Writing systems of the world

Graphic: writing systems of the world
An overview of the writing systems of the world

Writing systems of the world

Communicating and remembering

Writing is the painting of the voice; the closer the resemblance, the better it is.

Voltaire, Dictionnaire philosophique, 1764

Compared with language, writing developed much later, initially as an independent character system that served the purposes of communication and especially of recording: early aids such as tally-sticks, knots and string and non-verbal gestures led to the development of representational characters in which the intended meaning was first depicted in actual pictures and then with abstract symbols. It was only afterwards that language and writing became closer: words, syllables and letters were defined as sounds in writing. Sumerian cuneiform writing, which developed at the end of the fourth millennium BCE in Mesopotamia is regarded as the first writing system to gradually develop such a phonological system. Other writing-type symbols such as the Chinese Jiahu (around 6,600 B.C.) or the Eastern European Vinča characters (around 5,500 B.C.) are even older.

In the opinion of British linguist David Diringer, it was the religious allegiances of people that played a major role in the continued spread of writing throughout the world. Today the Latin, Arabic, Cyrillic and Chinese writing systems are the most used writing forms in the world. The first three function on the principle of linguistic sound counterparts (the alphabet), the last is based on graphical characters with a fixed meaning (logography). There are also differences in the direction of writing. For certain purposes, there are special forms such as encrypted secret code writing or speedy shorthand.