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The Evolution of Chat: Stone Scribbles to Swipeable Screens

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The Evolution of Chat: Stone Scribbles to Swipeable Screens

This year, the Oxford English Dictionary has added a slew of new words to the dictionary, from "amazeballs" to "YOLO."

Cue the defenders of the English language, who take these "cray" new words to signal the dumbing-down and ultimate demise of the English language.

But self-proclaimed defenders of language have been bemoaning its decline for hundreds, even thousands of years: "Our Language is extremely imperfect," complained Jonathan Swift in his 1712 essay, A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue. "Its daily Improvements are by no means in proportion to its daily Corruptions."

George Orwell agreed in 1946: "Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way."

But linguists agree there's never been a "golden age" of language.

In fact, if anything, humanity's ability to communicate with each other has improved over time. Linguists theorize that the first spoken language, the mother tongue of all languages today, had a simple vocabulary and grammar system, and was spoken at a slower speed, compared to languages today.

Yet from that one Stone Age dialect, humanity has evolved to speak thousands of distinct languages across the globe. Today we're still discovering new languages all the time, showing humanity's determination to communicate with each other.

Every language in the world is a living thing, ever changing and evolving.

That includes written language as well, first developed from images drawn on cave walls. Back when those detailed pictures started to develop into more of a symbolic shorthand, there were probably language purist cavemen who protested against the decline of pictorial communication.

As much as language has evolved and changed throughout the centuries, it's not going anywhere: Humanity has been using some form of language or other to communicate with each other for thousands and thousands of years. Though the specific medium of communication might change, we'll never stop chatting.


Transcript: The Evolution of Chat

Long ago, communication began with simple drawn imagery. Through the years, we've evolved to more complex forms of communication, and yet thanks to technology, we've shifted back to images as a method of communication.

Drawn Imagery

  • Cave Paintings:
    • The world's oldest date back to prehistoric Spain, thought to be drawn by Neanderthals.
      • Estimated to be older than 40,800 years old.
    • These cave drawings are almost 4,000 years older than the cave drawings found in France.
      • Estimated to be at least 37,000 years old.
  • Hieroglyphics: Egyptian alphabet and decimal system for mathematics
    • Script was developed approximately 4,000 years before Christ.
      • Known to Egyptians as "words of God."
      • Used to decorate the walls of temples.
    • Decimal system of numeration up to a million
    • Day-to-day business was conducted with "hieratic."
      • Picture signs were abbreviated to the point of abstraction.

Oral Communication

  • Language: About 5,000 languages are spoken in the world today.
    • Scholars have linked them together into about 20 families, by shared:
      • Words
      • Sounds
      • Grammatical construction
    • It's theorized that all languages have descended from a single ancestor, with an "original" language.
      • Our ancestors were likely speaking 1 million years ago with a:
        • Slower speed
        • Smaller vocabulary
        • Less complex grammar
    • Linguistic families include:
      • The Romance family includes:
        • Italian
        • French
        • Spanish
        • Portuguese
        • Romanian
      • The Germanic group includes:
        • English
        • Dutch
        • Flemish
        • German
        • Danish
        • Norwegian
        • Swedish
        • Icelandic
      • The Afro-Asiatic family includes 375 total languages, from Africa and the surrounding area, such as:
      • The Sino-Tibetan family includes 403 total languages, from Asia, such as:
        • Mandarin
        • Min Nan (Taiwanese)
        • Loloish
        • Tibetan
  • Telephone: Invented by Antonio Meucci, first demonstrated in New York City in 1860.
    • Originally thought to be invented by Alexander Graham Bell, on March 10, 1876.
      • Bell was the first one able to get a patent.
      • He had access to Meucci's materials.
    • First telephone company opened in July 1877.
      • By the end of the year, 3,000 telephones were in service.
    • The first coast-to-coast telephone line, from New York to San Francisco was operational in 1915.
      • Soon after, systems were installed to connect the United States to other countries.
    • By the end of the 1930s, AT&T® had 15 million phone lines in service.
    • By 1971, there were 100 million phone lines in service.
    • Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP telephone service began in 1995, with a small company in Israel, Vocaltec, Inc.
      • InternetPhone product allowed users to call each other from their computers, using a microphone and their computer speakers.
    • In 1998, entrepreneurs began to market PC-to-phone and phone-to-phone solutions with VoIP.
      • At the end of 1998, VoIP accounted for less than 1% of all phone calls.
        • By 2000, it accounted for 3%.
        • By 2003, it accounted for 25%.
        • In 2012, it accounted for 25.1% of phone services in the United States alone.
    • VoIP is expected to be an $80 billion business by 2017.

