Books : reviews

Peter T. Daniels, William Bright.
The World's Writing Systems.
OUP. 1996

Written language is the most neglected aspect of linguistic study, as the majority of research focuses on historical and theoretical aspects of spoken language. Even studies devoted to writing systems generally place little emphasis on the scripts themselves, limiting coverage to the external history of writing systems. The World’s Writing Systems is the only available work to explore in depth how scripts are applied to individual languages.

Beginning with the ancient Near East and the earliest known scripts, this unique reference documents the history and typology of writing to the present day, covering scores of scripts from around the world—both those currently in use and those now defunct. In more than eighty articles, it explains and documents in accessible terms how writing systems work—how Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese characters, and European alphabets convey meaning in graphic form.

Sections devoted to the scripts of the ancient Near East, East Asia, Europe, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East are introduced with discussion of the social and cultural contexts in which each group of writing systems was developed. Articles on individual scripts within these sections provide a wealth of background information, along with helpful visuals for each writing system: the historical origin of the writing system is detailed, its structure is delineated with tables showing the forms of the written symbols, and its relationship to the phonology of the corresponding spoken language is thoroughly explored. Every major writing system is presented in a passage of text, accompanied by a romanized version, a phonetic transcription, and an English translation. A bibliography concludes each entry.

Presenting the finest and most current international scholarship, The World’s Writing Systems is the only comprehensive resource covering every major writing system. Unparalleled in its scope and in its coverage of the way scripts relate to the languages they represent, this is a resource that anyone with an interest in language will want to own, and one that should be a part of every library’s reference collection.