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the visible recording of languagelanguage,
systematic communication by vocal symbols. It is a universal characteristic of the human species. Nothing is known of its origin, although scientists have identified a gene that clearly contributes to the human ability to use language.
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 peculiar to the human species. Writing enables the transmission of ideas over vast distances of time and space and is a prerequisite of complex civilization. Where, and by whom writing was first developed remains unknown, but scholars place the beginning of writing at 6,000 B.C. The norm of writing is phonemic; i.e., it attempts to symbolize all significant sounds of the language and no others (see phoneticsphonetics
, study of the sounds of languages from three basic points of view. Phonetics studies speech sounds according to their production in the vocal organs (articulatory phonetics), their physical properties (acoustic phonetics), or their effect on the ear (auditory
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). When the goal is established as one letter for one phoneme (and vice versa), the result is a complete alphabetalphabet
[Gr. alpha-beta, like Eng. ABC], system of writing, theoretically having a one-for-one relation between character (or letter) and phoneme (see phonetics). Few alphabets have achieved the ideal exactness.
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. Few alphabets attain this phonemic ideal, but some ancient ones (e.g., Sanskrit) and some modern new ones (e.g., Finnish) have been very successful. The contemporary important writing not of alphabetic type is that in Chinese characters, in which thousands of symbols are used, each representing a word or concept, and Japanese, where each character represents a syllable. The Chinese system is distant enough from the spoken language that the same characters are used in writing mutually unintelligible dialects, e.g., Cantonese and Mandarin. In some languages, as in English and French, the modern freezing of spelling has removed the writing more and more from pronunciation and has resulted in the need to teach spelling and the growth of fallacies like the "silent" letter (a letter is really either the symbol of a sound or it is unnecessary). Writing was developed independently in Egypt (see hieroglyphichieroglyphic
[Gr.,=priestly carving], type of writing used in ancient Egypt. Similar pictographic styles of Crete, Asia Minor, and Central America and Mexico are also called hieroglyphics (see Minoan civilization; Anatolian languages; Maya; Aztec).
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), Mesopotamia (see cuneiformcuneiform
[Lat.,=wedge-shaped], system of writing developed before the last centuries of the 4th millennium B.C. in the lower Tigris and Euphrates valley, probably by the Sumerians (see Sumer).
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), China, and among the ZapotecZapotec
, indigenous people of Mexico, primarily in S Oaxaca and on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Little is known of the origin of the Zapotec. Unlike most native peoples of Middle America, they had no traditions or legends of migration, but believed themselves to have been born
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, OlmecOlmec
, term denoting the culture of ancient Mexican natives inhabiting the tropical coastal plain of the contemporary states of Veracruz and Tabasco, between 1300 and 400 B.C.
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, and MayaMaya
, indigenous people of S Mexico and Central America, occupying an area comprising the Yucatán peninsula and much of the present state of Chiapas in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, parts of El Salvador, and extreme western Honduras.
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 in Central America. There are some areas where the question as to whether writing was adopted or independently developed is in doubt, as at Easter Island. Ancient writing, at first pictographic in nature, is best known from stone and clay inscriptionsinscription,
writing on durable material. The art is called epigraphy. Modern inscriptions are made for permanent, monumental record, as on gravestones, cornerstones, and building fronts; they are often decorative and imitative of ancient (usually Roman) methods.
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, but the use of perishable materials, mainly palm leaf, papyrus, and paper, began in ancient times. See accentaccent,
in speech, emphasis given a particular sound, called prosodic systems in linguistics. There are three basic accentual methods: stress, tone, and length. In English each word has at least one primary stressed syllable, as in weath`er;
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; calligraphycalligraphy
[Gr.,=beautiful writing], skilled penmanship practiced as a fine art. See also inscription; paleography. European Calligraphy

