. and therefore to the phonogra may he joined an id rogra In to indicate the sense in ‘vhieh the sound is used.

Passing now to the methods of writing in vogue in the great civilizations of the ancient world. we find in Egypt the elaborate pictorial system known as hieroglyphics (q.v.). This system might almost serve alone as an example of the various ways in which characters might be used.

The signs are all pictures, more or less con ventionalized, but these only occasionally in dicate the actual object represented. Sometimes they are symbolic. as when an arm holding a whip denotes the abstract idea of 'power.' Then, again, they are real phonograms, where two or more pictures together denote another object whose Egyptian name is a combination of the names of tIn:- pictures, as in the modern pictorial rebus. From this use it is but a step to the selection of a limited number of these signs to denote uniformly syllables, or again of a still more limited number to he used as single letters. All of these steps the Egyptians had taken at a very early date. but without giving np the earlier stages, so that they never gained the advantages to be derived from the use of a few alphabetic signs, though it must be admitted that they re tained a system well adapted for the decorative effects which Egyptian inscriptions frequently seem designed to Ia•oducre. In the cuneiform in scriptions (q.v.) of Mesopotamia and later of Persia, the peculiar wedge-shaped stroke which gives its name to the system has naturally ob literated all but very faint traces of earlier pictographs, but we find the ideogram in common use, often with a determinative prefixed, as when three horizontal strokes precede the names of countries. Simplification is also attempted by the use of syllabaries, and among the Medes we find a definite syllabic system, while the Persians adopted a cuneiform alphabet of thirty six characters. In the Eastern Mediterranean, and perhaps further west, other systems were also in use, most of which still defy interpreta tion. The Hittite monuments hear inscriptions in strange pictorial characters. In Cyprus there was in use by the Greeks a peculiar sylla bary, first read by the aid of bilingual inscrip tions. Crete was the home during the third and second millenniums B.C. of two systems, one ap parently hieroglyphic or pictorial, though the pictures finally became decidedly conventional in some eases, the other, described as linear or geometric, apparently syllabic, as the number of signs is more limited. Many of these signs bear a close resemblance to the Cypriote sylla bary. and others suggest the early Greek and Plarnieian alphabets. These facts, coupled with the discovery in Egypt, Palestine, Caria and even Iberia of similar characters, have led to the theory of a great Mediterranean syllabary of many signs, from which by selection the Phoenicians derived their alphabet, which in turn became the parent of the Greek and other European writing. This theory, however, must be regarded as an un proved hypothesis, as indeed other theories are likely to be until the key to the Cretan tablets or Hittite hieroglyphs is discovered. The sub jects touched upon in this article, and the later history of writing are treated more fully in ALPHABET; CUNEIFORM INSCRIPTIONS;