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John Man's Alpha Beta: How 26 Letters Shaped the Western World PDF

By John Man

ISBN-10: 0471211699

ISBN-13: 9780471211693

Compliment for Alpha Beta
"This publication comes on the excellent second as we rediscover the significance in early studying of cracking the alphabetic code. the tale of ways that code got here into being is an interesting one, and guy is the best author to inform it." occasions academic Supplement

"A richly soaking up exploration, from B.C. to desktops, of the evolution of the main basic characters of our cultural background, the alphabet we quite a bit take with no consideration. John guy writes with a compellingly stressed interest and immediacy. The ever miraculous, exotically distinct narrative in his informative booklet makes it as undryly stress-free as a winning archaelogical dig of 1 of Alan Moorehead s colourful histories of African exploration." David Grambs, writer of The Describer s Dictionary and The Endangered English Dictionary

"Text that's crisp, taut, and as transparent as a bell.... a desirable tale with many a beguiling subplot alongside the way." New Scientist

"Letter excellent the simplest histories and mysteries of our ABC s!" Jeff McQuain, writer of by no means adequate phrases and tool Language

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Extra info for Alpha Beta: How 26 Letters Shaped the Western World

Sample text

Its wave-length (21 cm) gives a unit of distance, its frequency (1420 megaHertz, or 1420 million cycles per second) a unit of time. Using just the two on-off symbols of binary code, these units can spell out numbers of any size. Sagan < previous page page_26 next page > < previous page page_27 next page > Page 27 decided to specify the probe’s origin. Since our Sun has no special traits to mark it out from a billion others, Sagan focused on stellar rarities known as pulsars, super-dense stars that spin at astonishing rates, averaging about twice per second (with the fastest known pulsar spinning 625 times a second).

All messages decay with time and distance. A CD may last longer than a whisper or a smoke-signal, but on geological time-scales even CDs evaporate. It takes a continuous input of energy – like the building of CD cabinets and the application of cleaning devices – to keep channels of communication open and free of ‘noise’. Then there is the code, the form in which the message is couched. Words were out, because all linguistic links would have gone. CDs might encode enough information (though Sebeok’s advice predated computerized CDs) – but who would bet on the survival of electric power, let alone computers, let alone compatible ones?

As an English example, imagine six little images: Easy, especially if you know a little English literature. But try going on with ‘that is the question’. No common image can stand for the sound of ‘that’, because there are no one-syllable nouns that begin with a voiced ‘th’. If you want to continue the game, you have to improvise. You might, for instance, devise a literary version of charades, using a sign for ‘vat’ and another, a so-called determinative, for ‘sounds like’ or ‘rhymes with’. Cuneiform was well suited to record Sumerian, because it was built on a skeleton of syllables and four vowels, modified by prefixes and suffixes.

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Alpha Beta: How 26 Letters Shaped the Western World by John Man


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