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The Alphabet [Paperback]

David Sacks
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 Oct 2004
There is a story behind each letter of the alphabet. Why is X the Unknown or shorthand for a kiss? Which letter came last, historically, in the alphabet? (J). How did a few squiggles, invented a thousand years ago to denote sounds of a now vanished Semitic language, survive to become our letters today? While China and Japan rely mainly on scripts of ideograms, three-quarters of humanity uses some kind of alphabet. Chinese writing requires 2000 basic symbols (but there's no language barrier), where an alphabet needs typically less than 30. From A-Z, David Sacks provides answers to the most fascinating questions about the way we talk, write and think in a book which will also be illustrated graphically throughout - not just with variations of individual letters but with maps, charts and general narrative images.


Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow Books Ltd; New edition edition (7 Oct 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099436825
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099436829
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 313,031 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'A wonderfully interesting book' -- Guardian

'‘Sacks has elaborate... fun with all the letters' -- New Statesman

From the Back Cover

THIS IS THE STORY OF 26 LETTERS
There is a story behind each letter of the alphabet. How did A become the symbol for quality or the badge worn by adulterers in Puritan England? When did Z - the least used letter in English - become an emblem of African-American Hip Hop culture? Which two letters came last, historically, to the alphabet? (J and V). How did a few squiggles, invented 4000 years ago, survive to become our letters today?
While China and Japan rely mainly on scripts of ideograms, three-quarters of humanity uses some kind of alphabet. Chinese writing requires 2000 basic symbols, with an inventory of 60,000, where an alphabet needs typically fewer than 30.
From A to Z, David Sacks provides answers to the most fascinating questions about the way we talk, write and think, in a book that takes you on a gripping journey through 40 centuries of the alphabet's evolution.
'Sacks' clever, simple idea is to follow the individual letters, one by one. He takes us back in time to find how each came to us and how it gained its special properties...A wonderfully interesting book' Guardian

'A fine book that is instructive and amusing for those who enjoy language as an abstract, and who want to know more about the 4000-year history of the letters of the alphabet' The Times Literary Supplement

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I have the hardback version of this, and it's a fascinating story. Sacks does a very good job of describing how the letters migrated from one alphabet to the next, especially when the journeys are quite complicated. Most enlightening for me was the story of the different handwriting styles that developed during the middle ages, which led to different lower case scripts (uncial, semi-uncial and carolingian minuscule, in particular). Also interesting was the changes in pronunication of the letters throughout the Roman period and into the proto-Romance languages: it's funny to imagine Julius Caesar saying, "wenee, weedee, weekee".

I have a couple of minor gripes: sometimes, with his descriptions of pronunciation, Sacks uses out-of-date terminology, which can be confusing. For example, many of the sounds he describes as "long", eg the "long 'i' of 'mile'" "long 'a' of 'same'" are actually better described as dipthongs as they are clearly composites of more than one phoneme, as would be clear if they wer transcribed using the International Phonetic Alphabet.

In other places, the pronunciation descriptions of other letters are rather suspect to English ears, although perhaps Sacks's descriptions may work better for north-American readers. It is certainly not the case, for example, that in my southern English accent the 'h' in words like 'when' has ANY audibility at all; nor do we pronounce the 'i' in 'fir' as a schwa, but rather with the same long vowel sound as in 'third' (and a silent 'r').

That said, I think that virtually anyone reading this book will find something that interests them and will be left wanting to find out more.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 30 Mar 2014
Verified Purchase
A fascinating book. I am very interested in the development of the various letters and the interesting facts that were mentioned. It was a really interesting read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Totally absorbing 5 Dec 2010
If you have any love of languages, this is a MUST. It is totally absorbing and informative and at the same time presented with great humour. It does explain how the letters, as we know them at present, came to be. Despite the 'dry' subject, this was a book I found difficult to put down and have bought it several times to give as a present.
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