Books et al.LINGUISTICS

Alphabets and their origins

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Science  20 Nov 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6519, pp. 919
DOI: 10.1126/science.abf4509

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Summary

Was there a single origin, circa 3100 BCE—either cuneiform in Mesopotamia or hieroglyphs in Egypt—or did writing arise in multiple places independently? When and how did Chinese characters, first identified on Shang oracle bones dated to circa 1200 BCE, originate? And what prompted the invention of the radically simple alphabetic principle, circa 1800 BCE, in a script that contains certain signs resembling Egyptian hieroglyphs? The Secret History of Writing—a BBC television series broadcast in three parts, two of which have been adapted as NOVA's A to Z: The First Alphabet and A to Z: How Writing Changed the World—explores these questions and more. Both versions of the series are intelligent, articulate, and visually imaginative, discussing five millennia of writing—by hand, by printing, and by computer keyboard.

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