Reading the Alphabet

I’m currently reading several library books (See my video post about that), two of the books talk about the actual process of reading and writing with marks on paper. The two books are “The Information” by James Gleick and “The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction” by Alan Jacobs:

It just so happens that I ended up reading these two together in the parts where they both talk about the actual act of reading. In Jacob’s section (he doesn’t have chapters, essayist he) “All in Your Head,” he describes the physical process of moving one’s eyes over paper and processing the text. He claims that our eyes limit our reading speed and that our brains could absorb much more quickly. But later in the book he cautions against reading too quickly, so perhaps it’s a good thing to read slower.

Gleick makes the fascinating claim in Chapter 2, “In all the languages of earth there is only one word for alphabet… The alphabet was invented only once. All known alphabets, used today or found buried on tablets and stone, descend from the same original ancestor.” I find that amazing and a little hard to believe. There are other ways of writing, like writing with pictures as the Chinese do, but he says that using single symbols for parts of sounds is unique in the history of the world. I thought of Korean as a¬†counterexample¬†to his claim because I know that it’s phonetic, but each symbol is a whole syllable, made up of alphabetic parts, so maybe it doesn’t quite count as an alphabet. And I was surprised to learn (from the Wikipedia article on Hangul) that this system of writing is pretty recent. And technically, it’s a “featural” writing system, representing features that make up phonemes, not the phonemes themselves.

Anyway, I recommend these two books so far, even though I’m not finished with them. So I guess for now I recommend at least the first halves of the books.

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