In Europe two sorts of handwriting came into being very early.
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; punctuationpunctuation
[Lat.,=point], the use of special signs in writing to clarify how words are used; the term also refers to the signs themselves. In every language, besides the sounds of the words that are strung together there are other features, such as tone, accent, and pauses,
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; paleographypaleography
[Gr.,=early writing], term generally meaning all study and interpretation of old ways of recording language. In a narrower sense, it excludes epigraphy (the study of inscriptions) and includes only the writing that is done on such materials as wax, papyrus,
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See J. H. Ober, Writing: Man's Greatest Invention (1964); O. Ogg, The 26 Letters (rev. ed. 1971); J. A. Fishman, Advances in the Creation and Revision of Writing Systems (1977); A. Gaur A History of Writing (1984); G. Sampson Writing Systems (1985); R. Harris, The Origin of Writing (1986).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/


the encoding of the spoken word by inscribing symbols on a surface, usually paper, but also in other materials such as clay Writing, since it allows the storage of information on an altogether new scale, is a social innovation whose significance in social and economic development is profound. At first the preserve of an exclusive class, the ultimate spread of writing, and subsequently printing and other forms of mass communications dependent upon this, is a major source of both the modernization and democratization of societies. See also LITERACY.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a system of signs for recording speech making possible the use of graphic elements to transmit speech information

Figure 1. Sample of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing

over a distance and give the information some degree of permanence. Originally, other means were used for transmitting information, including pictographic writing, notched counting sticks,

Figure 2. Sample of a Sumerian cuneiform text

various systems of notches, wampum, and the quipu. Writing proper usually develops in early class society, when economic life becomes more complex. A writing system is a constant inventory of signs, each sign representing an entire word, a sequence of sounds, or a separate speech sound. Writing types are classified according to the way symbols represent speech elements and not according to the form of the symbols (representational drawings or conventional geometric signs, for example). The four principal types of writing are ideographic, word-syllabic, syllabic, and alphabetic. These types usually do not exist in pure form in specific writing systems.

Figure 3. Seals with inscriptions from Mohenjo-Daro

In ideographic writing, each sign (representational device) can stand for any word in any grammatical form within a range of notional associations, either conventional or evoked directly by the image constituting the given sign. For example, a sign depicting a leg can signify any grammatical form of “to walk,” “to stand,” “to bring,” and so on. An arbitrary graphic symbol may be used instead of a picture. The feasibility of transmitting information in a purely ideographic system is extremely limited, and this type of writing has existed only in the transition from pictography to word-syllabic writing. It was used either in economic records where the very content of the text limits the number of possible concepts (Sumer, beginning of the third millennium B.C.), or in ritual texts as a memory aid. It is unclear whether the Easter Island writing system and the Chukchi system invented by Tenevil in the 20th century were ideographic or word-syllabic.

Figure 4. Clay tablet with inscription in Minoan syllabic writing

Word-syllabic writing proved to be much more viable. It too is based on the polysemantic ideogram, but signs are added to ensure that a particular ideogram is always associated with a given word. The added signs may represent purely phonetic elements of some or all of the word (especially grammatical elements) or may function as determinatives that define more precisely the range of notions a given word encompasses. In ancient Egyptian, for example, a drawing of a beetle (hpr) with the syllabic signs h-, p-, r- (vowels unknown) and the abstract-concept determinative indicated “existence” (hpr). In Sumerian, drawings of a leg and a stone signified “one who came” (gína,) because the drawing of a stone was read na; the drawings of a leg and a pile of grain (?) (ba) meant “standing” (gúba). The signs for “tower (?)” and “lattice(?)” with the determinative for “deity” (the drawing of a star) were read as “the god Enlil” (the name of a god), but with the determinative “land” (a drawing of a plot of land cut by canals) they were read as “Niburu” (the name of the city where this god was worshiped).

An ideographic sign that has become associated with a specific word is called a logogram. Logograms are also used for signs expressing sequences of sounds, as in a rebus. In the words cited above, for example, na and ba were not used to mean “stone” and “pile (?)” but signified the sequences of sounds [n] + [a] and [b] + [a]. The sequences are not necessarily syllables: in Egyptian, vowels are not represented, and in Akkadian, the syllable may be broken up into parts. Word-syllabic writing could be used for texts of any content because the system ensured a sufficiently adequate record of speech and a reliable reproduction of the text when read. Because there was not necessarily any direct connection between the original ideograms and the phonetic aspect of speech, the same signs could be used as logographic elements for different dialects in China and for different languages in the ancient Middle East.

