time line of written language

Mark MacKay from the Duopixel blog has made this interesting chronological map of the written systems since 3000BC. Although it’s made in Spanish, it’s really easy to understand for those who haven’t a clue of Spanish (click on it for a better outlook).
Have in mind that the Spanish way of saying BC and AD is AC-DC (Antes y Después de Cristo)

I wonder what is actually written in these samples. Some of them seem to be the name for the language/script in question (like Greek), while for example, I asked some friends, and the Chinese kaishu says Chinese food —or the Arabic says something like “subsequent to those previously mentioned things”.

Interesting how most writing systems trace back to one of the primary civilizations of the world: Mesopotamia. Then we have Egypt, India, China and Mesoamerica — except for Hangul from Korea. Hangul just sits out there by itself, being awesome.

To read about how languages came to be and about approaches to the origin of language, this Wikipedia article poses it quite well.

I am no linguistic myself. So the only way I could verify the complete certainty of this graphic representation was reading some bit more from other sources.
Although most of it is correct and very interesting, some branches turned out to be mistaken or missing. Such as the Chinese one. /u/ghostofgarborg explains us some of these bugs:

Kaishu was certainly not created around 700BC. It starts out with oracle-bone script, which is the earliest predecessor of Chinese, and which was not standardized.
Different forms evolved, and around 200BC, they got uniformed and consistent into what we know as  Small Seal Script, And one of its forms simultaneously developed into Clerical Script.
This script was one of the main sources of inspiration when around 400 years later, 200 AD, Kaishu started developing.
Equally regarding Zhuyin, since it’s only used for phonetic annotation of characters in Taiwan whenever the pronunciation of a character needs to be indicated (in the mainland, pinyin romanization is used instead). It is (almost) never used by itself as a script in the same way the other scripts are, or the way katakana and hiragana are in Japanese.

Among many things I’ve learnt from this graph and the little investigation I had to go though to post this, I find somewhat shoking the fact that the Cherokee syllabary was inspired by the Latin script — not derived from it.

Some other bugs in the graph are that Brahmi is derived from Phoenician, so Brahmi shouldn’t have its own tree.
And many missing scripts — it ignores the South Indian and Insular Brahmic scripts (Tamil Brahmi, Tamil, Malayalam, Grantha, Kannada, Telugu, Pallava, Mon/Burmese, Khmer, Cham, Javanese, Balinese, Buhid, Buginese, etc).
No Ogham from the Irish, no Luwian or Lydian from the Anatolian group of the Indo-European language family either, no Ge’ez or Musnad, no Thai or Laos scripts, no Slavic Glagolitic.

This world map of linguistics shows most important scripsts and languages aforementioned, which are represented gographically:


Behold this other map by Teresa Elms  representing the lexical distance among European languages. Distance should be understood as measurement of how similar the vocabulary is among these languages.

The lexical distance between Portuguese and Irish was the one that caught my curiosity the most. Turns out there is a theory: Iberia has a history of Celtic habitation, much like in Brittany. Celtiberians may have contributed lexically to later Romance language.

And just for the sake of curiosity, here’s a map of Europe with countries labelled in native languages:



  1. Letlow · August 9, 2014

    Wow, I believe I’ve to follow you on twitter after this.


  2. Priscilla · August 14, 2014

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