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Writing Systems: A Linguistic Introduction Hardcover – 30 Jun 1985


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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.


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  • Hardcover: 235 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press (30 Jun. 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804712549
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804712545
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 2.3 x 23.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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"This book is a readable, non-technical discussion of the nature of scripts as linguistically structured systems. It sensibly discusses the general issues concerning the relation of script to language, and concerning historical change in this relationship. . . . Sampson's research is unique among recent books in the extent to which it makes informed use of non-anecdotal psychological research on reading and spelling in addressing issues of script typology and history. . . . This is a book that can be recommended as the best linguistic introduction to the study of writing systems now available." --John Justeson, Language --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 6 July 1999
Format: Paperback
This, years ago, was just about the first book I read on a linguistic topic, and it's still my favorite. It covers writing systems, using such various interesting cases as Korean, Chinese, and Modern Hebrew. I know of no single book that covers so well such a large (and important) aspect of linguistics as this book, nor does it no intelligently. Plus it's fun.
This book does use linguistic terminology, but is totally accessible to non-linguists.
This book is great for reading on one's own, or could be useful as reading in a linguistics course. It should also be required reading for anyone interested in internationalization of software and any other kind of text processing that could involve non-Roman scripts.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4 reviews
60 of 60 people found the following review helpful
The title sounds dry, the contents are not 11 Feb. 2001
By C. Jannuzi - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is the one that got me interested in writing systems as a part of linguistics. If you teach reading or language, the linguistic background this book provides will inform your professional knowledge far more than you can ever imagine. There are basically three kinds of writing systems in use in the world today: alphabetic, syllabic and logographic. Sampson gives sufficient historical background to help you understand how, where and with what languages these types developed. You will find out why the term 'ideograph' does not really accurately refer to any writing system in use. You'll learn how Egyptian hieroglyphs actually worked. And you'll be surprised to find out how reading Japanese is somewhat similar to reading ENGLISH!
This book is in itself an education in linguistic background knowledge that non-linguists don't usually have, but don't worry, Sampson is such a clear writer and excellent teacher, that the non-specialist can usually follow the discussion without stopping.
If you have an interest in language and languages for personal or professional reasons, this book will greatly enrich your life.
A perfect companion volume is the more recent but equally wonderful, 'Story of Writing'by Andrew Robinson (who is book review editor for the Times Higher Education Supplement).
51 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Excellent! Straightforward, clear, and fun! 6 July 1999
By Sean Burke - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This, years ago, was just about the first book I read on a linguistic topic, and it's still my favorite. It covers writing systems, using such various interesting cases as Korean, Chinese, and Modern Hebrew. I know of no single book that covers so well such a large (and important) aspect of linguistics as this book, nor does it no intelligently. Plus it's fun.
This book does use linguistic terminology, but is totally accessible to non-linguists.
This book is great for reading on one's own, or could be useful as reading in a linguistics course. It should also be required reading for anyone interested in internationalization of software and any other kind of text processing that could involve non-Roman scripts.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Great book. 29 Sept. 2014
By Garrison56 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great book for those interested in languages and linguistics. Love this book!
11 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Chinese and English both make "sexist assumptions" according to Sampson 18 Aug. 2011
By Jennifer Ball - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The most important sentence in this book is the one regarding Chinese on pages 164-165: "(Women's liberators might point out the number of cases where words for unpleasant character-traits such as jealousy are written with the 'woman' signific [the word he uses for 'radical']; but the incidence of this sort of thing is no greater than that of comparable sexist assumptions in the spoken English language -- cf. bitch vs. dog, for instance.)"

Sampson is trying to suggest that Chinese is not inferior to English (a funny thought since Chinese has been around for 4,000 years) by pointing out that they both denigrate women (also ironic as a justification). When one finds a pervasive theme running through two disparate cultures, it would seem that this might be an orienting factor for all language: women are denigrated because they are the underpinning of written language. Written language was created to control women and other commodities.

P. 189: "The axiom of Western linguistics according to which a language is primarily a system of spoken forms, and writing is a subsidiary medium serving to render spoken language visible, is very difficult for an East Asian to accept."

This Californian has a hard time accepting it as well. Linguists is the study of SPOKEN language, yet written language is 5,000 years old. If the data is there, why would you not look at it? This refusal to consider the data of written language is a kind of denial.

Page 24: In regards to date nomenclature, and the use of "B.C." and "A.D.", Sampson writes, "Those of us who acknowledge Jesus as the Saviour have more substantial ways of demonstrating our allegiance."

I almost stopped reading the book after this sentence, but I'm glad his inappropriate statement of faith didn't deter me as this book is extremely informative considering how few books tackle an overview of all writing systems. Keep in mind it was written in 1985, and our current ability to compare all written languages via the computer will allow us to see that fertility and procreation were the dominant concerns at the time that Chinese Seal Script, Sumerian cuneiform, and the Egyptian hieroglyphs were created. Humans are animals, and we are driven by animalistic needs. For more info: [...]
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