We take written language for granted because it defines what it means to be literate in our modern world, but it is a part of our technological and scientific progress, no less important than electricity or algebra. The story of how written language developed is complicated, with multiple interconnected threads and missing details, but it is worth thinking about especially as one studies the language of mathematics. As language develops the ability to express increasingly more abstract ideas, its syntax and semantics have to evolve and this is especially visible in modern mathematics. This short video by Mathew Winkler traces the origins of written language and reveals how it’s increasing compactness led to increased power. It might even spark an interest in linguistics and make you feel better about struggling with new mathematical terminology.