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From latter-day revelation we learn that writing sacred records and the recording of genealogy began with Adam and his immediate family. Adam and the early patriarchs had a perfect language that was both spoken and written. See D&C 107:57; Moses 6:5–6, 45–46; Abr. 1:31. This was an important intellectual ability of the people of God, and was given by inspiration. However, among nonbelievers it appears that there was an intellectual retrogression, so that many peoples subsequently have been without the blessings of a highly cultured spoken and written language. There has been a gradual renaissance in literary things, but nothing yet has equaled the pure and undefiled language of Adam. The promise is, however, that perfection in language and writing will return in the future with the full establishment of the kingdom of God on the earth (Zeph. 3:9; see also Moses 6:5–7).

The English alphabet in use at the present day is derived from that used by the Egyptian priests in the 25th century B.C., the intermediate alphabets in the line of descent being the Phoenician, Greek, and Roman. In the earliest Egyptian writing the symbols used (called hieroglyphs) were pictures denoting ideas or tangible objects; later they denoted sounds, as in modern alphabets. Papyrus (made from the pith of the plant Cyperus Papyrus) was the ordinary writing material. It becomes brittle with age, but there are still in existence many thousands of manuscripts written upon it. Some of the papyrus rolls were of great length; one that has been preserved is 144 feet long. The writing was in a series of parallel columns. A reed pen and vegetable ink were used. In Babylonia books were written on clay tablets or cylinders while the clay was damp, with a sharp-pointed instrument called a stylus. The symbols used were cuneiform or wedge-shaped. Large libraries of books written in this way have been discovered.

In 1887 a very important discovery was made at Tell el-Amarna in Egypt, between Thebes and Memphis, of some clay tablets with cuneiform inscriptions on them. They proved to be the official correspondence between King Amenophis Ⅳ (about 1380 B.C.) and Egyptian governors stationed in Palestine and elsewhere. Jerusalem and Lachish are mentioned by name. This discovery shows that Babylonian writing was used in Palestine 14 centuries before Christ and was the usual medium for official intercourse among the nations of the East. (See Tell el-Amarna Letters.)

It is clear from the Old Testament that the Israelites used rolls (Jer. 36:2, 18, 23) that were made of sheep or goat skin. The Hebrew alphabet was the same as the Phoenician. The words were written from right to left. The oldest existing Hebrew inscription is that of the Moabite Stone. After the return from the Exile the shape of the letters changed somewhat.

The original manuscripts of the New Testament were probably written on papyrus; the earliest copies now in existence are on vellum. Manuscripts written in capital letters are called uncials, while those written in smaller letters and a running hand are called cursives. Uncial manuscripts are, as a class, older than cursives. No uncial is later than the 11th century, and no cursive earlier than the 9th. The oldest manuscripts are written with no breaks between the words and very few stops.

The Book of Mormon presents many interesting insights regarding the problems of writing. See Jacob 4:1–3; Mosiah 1:3–4; Morm. 9:32–34; Ether 12:23–25.