Academic journal article et Cetera

Alphabet to Email: How Written English Evolved and Where It's Heading

Academic journal article et Cetera

Alphabet to Email: How Written English Evolved and Where It's Heading

Article excerpt

Naomi S. Baron. Alphabet to Email: How Written English Evolved and Where It's Heading. London: Routledge, 2000.

I confess: I picked this book up just for the title. Email pervades every part of my life these days, some days to the extent that I type more than I talk. How does it fit into the overall scheme of communication mechanisms?

As Professor of Linguistics at the Department of Language and Foreign Studies, American University, Naomi Baron has contemplated questions like that for nearly 30 years. This book culminates a study of the relationship of spoken, written, and signed language started in the late 1970s.

Rather than addressing the subject in the linear fashion implied by title, the author introduces many threads which she teases apart and weaves together again - the heavy influence of religion on early writing, the stratification of literacy along social and racial boundaries, the economics of paper making and printing, the evolution of punctuation, the interaction between writing and speech and their changing roles over the years, etc.

Baron brings these lines of thought together to answer four questions:

* What does writing represent?

* Who is an author?

* What is a text?

* Who is a reader?

The answers she offers contain a number of reminders of how much the world changes with time. Process happens.

For example, author comes from the Latin "auctor" which also gives us the word "authority." For their ultimate authority, medieval writers looked to God and the writers of the New Testament. Most texts simply quoted earlier texts, usually without citation, and when the writer did add new thoughts, he rarely if ever claimed authorship. …

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