How important is written language to the development of human civilizations in general?An Inscribed Oracle Bone and Chinese Characters (1600-1100 BCE) The inscriptions on the oracle bones have...

How important is written language to the development of human civilizations in general?

An Inscribed Oracle Bone and Chinese Characters

(1600-1100 BCE)

The inscriptions on the oracle bones have become very important historical evidence in the study of early Chinese civilization. The oracle bones, known in Chinese as jia gu wen, are either tortoise shells (jia) or ox shoulder blades (gu) with scripted texts (wen). The first oracle bone was discovered in 1889 in An Yang County, the capital of the Shang Dynasty (1,600-1,100 B.C.E.), and so far nearly 100,000 pieces have been unearthed.

It is believed that the original function of the oracle bone scripts was for fortune telling. The scripted bones were thrown into fire, and the priests read the crack signs from the bones and told fortunes. The inscriptions on the oracle bones represent the earliest form of the Chinese written language. Unlike most of the languages in the world, the Chinese language has never evolved from its original pictographic and ideographic structure into alphabetic or syllabic form. It maintained its ancient flavor into contemporary times, due largely to China's long period of cultural isolation. The chart shows the evolution of early Chinese writing from pictogram to ideogram and to phonogram.


Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The only real alternative to written language is oral tradition. While there is a place for that in literature as well as history, imagine all records and accounts of events as they happened being passed on solely through oral tradition.  The result, at least in some cases and perhaps even most cases, would be some mixture of truth and fiction--for who doesn't feel the need to embellish even a good story when it's told in front of an audience.  Beowulf is a good example of this; it's a mix of Anglo Saxon pagan tradition and Medieval Catholic tradition (because of the monks who finally wrote the epic down for posterity).  To your point, then, the written word is essential to knowing and understanding the past--which is crucial in moving any civilization forward.  The only exception to this thinking might be more tribal, isolated civilizations who have limited or no outside influences and pass their history down without writing.  For the rest of us, writing is essential.

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Written language is a means by which the history of a civilization can be passed down to future generations. The ancient Romans were quite cognizant of the importance of the written word for this purpose, so much so that generals such as Julius Caesar employed historians in order to control how their military and other exploits were chronicled.

One can see a similar mindset in former President Jimmy Carter, who has recently published a book about his term in office. It is easy to see in his television interviews promoting the book that he is concerned about his legacy and how it will be viewed by future generations, and his book is an effort to shape that.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator
I would say written language is incredibly important, as it is a fundamental way of communicating, and doing so indirectly and over time. It is a main way civilizations accrue and record their technology, educate their citizens, and keep a historical record. This "collective wisdom" for lack of a better term is a hallmark of many great civilizations. Keep in mind, however, that written language is not essential. Native tribes survived and grew over centuries with no written language, and only oral histories.
litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Just as speaking takes a culture to a new level, writing brings a culture to an entirely new level. Writing gives a culture a sense of permanence. It also has constant practical applications that continue to advance the society. These include records of trade, cultural stability and innovations.
epollock | Student

Writing is greatly important for so many reasons. One has to think of all the knowledge that has been written down through the ages and what people have learned form this knowledge. Without writing students and others can not learn new skills, how to operate things, and how to live in a more convenient way.

krishna-agrawala | Student

I am unable to see the purpose or significance of the supplementary information accompanying the question. Therefore I will answer the main question without reference to the supplementary information.

The development of human civilization is primarily due to development, spread and use of improved technology. This is influenced tremendously by the ability of people to preserve, and communicate with others, the knowledge available with them, Exchange of knowledge in this way helps development and spread of technology in several ways. First, preservation and communication of knowledge enables people to acquire and use technologies developed by people who have come before then and who live in different locations.

Then. the exchange of technological knowledge also enables different people to expand their knowledge much faster, which in turn becomes a facilitator for further and faster development of technology. All form of communication system play an important part in this spread of knowledge across generations and geographical locations. Development of written language was a truly revolutionary development in the area of communication. Prior to this knowledge could be stored only within the minds of people, and it could be communicated from one person to another only by verbal, face to face communication. Writing made it possible to record information outside the mind of individuals. This meant that the knowledge of individuals survived beyond their lives.  It also meant that information once recorded could be accessed multiple times. Writing also enabled individuals to access and use more information than they could remember and recall. In this way written language promoted much faster and wider development of technology. This in turn promoted development of human civilization.