Egyptian hieroglyphics — 3200 BC, Egypt

Egyptian hieroglyphic

Egyptian hieroglyphics were profoundly influential and in use for thousands of years.  Like Sumerian cuneiform, the early symbols were of recognizable things.  Unlike Sumerian cuneiform, the symbols stayed recognizable: a snake stayed a snake, a foot stayed a foot.  Like cuneiform, many symbols were simply drawings of the things they represented, but Egyptian also had a much more phonetic component essentially immediately.  (Cuneiform also developed phonetic components, but it took them a while.  This is part of why I think cuneiform came before hieroglyphics.)

Egyptian hieroglyphics used a rebus principle: saying the name of the thing represented in the glyph would give you the sound of the consonant of the character.   (For example, in English if there is a black-and-yellow stinging insect portrayed, you’d say “bee” and get the consonant “B”.)  Note that the vowels were not so important in Egyptian, so they saved space or complexity by not putting them in.  (Back in the days when computers were wimpy and displays small, computer programmers would save resources by eliminating letters in their comments, usually vowels, as well.  “background colour” could easily become “bkgndClr”.  Same principle.)  Writing systems like this that do not denote most of their vowels are called “abjads”.

Egyptians developed a writing technology– papyrus — which was very widely used for thousands of years, until cheap paper displaced it.  Making papyrus was labour intensive: fibres would get lain in two sets of parallel strips — one direction on one side and 90 degrees off on the reverse — beaten together, and dried under pressure.

The edges of the papyrus had a tendency to split, so if they were glued together in rolls there would be only two edges that might split instead of three if it was in codex form (what we think of as “book” form).  This is probably why writings were almost always in scroll form for thousands of years.

Links: Wikipedia, Ancient Scripts, Omniglot

About ducky

I'm a computer programmer professionally, currently working on mapping applications. I have been interested non-professionally for a long time in the effect on society on advances in communications technology -- things like writing, vowels, spaces between words, paper, etc.
This entry was posted in Abjad, Logograms, probably developed by illiterate(s), Rating: 4 "Huh, interesting!". Bookmark the permalink.