A Note on Terminology and Notation Systems

Terminological and conceptual quagmires abound when we start talking about literacy. I have attempted to simplify some of this and in the process have likely obscured or ignored some key distinctions and ideas. All reading and writing, literacy, is based on some sort of technology/script/notation that makes speech visible.

Throughout this book I’m going to use “visible language” as short hand for the various notional systems that represent language. While I will refer to “alphabetic literacy” and focus on the alphabet as a key tool, this is meant as shorthand for the other systems such as:

Chinese (a logographic system)

Japanese (a combined logographic and syllabic system)

Arabic (adjad, a syllabary)

and Indic (abugida, an alphasyllabary).

Those interested in probing the evolution of notation systems can find an extensive literature on this, including The First Writing: Script Invention as History and Process, edited by Stephen D. Houston, 2009 and David Sacks, Language Visible: Unraveling the Mystery of the Alphabet from A to Z, 2003.

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