The history and benefits of modern handwriting

From the Latin alphabet to the birth of digitalism

After discussing the beginnings and functions of handwriting, we now take a closer look at how it continued to evolve, from the development of the Latin script through the glorious times of the Gutenberg Galaxy to the dominance of digitalism. To dispel any doubts about the contemporary benefits of handwriting, we will show you how its important physiological effect, amongst other reasons, makes it a vital skill to be learned and practised by present and future generations.

The ancient origins of Latin letters

The earliest ancient Greek inscription was found on a fragment of pottery in Ischia dating back to around 760 BC. Later, the adoption and improvement of the Phoenician writing system resulted in the predecessor of today’s alphabet, which the Greeks successfully introduced in their colonies, dominantly along the Mediterranean coast. It was unique in the way that the alphabet contained not only consonants but vowels as well, using Phoenician consonants not used in Greek, and the most common writing surfaces were papyrus, wax and clay tablets.

It is important to note that the Greek alphabet was not uniform as, in addition to the Ionic script, there was the Euboean script as well. Several letters in the Etruscan and later in the Roman alphabet (D, G, R, S) are derived from this latter script. As an interesting fact, a derivative of the Phoenician script is the Aramaic writing system, which gave rise to the Hebrew and Arabic scripts while the ancient Greek alphabet is the forebear of the above-mentioned Etruscan alphabet, whose descendants, in turn, are the Latin alphabet, the Runes and the Cyrillic script.

After the Romans invaded Greece, they adopted the letters of the Greek alphabet and changed the form of many letters. The present English alphabet also descended from this alphabet although some letters (J, U, W) were added later. The style of the Roman letters depended on their use: they used square capitals in stone carved inscriptions, rounded letters on papyrus and slanted cursive writing in everyday use. In this writing style, letters were also joined.

Today, it seems almost obvious that we use Latin letters but long centuries ago our ancestors developed their writing system. The history of the Hungarian runes dates back long before the conquest of the Carpathian Basin, which is when it started to be gradually eliminated as the conversion to Christianity led to the persecution of artefacts written in Hungarian runes. Nevertheless, the lower classes of the society kept the tradition alive for a long time. The square characters were etched into wood, and sometimes stone, from right to left. As it is written by Zoltán Fűr in his book called A magyar rovásírás ABC-s könyve (The Alphabet Book of the Hungarian runes), ‘many use the Hungarian runes as cryptography as it has happened numerous times in the past. Outsiders appreciate the uniqueness of the Hungarian runes, and even more importantly, they also represent a crucial part of our culture.'

From monks copying manuscripts to calligraphy

After the demise of the Roman empire, the tradition of Western calligraphy was preserved by monks who copied manuscripts, illustrated and bound books. The most beautiful of these scripts was the so-called Carolingian minuscule, which was displaced in the 12th century by the Gothic script, which has remained a uniquely distinct style to this day.

The Gothic script was later replaced by the Italic writing system, which spread from Florence in the 15th century. The copperplate script, also called English roundhand was introduced in the 17th century, which was easy to write and read. Special, fine nibbed pens were used to imitate the fine lines found on copperplate engravings and texts were written without the lifting of the pen.

Even people not particularly interested in the history of writing must have encountered the term ‘calligraphy’, which nowadays is common, in a somewhat incorrect way, used to include all types of old, artistic handwriting. Calligraphy is the art of penmanship, which started to be developed in England at the beginning of the 20th century. It used the Italic style as its basis while also including the aspects of Arabic, Chinese and Japanese scripts where writing is often pursued as a form of art. Calligraphers used a square nib pen, with which they could make both fine and thick lines.

Etelburg DPAF I. fountain pen

Ballpoint pens optimised and patented by László Bíró and modern fountain pens allow more modern and smoother handwriting. As our handwriting is also a reflection of our personality, many people make efforts to develop their style of writing to make their handwriting as clear, appealing and legible as possible.

How does handwriting affect our brain?

It is wrong to believe that the advancement of digitalisation will fully displace handwriting. On the contrary, nowadays the proper teaching of penmanship should be an even greater priority as it allows children to learn visual motor skills that are essentially needed for normal eye-hand coordination, writes Gábor Megyeri, the founder of the Etelburg brand, in his study called Analóg lények vagyunk egy digitális világban – avagy a digitalizáció következményei és lehetőségei kutató és tervezői szemszögből (We are analogue beings living in a digital world, i.e. the implications and opportunities of digitalisation from the point of view of researchers and designers) - MEGYERI, et.al 2019. Many have predicted that the Gutenberg Galaxy would end and handwriting would disappear but as it is so tightly connected to our personality and culture, it will never fully vanish.

Sources:

Megyeri G.; Horváth D.; Cosovan A. Analóg lények vagyunk egy digitális világban – avagy a digitalizáció következményei és lehetőségei kutató és tervezői szemszögből. In Veres Z.; Sasné Grósz A.; Liska F., Eds.: Ismerjük a vevőt? A vásárlás pszichológiája. Az Egyesület a Marketing Oktatásért és Kutatásért XXV. Országos Konferenciájának előadásai. Pannon Egyetem, Veszprém. 2019 ISBN: 978-615-00-58 711–720.

  • Láng Attila D.: Íráskalauz

  • Fűr Zoltán: A magyar rovásírás ABC-s könyve

  • Várkonyi Nándor: Az írás és a könyv története

  • Albert H. Hughes: What your Handwriting reveals

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