Today, with just twenty-six letters, we can write a letter to our friends or
answer an examination question. Thousands of years ago, there was no writing
system at all. News, knowledge and information were passed on from one
person to another by word of mouth. If you ever played 'rumor clinic' where a
cognate message is passed from one person to another down
the chain by mouth, you will understand the inefficiency of the system. Messages passed down are
unreliable as the speakers may mix up or lose part of the information.
The first written language was invented by the early cave man. They tied bits of animal hair
together to form brushes and painted pictures on the cave wall, telling their friends about their
hunts. It was after several centuries that different writing systems like the Chinese characters
and hieroglyphs in Egypt were invented. The alphabetical system that we are using currently also
came about only after many decades of development.
Besides alphabets, the invention of writing tools is another major transition. In olden times,
the kind of writing tools used, depended on the material they wrote on. For example, in the
Middle East, where clay is abundant in supply, the early people used hollow reed
'pens' to carve
onto the wet clay tablets. After which, these clay pieces were baked till rock hard to make the
writings permanent. In ancient Egypt, Egyptians either wrote on scraped thin pieces of animal
skins called 'parchment' or flattened papaya stems known as 'papyrus'. Their writing tool was a
primitive kind of fountain pen -- a reed with ink inside.
It was only in the 1880s, that fountain pens were invented. Before that, most people used
either quill pens - sharpened bird feathers or nibbed pens, which were dipped into ink before
writing. Fountain pens invented later have both plus and minus points. With tiny ink tanks in
them, fountain pens are superior to quill or nibbed ones as the ink in them do not run out as
quickly. The disadvantage is that sometimes, the nibs of the fountain pens may break, causing the
ink to leak, staining the writer's fingers.
The flaw in fountain pens has led to further investigation and the successful invention of the
first 'ballpoint' pen by a Hungarian, Ladislao Biro. There were many people after him who tried to
improve upon the appearance of his ballpoint pens. Today, 'ballpoint' pens are conveniently and
widely used in the world.