Writing Systems and Phonetics  book cover
1st Edition

Writing Systems and Phonetics

ISBN 9780367497231
Published March 17, 2021 by Routledge
272 Pages 32 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Writing Systems and Phonetics provides students with a critical understanding of the writing systems of the world. Beginning by exploring the spelling of English, including how it arose and how it works today, the book goes on to address over 60 major languages from around the globe and includes detailed descriptions and worked examples of writing systems which foreground the phonetics of these languages. Key areas covered include:

  • the use of the Latin alphabet in and beyond Europe;
  • writing systems of the eastern Mediterranean, Greek and its Cyrillic offshoot, Arabic and Hebrew;
  • languages in south and south-east Asia, including Hindi, Tamil, Burmese and Thai, as well as in east Asia, including Chinese, Japanese and Korean;
  • reflections on ancient languages such as Sumerian, Egyptian, Linear B and Mayan;
  • a final chapter which sets out a typology of writing systems.

All of the languages covered are contextualised by authentic illustrations, including road signs, personal names and tables, to demonstrate how theoretical research can be applied to the real world.

Taking a unique geographical focus that guides the reader on a journey across time and continents, this book offers an engaging introduction for students approaching for the first time the phonetics of writing systems, their typology and the origins of scripts.

Table of Contents

List of Tables

List of Figures



Technical terms and symbols

Chapter 1. English spelling

Chapter 2. Latin-based alphabets in European languages

Chapter 3. Latin-based alphabets outside Europe

Chapter 4. Greek, Cyrillic and related alphabets

Chapter 5. Hebrew, Arabic and related alphabets

Chapter 6. South and south-east Asian alphabets

Chapter 7. East Asian scripts

Chapter 8. The world’s earliest writing and its decipherment

Chapter 9. More early writing and its decipherment

Chapter 10. A typology of writing systems


Appendix 1. International Phonetic Alphabet

Appendix 2. Some basic variables in writing systems

Appendix 3. Writing materials


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Alan Cruttenden is Professor Emeritus of Phonetics, University of Manchester, and Fellow of the Phonetics Laboratory, University of Oxford.


"Over the last decades, writing systems have become the step-child of Linguistics, even though the interaction between pronunciation and writing is an intricate and complex field that has great insights to offer. When scholars do examine writing systems, they tend to focus on their history or on western, alphabetic systems. 'Writing Systems and Phonetics', by Alan Cruttenden, one of the world's leading phoneticians, is a clear and convincing introduction to a wide variety of systems from all over the world, explaining how they work synchronically as well as how they came about historically. Professor Cruttenden's approach makes this book accessible to those who have never worked on writing systems before, but the seasoned scholar of orthographies will benefit from it just as much."

Professor Wolfgang De MeloUniversity of Oxford, UK

"The difference between language and script is one that is quite hard to explain to students, at least initially. This attractive book navigates the complexities in a way which is to be expected from a scholar of Professor Cruttenden’s standing. It begins by exploring English spelling in relation to historical changes in pronunciation and uses the lessons learned to explain similar problems and how they are solved in other European countries and beyond, engaging fully with such writing systems as those of Arabic, Chinese and even ancient Egyptian. It will be essential reading for students of Linguistics."

Professor John Healey, University of Manchester, UK