After this thoughtful jour­ney through the deve­lo­p­ment and natu­re of lan­guage and wri­ting sys­tems Bring­hurst beg­ins with the next idea: the dif­fe­rent cate­go­ries of wri­ting sys­tems. Bring­hurst bor­rows hea­vi­ly from two ori­gi­nal works: Ignace J. Gelb’s “A Stu­dy of Wri­ting” [2] and “The World’s Wri­ting Sys­tems”, edi­ted by Peter T. Dani­els and Wil­liam Bright  [3], yet arri­ves at his own defi­ni­ti­on or taxo­no­my of wri­ting sys­tems: semo­gra­phic, pro­so­dic, syl­la­bic, alpha­be­tic (p. 55). He goes deeper into the mate­ri­al than just the­se four terms and how they might be used to help clas­si­fy wri­ting sys­tems: “Finer distinc­tions are cer­tain­ly pos­si­ble, and in some ins­tances useful. Syl­la­bic can be sub­di­vi­ded, for ins­tance into logo­s­yl­la­bic and alpha­syl­la­bic. Pro­so­dic can be divi­ded into semo­pro­so­dic and alph­apro­so­dic. But no term, no mat­ter how pon­de­rous, is in its­elf a satis­fac­to­ry clas­si­fi­ca­ti­on. The reason is that wri­ting sys­tems are, in their way, like lichens: they are com­pound iden­ti­ties.” (p. 55) Based on his taxo­no­my of four, he offers a model (p. 56) which he uses to map or chart dif­fe­rent scripts (p.58, 60, 62). The model is a cir­cle with four equal seg­ments that each repre­sent one type of the four pro­po­sed grou­pings (e.g. alpha­syl­la­bic, pro­so­dic, etc.). The clo­ser one is to the cen­ter, the more com­ple­te infor­ma­ti­on is available. essen­ti­al com­pon­ents of each wri­ting sys­tem are repre­sen­ted by black dots and optio­nal fea­tures are repre­sen­ted by blue dots.

Bringhurst, The Solid Form of Language, p. 56

Bring­hurst, The Solid Form of Lan­guage, p. 56

Bringhurst, The Solid Form of Language, p. 57, p. 58

Bring­hurst, The Solid Form of Lan­guage, p. 57, p. 58

The­se dia­grams of wri­ting sys­tems pro­ve com­ple­xer than one might expect, and encou­ra­ge the rea­der to think about lan­guage more careful­ly. Along the gra­phic repre­sen­ta­ti­on of seve­ral wri­ting sys­tems, Bring­hurst dis­cus­ses each of the four models in grea­ter detail.

The book is beau­tiful­ly type­set and pro­du­ced, as one expects from an expert on typo­gra­phy. It is also lavish­ly illus­tra­ted for such a small work – 76 pages. Bring­hurst wri­tes careful­ly and with humi­li­ty and indi­ca­tes in his tone whe­ther he is an expert or ven­tu­ring out into are­as whe­re he is less secu­re. He shows his love for beau­ty, histo­ry and lan­guage cle­ar­ly, but his argu­ments on clas­si­fi­ca­ti­on end rather abrupt­ly. One is left wan­ting the same lavish illus­tra­ti­on of some of his more abs­tract points on cate­go­ries of wri­ting sys­tems, and a lon­ger con­clu­si­on and dis­cus­sion of his ide­as. For exam­p­le, Bring­hurst does not con­nect his dia­gram of wri­ting sys­tems and the poly­pho­nic natu­re of typo­gra­phic expres­si­on. Nonethe­l­ess the book—now after a long absence back in print—is thought pro­vo­king and inspi­ring for a ran­ge of readers.