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Language Visible by David Sacks
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Language Visible

by David Sacks

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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Such a wonderful book of the history of the alphabet. It is both fun to read, and very informative. Strangely, I think this is one of the most concise history of the world - it really shows how the ancient world functioned. From trading to Territory wars. Each time a new group was exposed to the alphabet - it took it and the alphabet was changed to work with the new language. I am also quite amazed at how little time has passed between the very first alphabet users to the current day. This book emphasizes the alphabets continuity - and that many of the letters can be traced back to the first inscription found is completely amazing.

I also enjoyed the stories of each letter - Author Sacks not only explores the history of each letter - but also the meaning of it, in both past and future. For example, why in most languages "ma" and "da" mean mother and father - or why is X a mystery? and what about English vs American Spellings? This is all answered. ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Feb 23, 2013 |
An interesting book on the history of the alphabet. However it does show signs of its origin as 26 essays that appeared weekly as a newspaper column. Each essay is a short self-contained history of a letter of the alphabet with interesting sidebars interspersed through the book. When read one or two at a time they are fine but if read one after another the chapters become a bit repetitive. Still, a good introduction to the beginnings and the changes that have occurred in our alphabet.
  hailelib | Dec 11, 2011 |
An entertaining and informative, if somewhat methodical, trip through the alphabet that traces the historical development of the twenty-six letters that we all know and love. Sacks is good at helping helping readers consider language from a molecular perspective, encouraging us to reexamine the relationship between sound and symbol in ways that most of us probably haven't done since we learned the letters for the first time. I must admit, it'd been a while since I considered how many sounds the letter "e" accounts for, or the close relationship between the "f" and the "v." Reading "The Alphabet" reminded me that proper pronunciation depends on dozens of subtle movements of the mouth and throat that have long since become automatic for most of us. Similarly, most Westerners are so used to the alphabet that it seems unimaginable that literate humans once lived without it. Sacks's book reminds us that the alphabet is not a natural feature of our planet but a tool, one of the most consequential, adaptable, and flat-out marvelous tools ever produced by the human mind. In showing how our twenty-six letters evolved, and how different languages evolved slightly different alphabets to suit their particular needs, Sacks makes us aware of exactly how much we owe the ancient Semites who first came up with the idea of an easily reproducible and endlessly mutable alphabet.

The author seems to sense that he faces a challenge in keeping his reader's attention through twenty-six letters, most of which developed in tandem and consequently have fairly similar histories. While this book is also geared towards readers who wish to investigate the development of just one or two letters, Sacks also works, usually successfully, to vary his telling of the alphabet's development. His tone is often simultaneously learned and humorous, a welcome mix that counteracts his material's tendency to seem too familiar over the course of an entire book. "The Alphabet's" repetition might even be said to have some advantages. It impresses upon the reader the winding path through various cultures that the alphabet has taken to reach us, from the Semitic to the Greek, Roman, and the Medieval to the present day. Sacks is also insightful about the cultural history and artistic potential of each letter and knows enough fascinating trivia about each to, well, fill an entire book. Inevitably, "The Alphabet" becomes a bit of a slog as you reach the end, but this book is recommended both to the curious and to those who seek a more complete understanding of the letters that so many of us take for granted. ( )
  TheAmpersand | Oct 28, 2010 |
Yes it is an interesting look at each letter of the alphabet. It looks at how they changed and shifted over the years and the hows and whys of their usage in different languages.

As an occasional calligrapher though, I did find it lacking in that while he mentions letter shift and changes he really doesn't reflect the materials used with letter shifts. I also had to smile when I noticed him discussing how i as j was often used at the beginning and end of words and I would lay odds that it was because it pleased the calligrapher.

As is to be expected it is Amero-centric but still is intreresting and a springboard for further research. ( )
  wyvernfriend | Feb 26, 2010 |
This is the most entertaining book on the alphabet. Others may be more scholarly, but as a fascinating overview of the present English alphabet and its origins, this gets my vote. ( )
  Kudrun | Jul 2, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0767911725, Hardcover)

Letters are tangible language. Joining together in endless combinations to actually show speech, letters convey our messages and tell our stories. While we encounter these tiny shapes hundreds of times a day, we take for granted the long, fascinating history behind one of the most fundamental of human inventions -- the alphabet.

The heart of the book is the 26 fact-filled “biographies” of letters A through Z, each one identifying the letter’s particular significance for modern readers, tracing its development from ancient forms, and discussing its noteworthy role in literature and other media. We learn, for example, why the letter X has a sinister and sexual aura, how B came to signify second best, why the word “mother” in many languages starts with M, and what is the story of O.

Packed with information and lavishly illustrated, Language Visible is not only accessible and entertaining, but essential to the appreciation of our own language.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:21:05 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"Letters are tangible language. Joining together in endless combinations to represent actual speech, letters convey messages, tell stories, and create newspapers, advertising, and poetry. While we encounter these tiny shapes hundreds of times a day, we take for granted the long, fascinating history behind one of the most fundamental inventions - the alphabet." "David Sacks has embarked on an excursion into cultural history in Language Visible. Clearly explaining the letters as symbols of precise sounds of speech, the book begins with the earliest known alphabetic inscriptions (circa 1800 B.C.), recently discovered by archaeologists in Egypt, and traces the history of our alphabet through the ancient Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and up through medieval Europe to the present day. But the heart of the book is the twenty-six fact-filled "biographies" of letters A through Z, each one identifying its letter's particular significance for modern readers, tracing its development from ancient forms, and discussing its noteworthy role in literature and other media. We learn, for example, why letter X may have a sinister and sexual aura, how B came to signify second best, why the word "mother" in many languages starts with an M, and what The Story of O is. The book also features clever illustrations for each letter, such as Winston Churchill's "V-for-Victory" World War II hand sign, the trademark "N" from the label of Newman's Own salad dressing, and images from rock music and other pop culture." "Combining facts both odd and essential, Language Visible is cultural history at its most accessible and enjoyable."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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