We see it every day on signs, billboards, packaging, in books and magazines; in fact, you are looking at it now — the Latin or Roman alphabet, the world’s most prolific, most widespread abc. Typography is a relatively recent invention, but to unearth the origins of alphabets, we will need to travel much farther back in time, to an era contemporaneous with the emergence of (agricultural) civilisation itself.
Robert Bringhurst wrote that writing is the solid form of language, the precipitate. But writing is also much more than that, and its origins, its evolution, and the way it is now woven into the fabric of civilisations makes it a truly wonderful story. That story spans some 5,000 years. We’ll travel vast distances, meet an emperor, a clever Yorkshireman, a Phoenician princess by the name of Jezebel, and the ‘purple people’; we’ll march across deserts and fertile plains, and sail across oceans. We will begin where civilisation began, meander through the Middle Ages, race through the Renaissance, and in doing so discover where our alphabet originated, how and why it evolved, and why, for example, an A looks, well, like an A.
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