In the most ancient forms of word-syllabic writing, the signs long retained their pictorial and hieroglyphic appearance in monumental inscriptions. At the same time, there was a cursive form used, for example, on papyruses and pottery shards in Egypt, clay tiles in Southwest Asia, and bamboo sticks in the Far East. Word-syllabic writing systems arose usually independently of one another wherever states first took shape; a few instances of similarity in signs are explained by common typology or chance. The best known word-syllabic writing systems are Egyptian (from the late fourth millennium B.C.; Figure 1), Sumerian (from the early third millennium B.C.; Figure 2) and the types of cuneiform writing that developed from it, Elamite hieroglyphics (third millennium B.C.), Proto-Indic (third millennium B.C.; Figure 3), Minoan (from the early second millennium B.C.; Figure 4), Chinese (from the second millennium B.C.; Figure 5), and Maya in Central America (first millennium A.D.; other Central-American writing systems were apparently ideographic and pictographic). Not all ancient writing systems of this type have been deciphered; the writing systems of Egypt, Mesopotamia (cuneiform), and China are the most thoroughly studied. Akkadian cuneiform is basically a syllabic writing system, but any Sumerian word sign or group of signs could be inserted into a text to denote an Akkadian word (a heterogram), especially to save space.

The only ancient word-syllabic system still in use is Chinese. Its survival is explained by the amorphous nature of the Chinese word that all but eliminates the need to represent grammatical markers and also by the convenience of the writing system for communication between speakers of phonetically divergent dialects. Chinese characters originated as pictures, which under-went

Figure 5. Sample of text written in Chinese characters

cursive simplification, assuming their final appearance when paper was introduced in the second century; there are various forms of cursive writing. The characters are usually compounds that result from the addition of a determinative and a phonetic, which indicates exact or approximate pronunciation.

Chinese writing spread to Korea, Japan, and other countries but did not prove suitable because of the different grammatical structure of the local languages. Consequently, local phonetic writing systems, such as the kana syllabary in Japan and the letter-syllabic ligature kunmun script in Korea, soon came to be used alongside Chinese characters. In Japanese, word stems are usually indicated by characters functioning as heterograms, and inflected parts of the word are represented by syllabic signs. In Korean, the characters were retained only in borrowings from Chinese and for homonyms.

Word-syllabic writing has the advantage of using logograms that are international in nature, and it needs fewer signs to represent the same section of text in comparison with phonetic writing. For these reasons auxiliary writing subsystems make use of logograms, such as numerals and the symbols used in algebraic and chemical formulas. Disadvantages of word-syllabic writing include the multiplicity of signs (from several hundred to many thousands) and the difficulty in learning to read caused by the system’s unwieldiness.

Figure 6. Brahmi writing

Writing systems in which each sign represents not a word but only a sequence of sounds are called syllabic. Sequences may be exclusively of the type C (consonant) + V (vowel or zero), or they may also be of the type V + C and even C + V + C, with C+ C+ V and C+V + C + V less often encountered. There may also be signs for individual vowels. Syllabic systems often result from the simplification of word-syllabic systems; the Cyprian writing system, for example, developed from the Minoan mainly by dispensing with logograms. Syllabic systems may also develop secondarily when vowels are added to a consonantal alphabetic system; in this way, Ethiopic writing developed from ancient Semitic writing and, in all likelihood, the Indian Brahmi (Figure 6) and Kharoshthi writing systems developed from Aramaic. Syllabic systems may be devised specially to complement word-syllabic systems in languages rich in grammatical forms, such as Japanese or Korean.

