Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Alexandrian Library

In Chapter 14 of The Alphabet Effect, 'The Printing Press: Enhancing the Alphabet ', Logan goes into more detail on what he means by the alphabetization of knowledge.

"Alphabetization in Semitic, Greek, or Roman culture did not become important until the period of the Alexandrian library in the third century B.C. when the techniques of organization used by the librarians spread to other sectors of the information industry such as authors and public administrators. One of the earliest uses of alphabetic order is found in a late third century B.C. inscription from the island of Cos in which the participants in the cult of Apollo and Heracles arelisted alphabetically (Paton & Hicks 1891, p. 368). " p. 34

The notion that the alphabet transformed indexing, classification and search access is well argued.

When Logan discusses the interaction between literacy, print and science he is on solid ground since this is his own background. When he tries to make a case for certain effects belonging only to the alphabet and not to other scripts, or vice versa, the discussion breaks down from time to time. He occasionally confuses 'dialects' and 'languages' as well as 'languages' and 'scripts'.

Although Logan interminably refers to alphabetic literacy, it turns out in the end that he really means phonetic literacy since his new edition has added "phonetic syllabaries" to alphabetic literacy. (chapter 1 p.6) However, his predecessor, Havelock, whom Logan quotes, drew the line between syllabaries and alphabets.

Some of Logan's sweeping statements are farfetched and his references to specific scripts are not grounded in a knowlege of reading theory. However, I found some relevant material and the book The Alphabet Effect has prompted me to further investigate the history of alphabetization, which we know today by the name of 'sort' or collation.


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