Written Language – Concept, characteristics and examples

We explain what written language is, its elements, importance and other characteristics. Also, differences with oral language.

written language
Writing was one of the great inventions of mankind.

What is written language?

When we speak of written language, written language or written communication, we generally refer to the transmission of verbal information through writing technology, in its different possible physical supports. In other words, we refer to the transmission of a written message from a sender to a receiver, thanks to some verbal language registration technique.

Writing, as we know, was one of the great inventions of humanity, which allowed messages, data and instructions to be saved for much longer than the time necessary to transmit them orally. A) Yes, writing is a way to make speech last, going to different types of inscriptions on a physical support.

In fact, the first forms of writing (cuneiform writing) appeared on clay tablets, on which what needed to be recorded was engraved with a sharp object. Later on, leathers of animal origin, vegetable fibers, papers of different kinds and, in recent times, the electronic screen and word processing software were used.

In other words, writing is a human technology, and that unlike speech, it is not natural and spontaneous in the species. In fact, the writing was created around 3,300 BC. C., when the civilization already had tens of thousands of years of existence.

This is precisely why we first learn to speak and then to write (and not the other way around), since writing, as defined by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), is “a second system of representation of thought”: that that we think we represent first in sound, and then in graphics that in turn represent those sounds, that is, writing.

Characteristics of written language

Broadly speaking, written language is characterized by:

  • It is artificial and learnedIn other words, it is not innate nor is it part of the capacities of the species, but rather it was an invention of humanity.
  • It consists of a visual record of speech. This means that it is a representation of speech through graphic signs.
  • It is long-lived, durable, can be preserved intact, depending on the physical support, over days, months, years or centuries. Thus, you can communicate to people separated by large dimensions of time.
  • Is indirect, since sender and receiver do not have to share a space or see each other’s faces, but they can deal with the message each on their own.

On the other hand, it can be of the type:

  • Manual: made with your hands.
  • Printed: made by printing.
  • Digital: made by computer.

Importance of written language

written language importance
Written language has allowed communication over great distances for centuries.

Written language is fundamental in the history of humanity. On the one hand, his invention allowed people to communicate over geographic or temporal distances.

Secondly, allowed to preserve knowledge in a much more efficient way, massive and durable than ever: before the invention of writing, knowledge had to be memorized and transmitted from generation to generation, orally, suffering losses, transformations and corruptions in the process.

Instead, writing allowed margins of fidelity unprecedented for its time, and forever changed the way we understand knowledge. Thanks to writing, knowledge could be accumulated in books and libraries, available for future generations, who in turn would write more books, in order to multiply human knowledge throughout the centuries.

Elements of written language

Written communication requires the linguistic elements of any other form of verbal communication, such as:

  • Transmitter, who starts the communicative process coding and writing the message, either through pencil and paper or other writing technologies.
  • Receiver, who reads the written message and decodes it to understand it. In this case, we can call it “reader”.
  • Channel, the physical medium that contains the sender’s message, which in this case can be any inscribable surface (clay, paper, wood, etc.) or any electronic screen that allows digital writing.
  • Message, what is said, the set of information encoded by the issuer. The content of the written text.
  • Code, the language in which the writing was carried out.

Examples of written language

Examples of written language are:

  • Shipping an email from one digital box to another.
  • A book, written by its author and read centuries later by an unknown reader.
  • The reading of an advertising brochure on public roads.
  • The intimate diary of a teenage girl in love.
  • Writing of a personal letter to send it by post.
  • The inscription of a message of help on some surface visible from afar.
  • Hieroglyphs that appear at the base of the pyramids of Egypt.
  • The instruction manual to run a washing machine.
  • A poem, a story, or an essay published in a magazine.

Difference between oral and written language

Oral language and written language differ in many things, despite being our main ways of communicating verbally, that is, that both consist of the use of words belonging to a code (language) shared between sender and receiver.

We know, for example, that speech existed before writing, that is, human beings first learned to communicate orally and then, due to the pressures of their existence, was forced to invent different types of durable record that could contain information beyond the moment and the immediate.

In summary, the differences between oral language and written language are:

It is natural: the human being is born already empowered for speech.It is artificial: we must learn to write, since it is a human technology.
It is face-to-face and direct: it requires that the sender and receiver share the same space (except with the help of technology).It is not face-to-face: the sender and receiver may be at a great distance or even at different times. Thus, communication occurs indirectly.
It is ephemeral: it is lost in time and cannot be recovered.It is durable: a written message can spend centuries waiting for its recipient.
It is bi-directional: it allows the sender and receiver to quickly and easily exchange their roles.It is unidirectional: sender and receiver rarely exchange their roles.
It is improvised: we generally say at the very moment we speak what we think.It is planned: before writing, we usually think about what we want to say and how, to achieve the desired effect.
It allows correction, clarification and explanation, since the sender is present at the time of receipt of your message.It does not allow correction, clarification or explanation, and that is why once the message is written, we do not know how it can be interpreted by the receiver, since the sender will not be there by his side when he reads it to explain what he meant.