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On roman letters and other stories

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An essay in heterographics

image of Journal of World Literature

This essay questions the assumption that the roman alphabet is more purely phonetic than any other, and that other scripts and writing-systems are less efficient, whether for the production of texts or for their comprehension. Those who habitually use roman letters are asked to consider their competence to understand other writing systems. The work of Stanley Morison emphasizes the ideological significance of alphabets and of particular letter-forms. M.B. Parkes and Paul B. Saenger are cited to indicate how punctuation and spacing are aspects of the roman-letter writing system that cannot be treated as purely phonetic. Beyond the world of roman letters there is a focus on Syriac and the Xi’an stele, which was printed by Athanasius Kircher in 1667 and marks the first publication in the west of a substantial text in Chinese.

Affiliations: 1: University of Copenhagen


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