Later Language

The Development of Written Symbols


Remember the Greek Alphabet, the story of the Ox and the House and how it all came down to us, eventually we were given the Sandpaper letters.  When I told you the story I said that some people wrote on the barks of trees, some wrote on clay, others wrote on stone, some people wrote on leather and some even wrote in sand. 

We know that the Sumerians had a kind of writing called ‘Cuneiform’, 

Show a chart with Cuneiform

Cuniform is is Latin for ‘wedged shape’, we know they pressed these strokes into clay tablets and either baked them in the sun or in an oven, we have some of them today.


We spoke about the Egyptians and their writing, 

Show a chart with Hieratics

The Greeks called the Egyptians writing Hieroglyphics, because they thought it was only used for ‘Holy Writing’ which is what the word means.  In fact the Egyptians had two types of language, one was Hieratics, a type of writing the priests used to describe on buildings and monuments, but the problem was not everyone could read it, it was very complicated.  The other writing they had was much simpler.

Show a chart with Demotics

It was used by ordinary people to do everyday things, it was written on papyrus with reed pens.  It is called “demotic’ writing.

Remember we said it was Phoenicians who invented the Alphabet?

Drawing on the board – writing a short phrase omitting the vowels

Can you read this? The Phonecians had twenty two signs for the sounds of their language, they didn’t have any vowels because in their language they could communicate without them.   Because they could write quickly they could keep really accurate records. What does it remind you of (how parents might text)


The early Greeks wrote in a language called ‘boustrophedon’ which means it turns as the Ox does in ploughing, they used the sound-signs from the Phoenicians and added the vowels.

Show a chart of Roman Writing with vowels

The Romans took the Greek Alphabet and changed it to suit their needs.  They carved letters on stone so that their beautiful writing could last forever.  They wrote all in capitals.

Show a chart with Roman writing with many letters, which shows capitals throughout

Now, Something very special came from Ireland, the monks their learnt the Roman Alphabet and they spent a great deal of time in their Monasteries writing beautiful scripts, mostly, the writing they did was sacred writing, they made it as exquisite as they could because it was about religion.  They used their books in churches and wanted to take some with them when they travelled so that they could teach others what they believed.  The writing became smaller and rounder so they could decorate it and write lots in a small space, this writing was called minuscules, it was learnt by Alquin of York, who took his letters to the court of a famous Emperor Charlemange, who was very interested in learning, he asked Algin to teach this beautiful writing to scholars in Tours in France.  The writing was then called the Carolingian Hand, named after the Emperor.  

The scholars went back to their own countries and made more changes, in this way each country developed a ‘National Hand’, such as Gothic and Italics developed.

Show charts with Calligraphy, Gothic and Italic writing

Do you know something, we can learn a new style of handwriting,would you like to do that?  It is called Calligraphy.  It means the art of beautiful handwriting.




 Notes on the story of the development of written symbols

Material Description:

Six charts, access to a thick pen and large paper


Appeal to the second planes child’s imagination in relation to language.

Helps to arise an interest in written language

Puts the child in touch with humanity



Make a connection with the children’s own country and any aspects they are interested in from the ‘Story of Communication through signs’, this story is developed for Irish children.

We show that once written language came into began it continued to develop.


When to give the lesson:

This comes after the ‘Story of Communication through Signs’ in story form with a small group of older, interested children.


Follow up work:

Teach beautiful writing

Have beautiful books available

Have examples of beautiful writing, especially some which originate in your region.


Follow up work for children interested in Printing:

Making paper, books

Visits to museums, publishing houses and libraries

Block or vegetable printing

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