Alphabetical

By Michael Rosen.

In Alphabetical, the poet, Michael Rosen, goes on a ramble through the alphabet. He says something about the history and pronunciation of each letter, which he follows up with a discursive, letter-inspired essay.

The preludes are repetitive and shallow, and rather frequently wrong. I knew that things were not going to go well when in the introduction Rosen claims that “man” – “men” and “woman” – “women” are n-plurals and that the Germanic n-plural was gradually swapped for the Romance s-plural. This is, of course, complete drivel (which is repeated later in the book), and it continues in various forms well beyond the introduction. /s/ and /z/ are, respectively, voiceless and voiced, Michael, not “soft” and “hard”. Ugh. The man even has the gall to talk about the International Phonetic Alphabet and its mutant American cousin.

The also essays vary. Some are interesting even if I’m a little sceptical about their factual accuracy. Others drag on when some diligent editor should’ve smacked Rosen round the back of the head and introduced him to the words “concise” and “interesting”. They resemble extended versions of the sort of feature articles which appear in Sunday magazines which come with the papers. I read some and skimmed my way indifferently through others.

Alphabetical is a mix of two- and three-star material. Readers looking for an intelligent discussion of the genesis of the modern alphabet would be advised to look elsewhere. The accompanying essays are a hit-and-miss affair. If one bores, skip to another.

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4 thoughts on “Alphabetical”

  1. Hi John
    Sorry you didn’t much like the book. I totally take the point re the ‘n’ plurals. I conflated a lot there (wriggle wriggle). I will correct that for the paperback. I also spotted that I talked about the ‘volume’ of a circle! I can’t correct either the tedium or the rambling but I could correct any other glaring errors you spotted. (It depends what edition you have…I was able to dive in for the second or third printing) to get rid of some, so I might have avoided those already.
    best wishes
    Michael
    I think my email address will appear when you moderate this, won’t it? If not, you can tweet or facebook me (where I’ve confessed my sins re ‘n’ plurals…and/or use the email address in top right hand corner of my website. Thanks for your time.

    1. I didn’t spot the volume of a circle, but as a linguist, I did notice the linguistic faux pas.

      Yes, your e-mail address should appear, but I’ll find you on Facebook as well.

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