Syllabic systems are most widely used in India and Southeast Asia. Brahmi, apparently the most ancient Indian syllabic writing system, is of uncertain origin and may have been derived from Aramaic. More important is the Kharoshthi system, which dates from the third century B.C. and was evidently derived from the Aramaic alphabet; according to the principles developed in Brahmi, distinguishing signs were created from identical consonants with different vowels. The Brahmi and Kharoshthi systems permit the phonetic makeup of a text to be represented very precisely, in a way similar to phonetic transcription. These systems, like most of the later varieties of writing that spread from northern India to southern and Southeast Asia, are based on a subsystem of basic signs. Some signs represent vowels, but most represent consonants followed by the vowel [-a]. If a vowel other than [-a] follows the consonant, the basic sign modifies its shape accordingly. If the consonant is followed by another consonant or more than one consonant, a single ligature is formed from the signs representing these consonants + [a]. There is a supplementary mark to indicate the absence of a vowel at the end of a word. Since the signs were not fixed in typographic form, dozens of outwardly dissimilar varieties of cursive that were based primarily on the same principles developed in southern and Southeast Asia, many receiving typographic form only in the 19th and 20th centuries. The most important writing system of this group is Devanagari (Figure 7), which is used for Sanskrit, Hindi, and other languages.

Figure 7. Devanagari writing

Syllabic writing has the advantage of using a fewer number of signs than the ideographic system, between 100 and 300. A disadvantage is that it is a somewhat unwieldy system that causes difficulty in the choice of a correct reading, especially in the absence of word boundaries. Missionaries have recently created syllabic writing systems to aid in their religious work among peoples in various countries who do not have written languages. All these syllabic systems, however, have been superseded by alphabetic ones.

In alphabetic writing systems a separate sign (letter) generally represents one sound. This sound can be a phoneme, an allophone, or any phoneme within some group of acoustically similar sounds. Sometimes two, three, or four letters may be combined to indicate a single phoneme, as with the German sch for [ŝ] or tsch for [č]. Alphabetic and syllabic writing systems are often inaccurately grouped together as phonetic writing systems.

Figure 8. Theory of the origin of the Phoenician alphabet from Byblos syllabic writing

The historical ancestor of all alphabetic writing was the ancient Semitic (Phoenician) phonetic consonantal writing system. This was a syllabic writing system with signs only of the type C + V, the V corresponding to any vowel or no vowel at all. The origin of the ancient Semitic protoalphabet in the second half of the second millennium B.C. has not yet been established. It is most probable that it originated from the Phoenician (proto-Byblos) syllabic writing system using some 100 signs in which vowel qualities were still distinguished in signs of the type C + V (Figure 8). The classical Phoenician alphabet had 22 signs, fewer than the number of consonant phonemes. The three ancient Semitic protoalphabetic systems we know of—Phoenician linear, Ugaritic cuneiform (which had a common letter order), and South Arabic linear—were based on a common syllabic or word-syllabic prototype. The possibility of not distinguishing vowels was determined by the nature of the Semitic languages, in which the meaning of the root is associated with consonants, and vowels express grammatical elements and elements used in word-formation. The new system made it possible to record speech phonetically with a minimum number of easily and quickly remembered signs (letters). A text without vowels and usually without word divisions was difficult to understand, however, except when the content was known to some extent beforehand. This type of writing was more suitable as a cryptographic writing system for merchants and navigators than as a universal means of transcribing speech, and therefore word-syllabic writing systems competed with it quite successfully for more than a thousand years. A cuneiform (Ugaritic) variant of the protoalphabet became extinct as early as the second millennium B.C. A variant of the linear alphabet existed in south Arabia until the seventh century A.D. and in Africa gave rise to the present Ethiopic alphabet with secondary vocalism according to the Indian principle.

The Phoenician linear protoalphabet proper was adopted in its original form in Asia Minor, giving rise to alphabets of Asia Minor that died out early in the Common Era. In Greece and Italy its adoption led to the development of the Western alphabets as described below. The protoalphabet spread throughout the Middle East in a cursive form developed for Aramaic, an ancient Semitic language related to Phoenician, thus giving rise to the Eastern alphabets (Figure 9 and 10).

