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The Alphabet Effect: The Impact of the…

The Alphabet Effect: The Impact of the Phonetic Alphabet on the…

by Robert K. Logan

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This is a curious book, it made me thinking, and also left me wanting to learn more.

The premise of the book is that the use of the phonetic alphabet led to a paradigm shift in human culture among Western Europeans, that left behind the rest of the world. "The use of repeatable, fragmented, identical elements, the letters, which began with the introduction of the phonetic alphabet is an an example of such a paradigm. The extension of this idea resulted in the development of codified law, monotheism, abstract science, and deductive logic."

I want to learn more about the development of science in China. There are a number of reference to Joseph Needham's epic work Science and Civilisation in China, which currently comprises 27 volumes. Logan primarily refers to Volume 2: History of scientific thought - which I should like to read and understand. Logan uses Needham's work to support his premise that phonetic alphabets led to abstract science and that pictographic languages do not enable the development of abstract science. Logan left me wanting to learn much more, I certainly was not convinced that his hypothesis is supported based on his research.

I don't believe that the phonetic alphabet led to the development of monotheism. Logan points out that the Greeks were the first to perfect the phonetic alphabet by adding vowels. Yet, the Greeks were polytheistic, as were the Romans.

This book does assemble a lot of interesting facts and data, which are flying together in loose formation. I think that the development of codified law, monotheism, abstract science, and deductive logic can not be explained as simple offshoots of the development of the phonetic alphabet. I believe the development of each of these areas in much more complex. In particular, mathematics must lie at the origin of abstract and deductive logic. I resonate with a quote that Logan uses:

Philosophy is written in this vast book, which lies continuously open before our eyes (I mean the universe). But it cannot be understood unless you have first learned to understand the language and recognize the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and the characters are triangles, circles,and other geometrical figures. Without such means, it is impossible for us humans to understand a word of it, and to be without them is to wander around in vain through a dark labyrinth.
(Galileo Galilei, Il saggiatore, 1623.) ( )
  brewbooks | Jul 25, 2010 |
2063 The Alphabet Effect: The Impact of the Phonetic Alphabet in the Development of Western Civilization, by Robert K. Logan, Ph.D. (read 11 Mar 1987) I don't know if this is a successful book. It seems to be just thrown together, with a few stray ideas put forward as profound. It purports to discuss the impact referred to in the subtitle. It discusses the way the alphabet began and how important it is, and how abstract thinkers use it, whereas the Chinese never have, and goes on and on. I didn't think much of the book. ( )
  Schmerguls | Jul 29, 2008 |
Dr. Logan's clear and interesting writing style made this book a pleasure to read. You don't often think of the phonetic alphabet as an invention--in fact, it's so fundamental that you hardly think of it at all. But Logan explains how it is intrinsic to Western abstract thinking, and how it informed everything else we know. This book was fascinating! ( )
  I-Hate-Reading | May 21, 2008 |
Best than average, and with an interesting thesis. ( )
  ebethe | Nov 9, 2007 |
Alphabetic writing is logical and other writing systems are not. Starting from here, Logan took every possible turn in the wrong direction to build the worst kind of Whorfian argument. I am sure Sapir and Whorf would disagree with Logan completely. ( )
  garyfeng | Jun 14, 2007 |
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