The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Writing is the process of inscribing characters on a medium, with the intention of forming words and other larger language constructs. The instrument or instruments used for recording, and the medium on which the recording is done can be almost infinite, and can be done by any instrument capable of making marks on any surface that will accept them. Writing can be done even on a grain of rice. Writing has even been done with individual atoms [1] . Most forms of writing are very durable, potentially lasting for centuries, while other forms of writing last only for a few hours or minutes, such as writing in the sand, or writing on a blackboard. Illegal writings are referred to as graffiti.

Writing is also often used to describe the craft of creating a larger work of literature. This is an extension of the original meaning, which would include the act of writing longer texts. (Interestingly, if this is done on a typewriter, the physical act of making the marks on the paper in the typewriter would be called typing, whereas the intellectual activity involved in generating the letters, words and sentences would be called "writing," and there are similar situations, such as painting letters or words on a canvas or the like, in which the act of painting forms the letters, but the letters themselves are "writing".) Writing in this sense can refer to the production of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and letters.

Most of time, writing aims to produce works that are target of reading.

Typically one will use a writing utensil (such as a pen or pencil) to write characters on paper; or a computer (or typewriter) to record characters to disk, (electromagnetic tape, CD-ROM, or other computer medium on which information can be recorded). The use of pen and paper has historical primacy, and one could argue that the second is merely analogous to writing. Still, as commonly used, writing refers to recording visual characters on physical or electronic media.

In the western world, this means putting characters together to form words and sentences. In cultures using ideograms, each character used represents a word or concept, and can then be put together with others to form sentences.

Writing is believed to have originated by the simple drawing of ideograms: for example, a drawing of an apple represents an apple, and a drawing of two legs may represent the concept of walking or standing. From this origin, the symbols become more abstract, eventually evolving into symbols which seem unrelated to the original symbol. For example, the letter N in English is actually from an Egyptian hieroglyph representing the same sound, but depicting waves in water - the Egyptian word for water contains only one consonant /n/, and the picture eventually came to represent not only the idea of water, but the sound /n/ as well.

Writing with the intent to communicate has been viewed spontaneously in non-humans. Work with the bonobos Kanzi and Panbanisha in the United States has provided one such example. The examples which occur are very few, but the origin of bonobo "writing" seems to be analogous to the origin of human writing.

An exception to the general rule that writing is an attempt to communicate is the writing in unknown scripts or languages alleged by mediums to be communicated to them by ghosts, spirits, or other, generally supernatural or extraterrestrial entities. This technique is known as automatic writing.

Another exception is writing that is intended to be secret and only understood by one or more recipients -- such writing can either be completely hidden by invisible ink or steganography, or merely rendered incomprehensible by cryptography.

Writing that blends meaning and transcription is called constrained writing.

Rarely, "writing" is used to refer to the making of marks using various methods, that is not, strictly speaking, writing, as in the "indecipherable writing" (a type of surautomatism) developed by the Romanian surrealists; "indecipherable writing" is actually more akin to what would commonly be described as drawing or painting than writing.

The borderline between prehistory and history is usually taken to be the time from when we have written records. The importance of writing for history and record keeping comes from the fact that it allows information to be stored and communicated across generations, in addition to between individuals (as language enables.)

The first examples of writing are probably cave drawings , most famously found in France. Even these proto-languages show significant structure. The first examples of structured linear writing have been found in the lower Danube Valley and date from around 5000 BC. The first examples of Sumerian writing in Mesopotamia date from around 4000 BC. Initially symbols were recorded to indicate objects and actions performed by those objects most often for recording of rituals - so-called logotypical alphabets, shortly after this the same symbols are seen to be used to record categories of objects, most often in commerce. In an increasingly complex world, typified by the first major complex civilisations in Sumeria and ancient Egypt, this form of writing quickly reached its limits, and we see the use of those same symbols to represent syllabic sounds - the so-called phonotypical alphabets. Abstraction of the symbols into modern Asian, Arabic and Latic alphabets was driven by the need to permanently record ever more complex ideas, and the technology of paper and pen.

Interestingly, the evolution of written language appears to have run parallel up to the phase of basic phonotypical alphabets in both Europe/Asia and America, with the Spanish Conquistadores unfortunately putting a stop to the development in the 15th century.

See also

Further reading

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations by or about Writing
  • A History of Writing: From Hieroglyph to Multimedia, edited by Anne-Marie Christin, Flammarion (in French, hardcover: 408 pages, 2002, ISBN 2080108875)
  • Das "Anrennen gegen die Grenzen der Sprache" Diskussion mit Roland Barthes, André Breton, Gilles Deleuze & Raymond Federman by Ralph Lichtensteiger
  • Origins of writing on
  • History of Writing
ERIC Digests
  • Writing Instruction: Current Practices in the Classroom
  • Writing Development
  • Writing Instruction: Changing Views over the Years

Last updated: 02-04-2005 17:52:02
Last updated: 05-02-2005 19:38:35