Eastern alphabets. The alphabet that, together with the Aramaic language used in the bureaucracy, spread throughout the Persian Empire of the Achaemenids between the sixth and fourth centuries B.C. led to the creation of numerous local variants from Asia Minor to India. The most important were Syriac Aramaic writing and Square Hebrew, which was originally used for religious books. A special variety of Aramaic cursive with supplementary superlinear and sublinear diacritics provided the basis for Arabic writing. Relatively early in the history of Phoenician writing and the systems derived from it, the systems began indicating the diphthongs [au] and [ai] and the long vowels [ō], [ū], [ē], [ī], [ā]. These sounds were represented—at first inconsistently, but later regularly—by the letters for the consonants [w], [j], [’], and [h]. These consonants are known as matres lectionis (literally, “mothers of reading”). All letters (including w, j,’, and h), when they were not matres lectionis, came to designate consonants followed by short vowels or zero. Short vowels per se are not usually indicated separately in alphabets of Semitic origin, the matres lectionis being used rarely and inconsistently. Only in the Middle Ages, mainly in liturgical books, did all vowels come to be indicated by diacritics above or below letters. In Hebrew writing, vowels were indicated by points and groups of points, in Syriac by points, groups of points, and small Greek letters, and in Arabic and derived scripts by small Arabic matres lectionis. However, vowel points did not come into everyday use in Syriac, Square Hebrew, or Arabic writing.

In the unstable states that emerged in the East after the Macedonian conquest (fourth century B.C.), it became customary in commercial correspondence to write only familiar bureaucratic formulas and certain other words and expressions in Aramaic; the remainder of the text, and sometimes word inflections as well, was written in the local language with Aramaic letters. A secondary system of Aramaic pseudologograms (heterograms) was thereby created; the text as a whole, including the heterograms, was read in the local language. Thus, the Aramaic alphabet in its early bureaucratic form was adapted to Old Persian, which earlier had its own syllabic cuneiform writing, evidently not later than the fourth century B.C. Different cursive varieties were later used for other Iranian languages, including Parthian, Middle Persian, Sogdian, and Khwarazmian.

In the Middle Ages, literacy was concentrated among the clergy, and, consequently, the spread of each alphabet was associated with a specific religion. Square Hebrew spread together with Judaism and is now officially used in Israel for the Hebrew language. Arabic writing spread with Islam and was used for the languages of all Muslim peoples regardless of origin; it is today used for Arabic, Persian, Pashto (Afghan), Urdu, and other languages. Different types of Aramaic cursive, including Nestorian and Jacobite writing, also spread with various Christian sects and Manichaeism. A writing system with Aramaic heterograms spread mainly with Zoroastrianism. Avestan writing, an improved alphabet with vowel letters (a concept apparently taken from Greek), was based on this system and used for the sacred books of Zoroastrianism. The Uighur and Turkic runic writing systems were the most important systems created for the Turks of Central Asia; both were based on Sogdian and Nestorian writing. Uighur writing was later adapted for the Mongolian and Manchu languages, with vocalization partly of the Tibeto-Indic type and vertical writing in the Chinese fashion. The spread of Christianity necessitated the creation of writing systems for the local languages of Transcaucasia. Special alphabets were created in approximately A.D. 400 for the complex phonological systems of these languages; the Armenian, Georgian, and Albanian (Agvani) alphabets used Aramaic characters and Greek orthographic and philological principles.

Western alphabets. All Western alphabets derive from the

Figure 9. Development of Eastern and Western alphabets from Phoenician writing

Greek writing system, which apparently arose in the eighth century B.C., some texts date to the late eighth and seventh centuries. Letters in archaic Greek writing are shaped almost exactly as in Phoenician; only later were the supplementary letters φ, ξ, ξ, ψ, and ω introduced. The writing systems of archaic Asia Minor and Greece originally lacked letters for short vowels. Writing was originally from right to left, as in the Semitic languages, later from right to left and left to right in alternating lines (boustrophedon), and finally from left to right. The names of the Greek and ancient Semitic letters are very similar, and the order of the letters in the alphabets coincides.

