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The Writing Revolution: Cuneiform to the Internet

ISBN: 978-1-4051-5407-9
322 pages
November 2008, Wiley-Blackwell
The Writing Revolution: Cuneiform to the Internet (1405154071) cover image
In a world of rapid technological advancements, it can be easy to forget that writing is the original Information Technology, created to transcend the limitations of human memory and to defy time and space. The Writing Revolution picks apart the development of this communication tool to show how it has conquered the world.
  • Explores how writing has liberated the world, making possible everything from complex bureaucracy, literature, and science, to instruction manuals and love letters
  • Draws on an engaging range of examples, from the first cuneiform clay tablet, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Japanese syllabaries, to the printing press and the text messaging
  • Weaves together ideas from a number of fields, including history, cultural studies and archaeology, as well as linguistics and literature, to create an interdisciplinary volume
  • Traces the origins of each of the world’s major written traditions, along with their applications, adaptations, and cultural influences
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List of Illustrations vii

Preface xi

1 The First IT Revolution 1

2 Cuneiform: Forgotten Legacy of a Forgotten People 13

3 Egyptian Hieroglyphs and the Quest for Eternity 33

4 Chinese: A Love of Paperwork 56

5 Maya Glyphs: Calendars of Kings 79

6 Linear B: The Clerks of Agamemnon 95

7 Japanese: Three Scripts are Better than One 113

8 Cherokee: Sequoyah Reverse-Engineers 133

9 The Semitic Alphabet: Egypt to Manchuria in 3,400 Years 143

10 The Empire of Sanskrit 169

11 King Sejong’s One-Man Renaissance 191

12 Greek Serendipity 208

13 The Age of Latin 229

14 The Alphabet Meets the Machine 249

Appendix: Figures A.1–A.7 273

Further Reading 281

Index 297

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Amalia E. Gnanadesikan teaches writing at Holy Family University and has taught linguistics at West Chester and Rutgers universities. Her theoretical publications include works in phonology and language acquisition. Her column on language, "Postcards from Babel", appears in The Vocabula Review.
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  • A fascinating insight into the history of the original Information Technology, a communication tool created to transcend the limitations of human memory and to defy time and space
  • Explores how writing has conquered the world, making possible everything from complex bureaucracy, literature, and science, to instruction manuals and love letters
  • Draws on an engaging range of examples, from the first cuneiform clay tablet, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Japanese syllabaries, to the printing press and text messaging
  • Weaves together ideas from a number of fields, including history, cultural studies and archaeology, as well as linguistics and literature, to create an interdisciplinary volume
  • Traces the origins of each of the world’s major written traditions, along with their applications, adaptations, and cultural impact
See More
"Anyone interested in the development of writing, even without a background in linguistics, will find the book accessible, while linguists will appreciate the well chosen technical information that is included in the description of each individual system." (Language Documentation & Conservation, 2 December 2009)

"In The writing revolution: Cuneiform to the internet, an engaging book that combines accuracy and readability better than any other work on orthographic practices across time and space, Amalia E. Gnanadesikan concurs with the usual view that the complex calendrical system of the Maya's predecessors, the Olmec, was ‘the intellectual stimulus' (80) for the development of writing in Mesoamerica, which she discusses in Ch. 5, ‘Maya glyphs: Calendars of kings'." (Language, 2011)

"This informative, yet accessible and entertaining, book will be of interest to readers with an interest in the history and evolution of world languages, as well as to students and instructors looking for a comprehensive and enjoyable overview of the subject.." (Language in Society, 14 December 2009)

Writing is the most consequential technology ever invented. In this important book Amalia Gnanadesikan combines a fascinating narrative of human ingenuity with an up-to-date analysis of the world’s most important writing systems.
Florian Coulmas, author of The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems

Gnanadesikan has written an excellent book describing the structures of the important writing systems of the world. The author has a gift for bringing dusty old scribes to life, showing their relevance in the history of writing, one of the major achievements of human beings. The writing is exceptionally clear, making it quite accessible to those without a strong technical knowledge of linguistics.
Henry Rogers, author of Writing Systems: A Linguistic Approach

This is a rare find: a work of impeccable scholarship that is also enormously witty and entertaining.
John J. McCarthy, University of Massachusetts Amherst

After the invention of fire, writing has been humankind’s greatest discovery. Complete in its coverage, fascinating in detail, and eloquently presented, this is the best single survey of the subject in print.
Michael Coe, author of Breaking the Maya Code

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