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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten


MILLE PREM.MOTS ARABE -NE - Heather Amery I might need to know some Arabic for a project we're currently discussing, and I thought a good first step would be the alphabet; hence this book. It contains several hundred pictures, each one labelled with one or two Arabic words presented both in Arabic and Roman script. So far, I am not really trying to learn the words themselves, just the letters.

Out of the scripts I have previously tried to learn, Korean is definitely the easiest. As everyone who's studied Korean will attest, it is in fact a miracle of simplicity and logic, completely phonetic and arranged so that the appearances of the letters are based on the shapes your mouth makes while pronouncing them. At the other extreme, Japanese is generally agreed to have the most irrational writing system ever devised. Not only do you have to memorize thousands of kanji, as in Chinese; you also have two different phonetic alphabets, and you never know how any spoken word will be written or how any written word will be pronounced. It says a lot about the good qualities of the Japanese people that nearly everyone is literate.

Arabic script is nowhere near as messy as Japanese, but it is towards the unforgiving end of the spectrum. Every letter can be written in three different ways, depending on where it appears in the word, and short vowels are either omitted or added as accent-like characters above or below the line. I am also surprised to see how similar many of the letters are, especially in the reduced forms that occur in the middle of a word. But I am definitely beginning to recognize most of them. Later this week, I think I'm going to make a start on the grammar.