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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating and well told, but dodgy pronunciation, 29 Dec 2007
This review is from: The Alphabet (Paperback)
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I have a couple of minor gripes: sometimes, with his descriptions of pronunciation, Sacks uses out-of-date terminology, which can be confusing.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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