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Descripción de editorial
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.
Following up on his Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek World, Sacks here delves into the origins of the Roman alphabet. Its beginnings appear to lie with Semitic-speaking mercenaries in Egypt, who borrowed from their overlords' hieroglyphics to create a system of sound-representing signs, many of which survive today in the Hebrew alphabet. Along the way, the Indo-European Greek language borrowed the Semitic alphabet of the Phoenicians, which when transmuted by the Romans gave us 24 of our 26 modern English letters. The bulk of the book offers beautifully illustrated capsule biographies of all 26, including J and V, which did not enter regular usage until the 17th century and were not standardized until the 19th. Beyond initial "A", the Sacks covers the first letters of several of the words for God; M, which begins an extraordinary number of the words for "Mother"; and "O," which requires the most shaping by the lips. There are essays on lexicographers (Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster, among others), on printing, and on how the letter X came to stand for the unknown in mathematics because Descartes's printer was running out of Ys and Zs to print all of the mathematician's equations. Such anecdotes, and the care evinced throughout, make this a demanding gem of popular linguistic history, and any book that includes a chapter called "The Birth of 'V'ness" certainly avoids taking itself too seriously. (Aug.)