Most of us are familiar with the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword.” This statement was actually written by novelist and playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton. While he probably wasn’t the first person to acknowledge, he summed up the power of the written word in that one statement. 

It shaped the world we live in, and still do. So, the question is: Who invented the first writing system? 


Writing with pictures

Who invented the writing is a question that has no definite answer. The oldest known written language, Sumerian cuneiform (ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and the Mayan system are also quite old), was not an invention; instead, it developed slowly over hundreds of years. The people of Mesopotamia, now modern-day Iraq, used papyrus to write on long before they started using paints to form shapes (cuneiform).

It wasn’t until later in history that Egyptian priests began painting pictures to represent their spoken words. This system is called hieroglyphics. Papyrus later became more popular than stone as mediums for writings after the Egyptians figured out how to turn papyrus reeds into paper. 

Before this, people in the Middle East used clay tablets to write on, but that proved to be very time-consuming because each tablet had to be hand-shaped and baked in a fire before writing could occur. Therefore, shorter messages were inscribed on stone, bone, wood, or metal until Egyptians used papyrus instead of stone. This became a significant development in history because now messages could travel more quickly since they didn’t need to carry heavy rocks wherever they went when delivering news.


Writing with letters

Why not draw pictures to represent sounds instead of ideas? The Egyptians had already made marks on their papyrus for many years that represented individual objects and ideas. Still, people were having trouble knowing what words should look like to get across specific messages. Eventually, an Egyptian named Tiro, who was a slave in the pharaoh’s court, came up with a new idea. 

Tiro observed how children learned the language by making sound-marks on dirt with sticks. He realized he could make marks symbolizing one thing using straight lines or small wedges, which became known as ‘letters.’ By stringing these letters together, he came up with a system to convey messages more quickly than ever before: writing!  


The Alphabet

Of course, it didn’t happen all at once. Tiro invented a system of symbols that became the first Alphabet.

Soon after, others began to use this new writing system and named it Alphabet with a capital A to denote its importance as the first of its kind.

The Phoenicians, a tribe from Lebanon, spread their version of the Alphabet throughout the Mediterranean Sea region. They established trade routes that reached from Spain in the west to Syria in the east. With this came writing ideas and techniques, including how to make vowel signs for their alphabets. In time, most countries adopted some form of an alphabet. Even those far-east Asian countries who had been using pictographs up until then.  


Writing with more letters

As technology improved over the centuries, alphabets became more complex to reflect how people speak words in different places. For example, early English had only 20 symbols because it was elementary with fewer sounds for its speakers to convey. As new sounds were added to speak other languages or dialects in certain regions, extra letters were added to English. This made it easier for people to read and write. 

It has evolved to a point where school children can now publish their works, you can visit  https://studentreasures.com/start-your-classbook/ for more information.