'The great English lexicographer, Dr Johnson, when asked why he considered the Chinese barbarians, replied:
"Sir, they have not an alphabet."
Something not far removed from this ethnocentricity still survives in scholarly studies of writing systems today.
A welcome antidote to such cultural snobbery is this book's timely reminder that what letters 'stand for' is what we make them stand for. Not long ago I saw an alphabet in which F stood for 'French fries'. Why not? But that would have been incomprehensible to school children of my generation, and meaningless to Shakespeare. Letters, like other public signs, reflect no more than the society they serve.'