A Greek text without vowels is almost unintelligible. To represent vowels, therefore, Greek writing made use of matres lectionis and Phoenician letters that were superfluous in Greek because they stood for non-Greek sounds. Thus, in addition to α, ε ι, and υ, the letters η and o came into use, deriving from the Phoenician ’, h, y, w, h, and ‘. An analogous process took place in the alphabets of Asia Minor, which became extinct at an early date. The written representation of all vowels and not only consonants was a major cultural achievement.

Two varieties of Greek writing subsequently emerged, East Greek and West Greek, differing in the shape and use of several letters. The Classical Greek alphabet, and later the Byzantine, developed from East Greek in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. East Greek later gave rise to Coptic (Egyptian Christian), Gothic, and Cyrillic, the alphabet of several Slavic languages. West Greek formed the basis for the Italic alphabets, including Etruscan (seventh century B.C.), from which the Germanic runes

Figure 10. Genealogical diagram of writing system development. Broken lines indicate probable paths of development or influence.

were derived (third century A.D.). It was from Etruscan, apparently, that Latin writing developed in the sixth century B.C. In the time of the Roman Empire the Latin alphabet acquired an international significance that was preserved as the Catholic Church spread and Western European feudalism developed (Figure 11).

Figure 11. Development of the Latin script

The Latin writing system is used for the national languages of Western European peoples, including the French, Germans, and Poles. Since the phonetic inventory of the various modern Western European languages differs greatly from the phonetic inventory of Latin, national orthographies make widespread use of two- and three-letter combinations to represent one sound (English th or German sch, for example), thus highly complicating the writing systems. The strength of literary tradition has kept some Western European writing systems from undergoing significant reforms for many centuries. In these systems, which include the English and French, a gap has been created between writing and the living and evolving language of the people. Traditional orthography has become the basis of a writing system that no longer adequately represents the modern spoken language, with some letter combinations becoming kinds of secondary pseudologograms.

Figure 12. Diacritics and ligatures used in Latin-based writing systems

In both Greek and Latin manuscript writing, varieties of script evolved over the centuries, including capital script, uncial, half uncial, Caroline minuscule, Gothic, and the humanistic script of the Renaissance. With the introduction of printing, two basic varieties of Latin writing developed: modern roman and antiqua typefaces, based on the humanistic script of the Renaissance in imitation of Roman monumental inscriptions; and Gothic script (black-letter) and Fraktur, or schwabacher, typefaces, which were preserved in Germany until the mid-20th century. In the 19th and 20th centuries, a number of Latin-based writing systems developed in all parts of the world as new bour-

Figure 13. Origin of the Slavic and Russian alphabets

Figure 14. Diacritics and supplementary letters used in Russian-based writing systems

geois nations emerged. Sounds for which the Latin alphabet had no symbols are often indicated by diacritics in such systems, for example, in Czech, Turkish, and African languages (Figure 12).

Slavic writing. A Slavic writing system (Cyrillic) was developed by adding to the 24 letters of Byzantine Greek another 19 letters for specifically Slavic phonemes; the letters π and in were taken from Square Hebrew, and the rest were specially devised. Cyrillic was used by the Orthodox Slavs and, until the 19th century, by the Rumanians. It was introduced into Rus’ in the 10th and 11th centuries at the time of Christianization. It is possible, however, that the Slavs had a writing system even before this. The question of the origin of Glagolitic, another Slavic writing system, and its relationship with Cyrillic has not yet been resolved. Although the alphabets agree almost completely in the inventory, order, and significance of letters, they differ sharply in the form the letters take. Cyrillic had simple and legible letters similar to ninth-century Greek uncials, but Glagolitic had intricate and very distinctive letters (Figure 13). Glagolitic was used primarily by Catholic Southwestern Slavs with a Slavic liturgy and became extinct in the late Middle Ages.

