Mysteries of the Alphabet by Marc-Alain Ouaknin, Marc-Alain Oauknin |, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Mysteries of the Alphabet

Mysteries of the Alphabet

by Marc-Alain Ouaknin, Marc-Alain Oauknin
     
 
An illuminating yet lighthearted voyage back to the origins of our alphabet, based on the pictograms of 3,500 years ago.

Why is A the first letter of the alphabet?

Why is O round?

Why does Mother begin with M?

This book offers a lighthearted and fascinating voyage back to the origins of our alphabet, based on the pictograms of 3500 years ago.

Overview

An illuminating yet lighthearted voyage back to the origins of our alphabet, based on the pictograms of 3,500 years ago.

Why is A the first letter of the alphabet?

Why is O round?

Why does Mother begin with M?

This book offers a lighthearted and fascinating voyage back to the origins of our alphabet, based on the pictograms of 3500 years ago. Best-selling author and teacher Marc-Alain Ouaknin has created a book for many readers—for teenagers and adults, scholars and the merely curious. In Mysteries of the Alphabet he tells how proto-Sinaitic pictograms—derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics and discovered in the Sinai only at the beginning of the twentieth century—evolved through the millennia and left their traces on our alphabet.

Ouaknin coins the term "archaeography" to describe his study of a word's meaning not only through its etymology but also through its image, through the forms of its letters. His interest is not only serious: he suggests that his readers play the game of "reading" their own names and other words in pictograms—after all, "the name you're given influences who you turn out to be."

Other Details: 248 two-color illustrations 384 pages 6 x 6" Published 1999

Praise for the French Edition:

"In Mysteries of the Alphabet Marc-Alain Ouaknin invites us on a marvelous voyage. . . . Enriched with magnificent illustrations, the work is designed to be read at different levels: children as well as adults will discover a world of images and shapes that recall the works of Miro and Klee." —Le Point

"His books, brilliant but accessible, communicate essential ideas." —Le Nouvel Observateur

"At forty years old, Ouaknin is a funny kind of rabbi as well as a rabbi who's often funny... He links the Talmud to secular philosophy, to modern literature, and to psychoanalysis."—L'Evenement du Jeudi

Author Biography: A professor and rabbi, Marc-Alain Ouaknin is the director of the Aleph center for Jewish studies in Paris and is associate professor of comparative literature at Bar-Ilan University in Jerusalem. His books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have been translated into fifteen languages. Two nonfiction titles are available in English, The Burnt Book: Reading the Talmud and Symbols of Judaism, as is a children's book, I'll Tell You a Story.

Editorial Reviews

Booknews
The author is a professor (comparative literature), a poet, the author of fiction and non-fiction, and a rabbi, and is affiliated with the Aleph Center for Jewish Studies in Paris and the Bar-Ilan U. in Tel Aviv. This work, translated from the French (1999, Editions Assoudine, Paris) is a charming, visually delightful, information packed exploration of letters, words, and meanings. In particular, it tells how proto-Sinaitic pictograms<-->derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics and discovered in the Sinai at the beginning of the 20th century<-- >evolved through the millennia and left their traces on our alphabet. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780789205216
Publisher:
Abbeville Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/28/1999
Edition description:
1 ED
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
6.08(w) x 8.53(h) x 1.58(d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

In the beginning, God created the alphabet! Only then were heaven and earth created.

"Twenty-two letters did he engrave and carve, he weighed them and moved them around into different combinations. Through them, he created the soul of every living being and the soul of every word... Twenty-two basic letters, fixed upon a wheel consisting of 231 gateways. And the wheel rolls forwards and backwards... How will he weigh them and make them move?

The aleph was associated with all the other letters and all the other letters were associated with the aleph. The beth was associated with all the other letters and all the other letters were associated with the beth. And the wheel turns, again and again. . . . The whole of creation and all of the words emerged from this single name 'The Alphabet'!"

—The Book of Creation or Sefer Yetsira

Twenty-two basic letters that turned into the twenty-six letters of the alphabet of western European scripts. Twenty-six letters of ancient lineage, the origins of which date back many thousands of years, a lineage transmitted from generation to generation quite unconsciously, which even today lies buried deep beneath the layers of our cultural unconscious.

What does the word alphabet mean? Why is A called an A? Why is O round? Why does the word mom begin with the letter M? Is E white, as the French poet Rimbaud believed? And is I the tipsy laughter issuing from beautiful red lips? Why is B the second letter of the alphabet? Is L light enough for flight? And is R relaxing?

This book is divided into three parts:

Part one, entitled "Origin & Development," explains the general process of birth and development of aletter, starting from a picture. This part explains the crucial discovery of proto-Sinaitic, the oldest source of modern alphabets. We also indicate how scripts evolved from Phoenician into Greek and the connections between the most important scripts.

Part two is the nucleus of this book. It is set out like a dictionary, and explains the history of each of the twenty-six letters of the western European alphabet, the ways in which they evolved and their hidden and revealed meanings from Egypt right down to the present day, via Ancient Hebrew, Phoenician, Greek, Etruscan, and Latin. Each letter is dealt with individually and the way in which it evolved is shown by means of reproductions of various inscriptions, of which a number are used several times, in order to familiarize the reader with the archeological source material. The letter in question is shown in red on the inscriptions, so that it can be easily and quickly identified.

The shape of each letter has been a subject of philosophical, and even poetic, meditation. The horizontal bar of an A and the roundness of an O, for instance, have been themes around which historians, philosophers, and poets have met and mingled.

Each chapter ends with a section entitled "Summary Table," which is like an index card summarizing all of the information presented about a particular letter.

This dictionary is the starting point for an experience, a journey to the center of the script we use today, an "archeographic adventure" that can be applied to every word and every name in our language. We designed this book in such a way as to make it readable on various levels. Children and adults alike will discover a world of images and shapes that, quite surprisingly, are reminiscent of the paintings of Joan Miro or Paul Klee.

The curiosity aroused by this first glimpse will no doubt lead to further investigation, whether the approach is historical, ethnological, philosophical, or whatever, depending on your sphere of interest.

The book ends with part three, an introduction to archeography, the new method of investigating and analyzing scripts.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >