The origins of writing in the mind | Varsity

It is said that “writing is an instrument of power”, and a glance at its history reveals the truth of this statement. Writing as we know it emerged with the Sumerians and the Egyptians, using simple pictograms to depict financial transactions. This ground-breaking technological innovation facilitated organization and taxation on a huge scale, and spread rapidly with the first empires of the New East. Our Latin alphabet is descended from that of the Greeks, itself adapted from a right-to-left syllabary used by Phoenician merchants. And yet, at almost the same time, with strikingly similar symbols, priests in modern-day China began carving questions onto bone and turtle shell fragments for divination. The inscriptions range from the profound to the trivial – one inscription from Yinxu reads simply: ‘Will it rain tomorrow?’.


How can we explain the sudden transfer in writing direction, which affected Greek in its early existence? Adapting the Phoenician script to the Greek language required a phonemic (letter based) rather than a syllabic (syllable based) system, which is predicted to have triggered a change in the brain regions used to process the information on the page, thus resulting in a shift in writing direction.