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The World's Writing Systems Hardcover – February 8, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0195079937 ISBN-10: 0195079930 Edition: 1St Edition

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The World's Writing Systems + Writing Systems of the World: Alphabets, Syllabaries, Pictograms + Writing Systems: A Linguistic Introduction
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 968 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1St Edition edition (February 8, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195079930
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195079937
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 6.7 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #284,870 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Nearly 80 international scholars, the editors among them, have contributed entries in The World's Writing Systems covering all scripts officially used throughout the world as well as their historical origins, each with an extensive bibliography. Included are tables of alphabets and syllabaries as well as script samples, usually featuring transliteration, transcription, and gloss of the text. The essays are grouped by topics, but a detailed index guides the user to specific terms or languages desired. There is even a section with entries treating notation systems used for music and movement. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems is arranged in dictionary format without an index, but with a substantial bibliography. Coulmas's (Writing Systems of the World, Blackwell, 1989) coverage is not nearly as comprehensive as the Oxford publication. In the article on the Cree Syllabary all scripts are mentioned, but tables are not provided for Inuktitut (Inuit language) or Chipewyan. "Gothic" script is discussed with only incidental reference to the term Fraktur, for which an interesting history is provided in the Oxford work. This, however, does not mean that the Coulmas encyclopedia is not a useful reference tool. Both publications are recommended for most reference collections, but The World's Writing Systems is clearly the more technically detailed. The determining factors for purchase will be price and needs of library clientele. There is a third choice for public or school libraries with limited resources: Akira Nakanishi's Writing Systems of the World (Tuttle, 1980). This inexpensive (pap. $14.95) ready-reference tool concentrates on modern languages and their scripts, with examples from newspapers, a color map of world writing systems, an index, and a bibliography.?Edward K. Werner, St. Lucie Cty. Lib. Sys., Ft. Pierce, Fla.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Without question the most comprehensive work ever published on this subject."--Times Literary Supplement

"Recommended for most reference collections."--Library Journal

"Divided into thirteen parts from grammatology to printing, it provides succinct and accurate descriptions of all the languages of the biblical world in addition to all others....an unusually informative collection...it will be of great value to those working in Near Eastern and biblical fields and will remain an indispensable tool for scholars and students for many years to come."--Religious Studies Review

"A wonderful book....A valuable contribution to the study of writing and one which will be of great practical use."--Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"A remarkable reference....This volume is the only comprehensive resource covering every major writing system and the way scripts relate to the languages they represent. It is a resource that belongs in every library's reference section and in the personal library of anyonw with a deep-seated interest in language."--Cryptologia

"Ranging from cuneiform to shorthand, from archaic Greek to modern Chinese, from old Persian to Cherokee, this is the only available work in English to cover all of the world's writing systems from ancient times to the present."--Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society

"It is difficult to imagine that anything more comprehensive will ever supersede this work."--Andrews University Seminary Studies

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 20 customer reviews
A comprehensive and very reliable reference work on grammatology.
Piotr Szymczak
The "World's Writing Systems" is a rare event for in one tome it covers all the ways of writing known to us at present.
Peter West
I cannot recommend highly enough to anybody curious about this book to get it.
Titan Rodick

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 10, 1997
Format: Hardcover
"The World's Writing Systems" is a model reference work. Its treatment of its subject matter is comprehensive: no language is too ancient or too obscure, if someone worked out a graphic notation for it. Notational systems for nonlinguistic fields such as music, dance, and mathematics are included, as are invented alphabets for such fictitious languages as J. R. R. Tolkien's Quenya. The presentation is clear, both about the basic facts for each system and about the historical lineages of writing systems; the editors aid this clarity by distinguishing among three different styles of "alphabetic" writing--typified by Latin, Arabic, and Sanskrit writing systems. The reader will come away with an understanding of why Chinese writing is not really "ideographic" and of the careful scientific reasoning behind traditional Korean writing. Best of all, the presentation is aesthetically delightful, with fine typographic examples of the many scripts discussed and with long passages in each that are both transliterated and translated. Anyone to whom language is not merely a tool but a pleasure should find this book a delight.
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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Rhetorick on June 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book belongs to a rare category: Reference Works of Art. This massive volume not only brings together an amazing mass of information, but does so in a fantastically attractive manner. The coverage is comprehensive: general articles on the relationship of writing to language, linguistics, decipherment, etc. accompany page after page devoted to every script extant from Egyptian and Chinese scripts to Ogham, Cree, and Mandain. If that were not enough, the book goes on to explore other systems for conveying information in written, symbolic form, such as mathematical and musical notations. But enough with the table of contents. I've only used the book for browsing thus far, but this even is a rewarding experience. The price on this book is quite high, but is in proportion to the quantity and quality of the material it contains. If all books were so well done, there would be very little to debate in terms of the effort put forth by writers and the taste exercised by editors. It doesn't get any better than this.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By magellan HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Exceptionally well researched, documented, illustrated, and well-written reference work on 80 of the world's writing systems. I don't know if they're all here, but they include extinct languages such as Egyptian and Gothic, as well as modern ones that are still alive. Alphabets as diverse as the Cree syllabary and Korean phonetic alphabet are discussed, as well as phonographic and ideographic systems such as Egyptian and Assyrian cuneiform.
Much of the information in this book relating to the history and development of various writing systems can be found in Encyclopedia Britannica and Encarta articles on various languages and language groups, but the actual writing systems are usually not shown, which is where this book comes in. This book lays them all out under one cover. However, the Britannica articles are especially impressive from the standpoint of the comparative philology and historical linguistics, so you might want to consult those articles too for that information, especially as the Britannica CD is only a fraction of the cost of this book.
In addition to the real languages covered, this book even covers musical notation, body movement, and Tolkien's invented language for Middle Earth. Despite the cost, this is an extraordinary reference work on writing systems that will probably become the definitive work in its field.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Piotr Szymczak on February 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A comprehensive and very reliable reference work on grammatology. It is organized into separate easy-to-find sections, each devoted to a single writing system or a family of related scripts, and written by a specialist in the field. The book covers practically every known writing system, listing the established facts about its origins, variations, and development. Sign tables are presented (in full for alphabets, representative samples for syllabaries and logographic systems), and each section is provided with a priceless bibliography. Good editing work, the sections follow a similar pattern, which makes the book easy to use. The scripts are presented meticulously and are a pleasure to behold (it must have been a staggering job from the publisher's point of view). High scholarly standards are maintained throughout, and the precise technical language is balanced with an unobtrusive sprinkling of interesting anecdotes. This book is as beautiful as the Italian Carolingian Minuscule.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By John A Lee III on April 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
For many years, I thought I was interested in languages. I suppose I am since (before a brain tumor) I was literate in 8 and could pass in another 8 or so. It wasn't the languages that interested me so much as the writing systems. This is the book that made me realize that several years ago.

Most people would consider this to be a refference book. So it is but anyone intersted in the different types of scripts will enjoy reading it straight through. It enumerates and explains almost all writing systems of note including both those that are extinct and those that are extant. For each, the system by which sounds are transmitted to a graphic medium are explained. This necessitates some basic linguistics but the text provides all that is needed.

Scripts of historic interest are explained in the same manner and so is the method of their decipherment. This alone would make it an interesting book to me but there is so much more.

A person who is interested in writing and writing systems would be hard pressed to find a better book.
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