When I was little I loved to look through volumes of our World Book Encyclopedia. I was fascinated by the overlays of the human body that showed how the muscles, bones, and organs all fit together. I pored over the maps, puzzling out pronunciations of faraway cities. And I loved to look at the first page of each volume where the evolution of that letter was shown. It amazed me that some of the changes were barely noticeable while others seemed to have no connection to the letter that came before it.
How could I have known then that I would spend my life awash in those letters, teaching them to countless children, reading books filled with the words they create, and using those words to fashion my own writing. I can’t imagine my life without this precious gift.
Today, for Teachers Write! Tuesday quick write, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater suggested that we thank a stranger. So I’d like to say thank you to those anonymous Sumerians (or Egyptian or Chinese; apparently there’s now some debate) for inventing writing. Although no one knows if this miracle occurred in a single ah-ha moment, or, more likely, as the culmination of earlier skills and ideas, it doesn’t really matter. Our world was forever changed. The cuneiform writing system the Sumerians developed seemed like magic. Indeed, it was thought to be “a gift from the gods.” (Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid, p. 43) Suddenly our fleeting thoughts and lasting feelings could be captured and recorded for posterity.
Writing made the world as we know it, for better or worse, possible. Without it, there would be no Shakespeare, no Saturday Evening Post, no Sunday comics. Thank you, Sumerians, for your endless labors. Your gift to humankind is immeasurable.