The One with the Thoughts of Frans

Shapes for sounds (cowhouse): not perfect, but very good looking

I picked this book up on a whim at the Boekenfestijn for relatively little. It turned out to be a decent find.

First of all, this book looks rather nice, occasionally even stunning. It presents a lot of information in an easily accessible, visual manner. I like how the right-side lines of the text are jagged rather than the omnipresent justified, and I quickly grew fond of the phoneme head that shows how we articulate sounds. It’s a pity that this feature wasn’t extended to include a few more phonemes of the English language in one of the many appendixes.

Page 17 has some strange things going on regarding phonetics: w and y are initially incorrectly listed as fricatives, but a few lines down also correctly as approximants (also known as glides)—assuming we’re actually talking about /w/ and /j/. This section on phonetics is at the very least lacking in clarity, even if my copy of An Introduction to Language could’ve benefited from some of its typographical prowess.

In the next paragraph, h is listed as a letter that takes its name from placing a short vowel sound, usually e, before it. However, /eɪtʃ/ does not fit that bill. Aitch doesn’t even contain /h/. It was actually mentioned as “aitch” earlier in the text and listed not much later alongside “h, j, k, q, w, y” as late inclusions to the language. Since the author is a typographer by trade and the true focus of the book was the visual charts, I hope similar small mistakes didn’t sneak into those parts of the book, because I don’t have enough prior knowledge to tell. There are also numerous comma splices throughout the text. Once again, this distracts from the overall very polished feel of the book.

Appendix №6 shows the evolution of writing very neatly, but unfortunately the interrobang (‽) seems to have accidentally been turned into a regular question mark (?). I know, I’m picking nits, but it was specifically mentioning and showing the interrobang after all.

Finally, the book has a bibliography that can aid you if you want to know more. Always a good thing.

Don’t let my nitpicking give you the wrong impression: I quite thoroughly enjoyed this gorgeous, fun, informative book.

PS For some color illustrations of the charts and appendixes, see the brain pickings review.

This review was cross-posted on LibraryThing.


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