By John Man

Compliment for Alpha Beta
"This booklet comes on the excellent second as we rediscover the significance in early analyzing of cracking the alphabetic code. the tale of ways that code got here into being is an interesting one, and guy is the appropriate author to inform it." occasions academic Supplement

"A richly soaking up exploration, from B.C. to desktops, of the evolution of the main basic characters of our cultural historical past, the alphabet we rather a lot take without any consideration. John guy writes with a compellingly stressed interest and immediacy. The ever awesome, exotically precise narrative in his informative ebook makes it as undryly stress-free as a profitable archaelogical dig of 1 of Alan Moorehead s colourful histories of African exploration." David Grambs, writer of The Describer s Dictionary and The Endangered English Dictionary

"Text that's crisp, taut, and as transparent as a bell.... a desirable tale with many a beguiling subplot alongside the way." New Scientist

"Letter excellent the easiest histories and mysteries of our ABC s!" Jeff McQuain, writer of by no means adequate phrases and tool Language

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Extra resources for Alpha Beta: How 26 Letters Shaped the Western World

Sample text

The shepherd nods. Baked in the sun, the clay tablet will make a lasting and unforgeable record. Come to me in two weeks with your sheep, says the priest, and I will give you this clay impression of a sheep as proof that you have fulfilled your promise. If not, you may expect a visit from my extremely large assistant, who, as you know, is nowhere near as patient as I am. Something like this must have been commonplace, for the clay tablets survive by the thousand, and some of the earliest pictures are clear: an ox’s head, an ear of barley, a < previous page page_35 next page > < previous page page_36 next page > Page 36 pig, a donkey.

I hope by now you can see the outlines of a conclusion – that non-alphabetical scripts do not necessarily limit literary flair or emotional responses. Whatever separates the two systems – non-alphabetical and alphabetical – is to be sought in more than the alphabet’s greater efficiency and simplicity. A script’s survival seems to depend more on the nature of the culture, on the materials used and on the determination of its scribes to preserve it and transmit it unchanged down the generations. Let’s see how this idea works out by looking at the second great writing system of the ancient Middle East, Egyptian hieroglyphic.

Some extend the chain back 30,000 years to Stone Age cave paintings and bones marked with scratches. But most agree that something of particular significance happened during the fourth millennium BC, in Mesopotamia. There, two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, watered the rich plains that lay ‘between the waters’ (the meaning of Mesopotamia). Four increasingly complex urban societies – Sumer, Assyria, Babylonia, Elam – created several dozen cities of legendary and biblical fame, like Ur, Uruk, Nineveh and Babylon itself.

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