Introduction to the book by the author
Ever since my student days in Kyoto University, I have been fascinated by scripts or written characters, which I consider the most important product of human culture. My interest has been deepened by my work as a printer, and my collection of script samples now includes books, manuscripts, pictures of inscriptions, and movable type, as well as newspapers gathered during my travels. This collection has gradually taught me that scripts or written characters not only represent spoken languages but also reflect historical, political, and cultural developments.
As a collector, I discovered books about each language and about the dramatic deciphering of various ancient inscriptions. But I could not find a relatively simple survey of scripts for collectors and general readers rather than specialists. I therefore wrote a short book on this subject in Japanese.
Because of the popularity of this book in my country I am now able, with the help of the Charles E. Tuttle Company, to translate and adapt my survey into English. In this version, various scripts in common use throughout the world are explained for English-speaking people. The phrase "in common use" means here that the scripts are those used in daily newspapers. For the convenience of the reader, the phonetic value of each letter in the various scripts is represented as simply as possible by Latin letters (that is, letters of the English alphabet) in italic type.
The resultant pronunciation will, of course, only approximate the phonetic system of each language. Nevertheless, I hope that travelers, using this book, will attempt to read scripts that would otherwise be as meaningless to them as bird tracks or worm squiggles in the sand. Though they will not necessarily be able to understand what they read, they will in many cases be able to recognize borrowed words and the names of people and places, to find restaurants, hotels, and small shops. If one knows a little Russian script, for example, one can recognize PECTOPAH as "restaurant" and one may even be able to have a meal. I hope, too, that by familiarizing the reader with the appearance and approximate pronunciation of foreign scripts, this book will encourage international understanding. And I am sure it will be helpful to stamp collectors and other hobbyists in many ways.
Upon the publication of this book, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Dr. Tatsuo Nishida, Professor of the Faculty of Letters of Kyoto University, who has deciphered Hsihsia characters and who kindly assisted me in my collection and study of written characters. I would also like to express my appreciation to the staff of the Charles E. Tuttle Company, who provided the opportunity to write this book in English. Furthermore, I would like to thank the foreign embassies in Japan and Japanese embassies in foreign countries that helped me obtain samples of various newspapers and some information about them. Akira Nakanishi, Kyoto, Japan
1st edition 1990, Pb, 124pp, packed with monochrome illustrations, 18.5 x 25.5 cm