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orion-list RE: Orion-list Writing System -Bib (Part 1)
This is a short introductory bib. It has been restricted to
books in English as texts in German, French, Hebrew, Catalan, etc.,
are hard to come by in the average American or English Library.
Because so much of the earlier work has been superceded, it also
concentrates on more recent texts. Many books on the bib should be
available at major public libraries, but some (of which a number are
essential reading and are marked by an asterisk *) probably may only
be found at the nearest major university library. Some annotation
has been added. There are no books listed for the components of
a writing systems, possibly because it is entry level material in
the field. I was given a small pamphlet on the material by my first
instructor 44 years ago... and have never seen another publication
on the subject.
This seems the logical place to list the components of a writing
system, for a writing system is a 'system' in the precise dictionary
meaning of the word: "A set or assemblage of things connected,
associated, or interdependent, so as to form a complex unity." In
other words, a writing system is composed of a series of sub-systems -
each designed to function as a self-contained unit within the overall
system. These sub-systems are: a finite symbol-set system; a prescribed
script system, a limits system, a mensural system, a size system,
a punctuation system, a comprehension system, a format system, and a
Please bear these points in mind when reading any books on the bib.
*DeFrancis, John. _Visible Speech: The Diverse Oneness of
Writing Systems_. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989.
This is the only book in English on writing systems as
systems; however, he does not cover all aspects.
Symbol Set Systems
*Shoenfield, Joseph R. _Mathematical Logic_. Reading, Mass:
While directed at symbolic logic, Chapter 1 contains
the clearest exposition of what is meant by symbol systems
and bound and unbound forms. (You don't have to read
past Chapter 1, if you don't want to... )
*Hofstadter, Douglas R. "Metafont, Metathematics, and
Metaphysics," in _Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence
of Mind and Pattern_. New York: Basic Books, Inc. 1985.
Hofstadter is probably the best discussion of the problems of
script design to be found outside of professional texts.
Script Design (from the professional point of view)
Lawson, Alexander S. _Anatomy of a typeface_. Boston: Godine, 1990.
Zapf, Hermann. _About Alphabets: some marginal notes on type design_.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1970.
The Impact of Writing:
*Bagnell, Roger S. _Reading Papyri, Writing Ancient History_.
London, New York: Routledge, 1995.
An important book, as Bagnell tackles the idea of isolation
vs. cultural interaction and patterns common to societies.
*Barber, Russell J. and Frances F. Berdan _The emperor's mirror:
understanding cultures through primary sources. Tucson:
University of Arizona Press, 1998.
Discusses, among other things, the scope of ethnohistory, the
reality-mediation model, paleography, calendrics, linguistic
analysis, the interpretation of names, source analyses,
quantitative analysis, visual interpretation, and map
interpretation. A good source for methodological approaches.
*Diringer, David. _The Alphabet, A Key to the History of Mankind_.
2 vols. 3rd ed. New York and London: Hutchinson, 1968.
According to Bright & Wilson (see below), Diringer's is the
only book that has stood the test of time (I agree <G>). Some,
but not all, of his conclusions are off. An invaluable data
Logan, Robert K. _The alphabet effect: the impact of the phonetic
alphabet on the development of Western Civilization_. NY:
While useful, be careful with this one: he looks only at
Graeco-Roman cultures as the source of the "alphabet."
Ullman, Berthold Louis. _Ancient Writing and Its Influence_.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1969.
Dr. Rochelle I. Altman, co-coordinator IOUDAIOS-L email@example.com
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