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The History of Reading

A Brief History of Reading

Spoken language is a natural, biological form of human communication that is over 6 million years old. Reading is an invention that is only 6000 years old. There simply hasn't been enough evolutionary time, yet, for the human physiology of reading to be perfected.

Speech is Natural ... 6,000,000

Years. Text is an Invention ... 6000 Years.

Aristotle, the world's first psychologist, understood this fundamental difference and relationship between spoken language and written language.

Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience, and written

words are the symbols of spoken words. Aristotle--On Interpretation

Over history, humans have found methods to represent their spoken words with written symbols. The first writing Sumerian logographs from 4000 BC - were simply pictures of objects and activities:

Sumerian Logographs -- circa 4000 BC

Medium Message

In 2000 BC, the Phoenicians developed the first methods to represent spoken language - an alphabet consisting entirely of consonants:


2000 BC--Phoenician alphabet contained consonants only.
In 1000 BC, the first major upgrade occurred in the technology of representing language - the Greeks added vowels to the alphabet. This is essentially the same alphabet we use today - and it is considered one of humanity's greatest inventions.


1000 BC--the Greeks added vowels.
About 1000 years later, in 200 BC, the next major upgrade in writing appeared: punctuation marks. Punctuation was first observed in Alexandrian manuscripts of plays written by Aristophanes.


200 BC--Aristophanes' plays add punctuation.
Yet another 1000 years passed before the next improvement in text, namely the invention of lower case characters by Medieval Scribes.

Spokenwordsarethesymbolsofm entalexperience,andwrittenword sarethesymbolsofspokenwords.

700 AD--lower case
About 1000 years ago, in 900 AD, the last major upgrade in text took place: the insertion of spaces between words. Also developed by Medieval Scribes, this invention made it possible, for the first time, for the vast majority of readers to be able to read silently. Prior to this, most readers had to read out loud in order to be able to read at all. The few who could read text silently without these spaces between the words, like Julius Caesar and St. Ambrose, were viewed as so extraordinary that this ability is specifically recorded in historical records.

Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience, and written words are the symbols of spoken words.
900 AD--spaces between words.

For the past 1000 years, there has been essentially no change in the formatting of text, the technology of spatially symbolizing natural spoken language, whether one considers the handwritten scripts of 900 AD, the Gutenberg Bible of 1500 AD, or the EBook of 2000 AD.

1000 AD

1500 AD

2000 AD

The great reading opportunity of electronic text is that digital content can be read by a machine. This machine readability can be used to analyze text for syntactic structure, grammatical attributes, word difficulty, pronunciation attributes, and the like, and the results of this analysis can then be used to give shape to the presentation of text, using patterns that enable the eye and the mind to work together to build meaning for the reader. The LiveInk method of attribute extraction and varied presentation of text can be automatically performed, and finally transforms Aristotle's sentence into this:

Spoken words

are the symbols of mental experience, and written words are the symbols of spoken words.
2000 AD--LiveInk