The first graphic images that evolved into our Western system of writing began with simple shapes that represented a basic vocabulary of objects and concepts. These were Pictograms.
Over time, symbols were developed to express more complex objects and concepts. These were Ideograms.
The third stage in the evolution of written language is the Phonogram. Phonograms represent either syllables (fa-mi-ly) or basic sounds (f-a-m-i-l-y).
Pictograms were disconnected and fragmented drawings of fundamental objects and ideas such as man, woman, fire, food, tree, and shelter. These were combined to form stories, songs, and epics. There was no connection between the spoken word and the object pictured; a Pictogram recalled the object or concept itself to mind, not its name.
Ideograms were simplified pictures selected by agreement or custom to become fixed pictorial symbols of an object or concept. For example, a number of "tree" symbols were unified to make a "forest," or the symbol for man, woman, and child were consolidated into a single "family" symbol. The name of the object (or its action) is closely identified with the picture. All written languages have passed through, or halted, at this stage.
Phonograms were syllabic signs and symbols representing primary oral sounds. As time has passed, they have diminished in resemblance to their original forms, but the letters in modern Western alphabets are the simplified renderings of their pictorial beginnings. The development of efficiency in writing was taking place in a number of countries at about the same time, and it appears that the complete system of alphabetical writing was not the achievement of one particular culture, but rather the work of several gifted cultures of the ancient world. Through trade and travel, alphabetic systems were passed to other societies who altered form and meaning to suit their requirements.