Anyone who has the slightest interest in the way that our alphabet has evolved will find something to fascinate them in this scholarly but very readable book. Among the many questions that David Sacks answers is why the letter C is sometimes said like S and sometimes like K, why Americans say Zee for Z while we British prefer Zed, and why Q is always followed by U.
Quite the most intriguing part of his story is that the alphabet (and that includes the Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, and Cyrillic versions as well as our Roman one) was actually invented only once. Carvings found on rock faces in Egypt in 1999 seem to confirm that the first version was developed by Semitic peoples employed by the Egyptians about 2000BC, perhaps as soldiers or labourers. It is likely that it was based on the ideas behind hieroglyphics, though not on any of the actual symbols of that ancient writing system.
After some preliminary remarks, Mr Sacks takes each letter in turn, describing its evolution through the various alphabet systems and illustrating how the shape of the letter has changed over time. He also explains some of the associations that each letter has had to people of the past and of today.
[David Sacks, Language Visible, hardback, pp395; published by Random House under the imprint of Broadway Books in the USA and that of Alfred A Knopf in Canada, ISBN 0-676-97487-2; publisher’s price in the USA $24.95, in Canada CDN$39.95. Published in the UK by Hutchinson under the title The Alphabet, with ISBN 0-09-179506-0.]