You must have read about the Theory of Evolution put forth by Charles Darwin. Darwin developed the theory ‘Survival of the Fittest’. As humans evolved and pro­gressed, they devised equipment and methods, by which their lives could become more fruitful and comfortable.

In order to progress, you need to communicate. One of the earliest methods of communication was, of course, writing. Humans could speak and think. What then urged them to write? Before we move on, answer the following questions:

  • Do you think it is important to communicate? Why?
  • With whom do you communicate? What do you communicate?
  • What are the various means through which you communicate?
  • Which is the most effective means of communication?

Have you ever locked yourself in an empty room which has no paper or pen, no television, no radio, no telephone, no books, no computers? How, do you think you would feel after an hour?

Humans felt the need to remember things that were important to them—such as the number of deer they had stored away, or the num­ber of days between one full moon and the next. They needed artificial aids to help them remember just as you need a pencil and a notebook to jot down a friend’s address or the day’s homework at school.


In fact, before humans discovered that they could write, they had start­ed using all kinds of devices to assist their memory. These unique, odd aids were practically the first steps towards writing.

Tree trunks or poles were chipped with marks every day to make a sort of rough calendar. This helped people to keep track of the seasons.

For shepherds, the simplest way of keeping count of sheep was with the help of pebbles in a sack!

The Incas of South America used knotted ropes known as ‘quipu’ to remember things. The strings were dyed in diverse colours. Red meant ‘war’, ‘soldiers’. Yellow meant ‘gold’. And five yellow knots came to mean ‘five gold pieces’!


Some people used sticks with notches to represent different things. Often these were explained to a messenger. ‘Tally’ sticks were also used. These had notches on them to indicate money owed. Each person in the deal kept a piece of stick. These fitted together or ‘tallied’ to prove that nobody had cheated

Even today, some of our communities like the Santhals tie one or more knots in a piece of cloth or at the end of a sari to remember things. Each knot is untied as the object it stands for is accomplished.

With the passage of time, as people needed to remember more and more things such aids became more elaborate. They preceded ‘picture writing’, which was the second stage in the growth of writing.

Symbolic Writing


Early humans used the rocky walls of their caves to draw geometric patterns and crude pictures of animals, birds and hunting scenes. The pictures were like a series of clumsy strokes made with a pointed stone. They probably ‘wrote’ on tree bark, bones and flat stones too.

With time, as people became more civilised, their simple drawings began to take on more meaning. A picture of the sun came to mean a day. Two marks next to the sun would mean two days. Two feet meant walking. And you can guess what an eye with drops falling from it would mean- crying or sorrow! These pictures were not connected with any particular sound of a language yet. They just stood for certain ideas in people’s minds. They are called ‘ideograms’, and they could be understood by anyone any­where.


Many centuries passed. Humankind’s accumulation of wisdom and know­ledge made it necessary to record this in more complex picture signs. Old pictures began to be grouped together now for new ideas like a ‘tree-house’. Undoubtedly, they were becoming more difficult to understand, but this was an important step in the direction of alphabet writing.


With long use, these pictures became simpler and faster to write—until a couple of lines meant ‘tree’ or ‘house’. Thus the writer no longer had to draw the whole picture.

People did make mistakes in understanding pictures. For example, if a person left a message for his or her friend in picture writing, the friend could think it meant something else altogether.

Picture writing posed another difficulty too. It was nearly impossible to create and remember signs for thousands of words and names, as human vocabulary grew.

Many, many hundreds of years later images began to represent sounds instead of actual objects or ideas. ‘Five sheep’ could now be expressed by two symbols corresponding to the two words instead of by five separate pic­tures of sheep. Thus the spoken language and written symbols began to be related. This was also the beginning of ‘phonetics’ or signs which repre­sented the sounds of speech.


At first, ideograms were used along with the signs that stood for certain sounds. From here, people around the world began to shape writing into their own scripts. Distinct civilisations like the Sumerian and the Babylonian, the Harappan, the Egyptian, the Hittite, the Chinese and the North and the South American created scripts for their own ways of writ­ing.

Thus the art of writing grew, though the pace varied. Mankind finally reached the last stage in the creation of a script by using syllables (units into which a word may be divided) and alphabets. No longer was there a firm visible connection between sounds and letters or signs. The new let­ters or signs did not mean anything by themselves but could be used together in all sorts of ways to represent words. These sets of new letters were called alphabets. The letters were further divided into consonants and vowels.

A combination of vowels and consonants made the words sound easier and hence learning became an enjoyable experience.

As people became more sophisticated, they improved their writing form by introducing spaces between words, creating punctuation marks and para­graphing. Artistic forms of writing came to be conceived, which we call ‘cal­ligraphy’.