It began with the Phoenicians. Most written languages now use their invention— a phonetic alphabet. The invention of alphabetic writing escorted an influential theory of language onto the intellectual stage. Aristotle expressed the basic outline of that theory, which has since dominated Indo-European views of language:

Now spoken sounds are symbols of affections in the soul, and written marks symbols of the spoken sounds. And just as written marks are not the same for all men, neither are spoken sounds. But what these are in the first place signs of—affections in the soul—are the same for all; and what these affections are likenesses of— actual things-are also the same.

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