The appearance of Cyrillic letters underwent changes between the tenth and 18th centuries, for example, in late uncial writing (ustav,) simplified late uncial writing (poluustav,) and ornamental ligatured script. The Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Serbian writing systems are based on Cyrillic; added letters include љ њ, ħ, Б, and џ. The Russian alphabet, consisting of 33 letters, is called the Civil typeface to distinguish it from the Church Slavonic typeface (Cyrillic proper), which was preserved for religious literature under a reform of Peter I the Great. The Civil typeface is a simplified Cyrillic in which the forms of the letters are modeled on the antiqua typeface. It went through a number of alphabet and orthographic reforms (1708–10, 1735, 1758,1918) that eliminated all letters not needed to represent the phonemes of modern Russian. Two new letters have been introduced: ft and (optionally) ë.

In the USSR new alphabets have been created for peoples who previously had no writing system or whose writing system was based on a writing system ill suited for their language, for example, the Arabic script. Originally these new alphabets were based on the Latin alphabet, but from the 1930’s they have been based on the Russian alphabet, to which a number of supplementary letters and letters with diacritics have been added (Figure 14).

Writing is studied in grammatology, epigraphy, and paleography.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

What does it mean when you dream about writing?

To be writing or to observe another person writing in a dream may indicate that the dreamer is trying to communicate with someone. It could also indicate that the dreamer himself is trying to communicate with his own conscious self. The term worm is used metaphorically in some common English expressions to represent weakness and sneakiness, as in “he wormed his way into the group” or “what a worm he turned out to be.” The worm also symbolizes bait and rich, fertile soil.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


1. a group of letters or symbols written or marked on a surface as a means of communicating ideas by making each symbol stand for an idea, concept, or thing (see ideogram), by using each symbol to represent a set of sounds grouped into syllables (syllabic writing), or by regarding each symbol as corresponding roughly or exactly to each of the sounds in the language (alphabetic writing)
2. anything expressed in letters, esp a literary composition
3. the work of a writer
4. literary style, art, or practice
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


Writing is a means of communication. In dreams it may be a symbol of communicating with others, but it mostly represents communication with oneself. If you are writing in a dream or reading someone else’s writing, it may be an unconscious effort to become aware of forces or issues in life. Writing is a secondary form of communication. Speaking is more direct and less cumbersome for most. Thus, the written message in your dream may be disguised or may be less genuine than other forms of receiving information from the unconscious. You may be trying to figure something out and this may be the first step in that process.
Bedside Dream Dictionary by Silvana Amar Copyright © 2007 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
Charlotte Woodford's monograph is a major contribution to the emerging literature on convent writing and historical narration in the German empire.
Q: You began writing this book before the 1991 fire in Berkeley and Oakland.
He often would conduct an entire investigation before writing up the results.
They could well serve as inspiration for someone seeking solace through writing about an experience and their feelings as they deal with the aftermath of that experience.
Consider Eric Havelock's contention in Preface to Plato (1963) and in the somewhat less familiar Origins of Western Literacy (1976) that the appearance of alphabetic writing corresponds to a revolution in thinking.
Judgmental words and phrases are not the only elements in writing that set less than a professional tone.
Especially for those writing by hand, what you are writing in can make a difference.
Will, as was discussed at the DCA, dance writing be relegated to specialist journals thirty years hence?
For example, in LaRocque's writing clinic, she told us to keep sentences short, avoid jargon and formula, and cut deadwood and redundancy.
When the next reports are no better, despite all the red ink (and perhaps some verbal "constructive criticism"), the manager reaches for heavier ammunition: repeat the message more loudly, threaten career damage, send the sinner to a one-day writing course.
George Kennan dubbed Garton Ash's approach to writing "history of the present," and Garton Ash accepts the term--taking aim at the academic bias against real-world experience.
Sitting on her porch at her home on New Mexico's Taos mesa under a farflung azure summer sky, Goldberg recently reflected on her 25 years of Zen and writing practice, the divorce that led to Writing Down the Bones, the creative truths her students have come to expect from her, and her realization in her 40s that she wanted to be with women.