Before written alphabets, people used pictures to tell their stories ©Getty Images

Before written alphabets, people used pictures to tell their stories ©Getty Images


Before the alphabet that we know today, people drew pictures on cave walls or on animal hides to tell about their lives. Later, systems of symbols representing people, places or things were invented. People carved the symbols onto rocks, stones or shells. 

The ancient Egyptians carved symbols to represent words. ©Getty Images

The ancient Egyptians carved symbols to represent words. ©Getty Images

Wedge-shaped marks in clay was an alphabet for cuneiform writing. Getty Images

Wedge-shaped marks in clay was an alphabet for cuneiform writing. Getty Images

 

One of the best examples of a system of symbols was found in Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians used hieroglyphs. Symbols were also used to stand for the gods, water, buildings, food, and other features of daily life. The hieroglyphs represented whole words, not just sounds.

The first alphabets

Some historians believe that people known as the Sumerians were the first to use a written language, about 5 000 years ago. Their alphabet and writing was known as cuneiform (say: koon-ee-form) and is wedge shaped marks made in clay tablets. A blunt piece of reed was used to make the marks and was called a stylus. Each wedge shape represented a sound and could be used to spell words. 

Chinese caligraphy uses symbols for words and ideas ©Getty Images

Chinese caligraphy uses symbols for words and ideas ©Getty Images

Others claim that the Chinese and Indians had the first written language.  The Chinese written language is a mixture of single-sound symbols and symbols that represent a word or an idea. Still others say that the idea of an alphabet, where one symbol stands for only one sound, was first used in ancient Egypt about 4000 years ago.
People who traded and fought against the Egyptians spread the idea of an alphabet to other places around the world. 

The ancient Greeks created their own alphabet and so did the ancient Romans.

Learning to write our modern alphabet ©Getty Images

Learning to write our modern alphabet ©Getty Images

Soon people began joining letters together to make words. The Anglo-Saxons began using Roman letters to write Old English. Our modern alphabet is based on it.