The ancient Greek philosopher Plato, in one of his legendary “Dialogues”, refers to God Theuth inventing the writing system and conveying his discovery to King Thamma, as having the power to “make the Egyptians wiser … d ‘improve their memory; because it is an elixir of memory and wisdom. Writing is a method of human communication that is used to convert language into symbols. Unlike computer languages, it is only a system that can render language in a form that can be understood by other human beings in other places and at other times.
We remember being introduced to writing, in a brief domestic function, during which we had letters written on a slate, with a slate pencil. Then, on entering school, we switched to using pencils and, to color pictures, pencils of different colors. Subsequently, one was advanced to use “inkwells” with pinned sticks leading to “fountain pens”.
With the emergence of human societies, requirements such as recording history, preserving culture, compiling knowledge and information through programs and lists of texts, have demanded systems of advanced writing.
The abjads, or systems using the marking of phonemes of consonants, date back to the hieroglyphs, or sacred engravings, of ancient Egypt. The earliest known hieroglyphics date back to the second half of the fourth millennium BC. Cave paintings and petroglyphs of prehistoric civilizations were among the forerunners of later writing systems, although they were not considered writing in the strict sense, as they did not directly represent language.
The transition from drawing / pictography to writing is more or less synchronous with the hunter-gatherer societies developing agriculture and creating settlements. Farmers used clay tokens with carvings to help depict ownership, or the nature of transactions, in products such as land, grain, and livestock. Another method of communication, especially among Native American tribes, was sending smoke signals to convey messages. Chinese soldiers, stationed along the Great Wall of China, also used the same system. To this day, the College of Cardinals uses smoke signals to signify the completion of the process of electing a new pope.
An alphabet is a set of symbols, each of which represents a phoneme of the language concerned. The first known civilization to create a purely phonetic system, completely independent of a pictographic or syllabic system, were the Phoenicians. The structure of a writing system is similar to the speech it represents in areas such as lexicon and syntax. The product is called a “text” and the person to whom the communication is directed a “reader”.
Palm leaves were used as writing material in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia around the fifth century BCE. The manuscripts were made from dried palm leaves, and the practice later spread to other areas. This system continued until the 19th century BCE until printing presses appeared and replaced handwritten manuscripts. One of the earliest such manuscripts is a comprehensive 9th-century Sanskrit treatise on Shaivism discovered in Nepal and now available in the University of Cambridge Library.
The second most used script in the world is Chinese, also known as hanzi, kanji, or hanja. A logogram is a written character that represents a word or a morpheme. A large number of logograms are required to write Chinese characters. The characters in this writing script are considered logograms and used in several different languages ââacross Asia, including Chinese, Korean, and Japanese.
Like other Semitic scripts, Arabic is written from left to right. The Arabic alphabet was probably the prototype of the Brahmi script of India, comprising the earliest drawn representations of the natural world and dating back to 30-40,000 years ago, when humans began to paint and graffiti rocks. and cave walls.
The practice of “encoding” letters is also quite common, primarily in order to maintain the secrecy of communications which the recipient is required to “decipher” or decipher. Techniques such as Morse code or are also used for the purpose of sending messages from one point to another. The exchange of communications between stations, ships at sea, and telegraph offices, at least in the early days (to send what were called “telegrams”) made wide use of it.
Thanks to Louis Braille, a remarkably effective technique for learning to read and write for blind people was born. Another convenient method of increasing the speed of dictation is the set of symbols known as “shorthand”.
The near-global spread of digital communication systems such as email and social media has made writing an increasingly important feature of daily life, where it mixes with older technologies like paper, digital pencils, whiteboards, printers and copiers.
Communication technology has advanced to the point where even interstellar communication, the transmission of signals between planetary systems, has been attempted. For several decades, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project has been researching signals, possibly originating from extraterrestrial life, located outside the solar system.
While radio frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum are used by SETI, it has also been proposed that higher frequency signals, such as lasers operating at visible light frequencies, may also prove to be a successful method. We must wait and see where this fascinating cosmic research is leading humanity. The activity of writing has the effect of transforming knowledge allowing, as it does, human beings to externalize their thought in forms that are easier to think about.
Letters, when put together in a structured form, constitute words which, in turn, when used according to certain rules, form sentences. In the absence of order, form and structure, a combination of letters or groups of letters will be meaningless. If, however, endless permutation and combinations of letters and groups are attempted, a stage can theoretically be reached when words and phrases begin to appear.
A purely theoretical, and somewhat light, calculation shows that the probability that a monkey will type Shakespeare’s plays, pecking at a laptop keyboard, is as low as 1/10 high at 12.00.0000th Power !
As a baby born three months premature, I was handed over to Mahatma Gandhi when he came to Chennai to lay the foundation stone for the Andhra Mahila Sabha founded by Durgabai Deshmukh. My mother and Durgabai were great friends and classmates at school in Kakinada earlier.
So I was named Mohan Das, later changed to Mohan. This is of course something that I have always been proud of. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that I had another characteristic in common with the Mahatma: bad handwriting! Gandhiji himself had a bad opinion of the importance of good writing, until he traveled to South Africa where, seeing the beautiful handwriting of the lawyers who were his colleagues, he felt hurt from his weakness.
Mine, in fact, continues to be pretty bad – bordering on unreadable. As are the notorious prescriptions made by doctors. So much so that, when I was a Guntur collector, we bet on what I had written in the file, and a separate section had been set up, simply to decipher what I had written; led by a person who had the courage to come and ask me for clarification!
(The author is the former chief secretary of the government of Andhra Pradesh)
(The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)