Written Communication

  • Stone/Clay carvings:
    • Date back to 3,500 B.C.
  • Letters
    • Paper was first invented in China, in 105 B.C.
    • United States Postal Service (USPS) launched in 1775, with Benjamin Franklin as the first Postmaster General.
    • Income exceeded $1 million in 1815.
    • 76,688 posts offices in 1900
      • 7,129,990,000 pieces of mail handled in 1900
    • 26,670 post offices in 2013
      • 158,384,000,000 pieces of mail handled in 2013
  • Books
    • Movable type with clay begins in 11th century China.
    • Wood-block printing begins in 6th century China.
    • 6th century Chinese engravers mastered art of wood-block printing.
    • First bound book hits the market in 100 A.D.
  • Newspapers
    • Gutenberg's printing press, completed in 1440, helped create the first newspaper printed in Germany in 1609.
    • In 1702, England had the first newspaper published daily; it was called the "Daily Courant."
    • The first patent for the typewriter came in 1714.
  • E-Mail
    • First network email is sent in 1971.
    • Email becomes commonplace for government and military personnel, students and academics in 1985.
    • Widespread Internet access becomes available in 1991.
      • The first email is sent from space.
    • The term "spam" for junk e-mail was added to the dictionary in 1998.
    • Barack Obama becomes the first president to openly use mobile email in office, despite security concerns, in 2008.
    • In 2013, there were nearly 3.9 billion email accounts.
      • This number is expected to hit 4.9 billion by the end of 2017.
    • Email is the "go-to" form of communication in the business world.
  • Texts, aka, SMS (Short Messaging Service)
    • First developed in 1894 by Franco-German GSM cooperation.
      • First message sent in 1992.
    • Limited to 160 characters.
    • Used to communicate between cell phones, PCs, and other handheld devices.
      • SMS traffic is expected to reach 9.4 trillion messages by 2016.
    • Texting Apps: Smartphone apps that allow SMS exchange without paying for texting on your carrier's plan.
      • KIK®: Launched in 2009.
        • Features:
          • Integrated web browser
            • Users can play games
          • Send photos
          • Insert YouTube videos, sketches, Internet memes
        • 100 million users as of November 2013
      • WhatsApp®: Launched in 2009
        • Features:
          • Group chat
          • Send photos and video
        • 450 million+ users
        • April 2014: Daily record of 64 billion messages handled in 24 hours.
          • 20 billion messages sent
          • 44 billion messages received
        • Sold to Facebook for $19 billion in February 2014.
  • Instant messaging (IM): First used in the 1960s, but didn't enter the mainstream until the 1990s.
    • ICQ®: First launched in 1996, and still available today.
    • AIM®: First launched in 1997, and still available today.
      • Dominated the IM market in 2005 with 53 million users.
    • Google Talk: First launched in 2006, now integrated with Google+ and Gmail.
      • Also available on mobile.
    • MySpaceIM: First launched in 2006, to add IM to the social network.
    • Facebook Chat: First launched in 2008, to add IM to the social network.
      • Added video chat with Skype® integration in 2011.
      • Launched in 2011 on mobile devices as Facebook Messenger.

Social Media Imagery

  • Pinterest®: Founded in 2010, the virtual dreamboard allows users to communicate in images.
    • It hits 10 million users by 2012, faster than any other stand alone site in history.
    • 70 million users as of July 2013.
    • Average number of daily pins: 5 million, as of September 2013.
    • As of May 2013, the average user spends 98 minutes per month on the website.
  • Snapchat®: Launched in September 2011, the app allows users to communicate back and forth with nothing but snapped photos.
    • 26 million users in the U.S. as of October 2013.
    • 400 Snapchat "snaps" per day as of October 2013.

Important Figures in Communications' History

  • Johannes Gutenberg: Inventor of the printing press.
    • Started inventing in 1436.
    • Finished the invention in 1440.
  • Alexander Graham Bell: Inventor of the gramophone, photophone, and telephone; a pioneer in voice-to-voice communication.
  • John J. Carty: An early chief engineer for AT&T, Carty made strides in early switchboard technology.
  • AT&T: Established as one of the first telephone companies.
  • Guglielmo Marconi: Played a role in the transformation of electric signals into electromagnetic radiation.
    • Laying the groundwork for wireless telegraphy, radio, and television.
  • Emile Berliner: Invented the Berliner microphone or "loose contact telephone transmitter" in 1877.
    • Helping to expand the telephone industry.
  • William Jennings: Pioneer in the photography industry who's work coincided with the rise of print media.

Thanks to things like Oculus Rift, we'll soon be able to enter augmented realities to play games, which could expand to revolutionize the way we communicate with one another.


KeriLynn Engel

About KeriLynn Engel

KeriLynn has worked as a freelance writer for various websites. She is an advocate for domestic abuse victims and has way too many hobbies.


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