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About the Museum of the Alphabet

The Alphabet Makers

This site highlights some of the points of interest of the Museum of the Alphabet, with excerpts from the book, The Alphabet Makers, © 1990, Summer Institute of Linguistics, who graciously granted permission to use graphics and text in this site.

The Alphabet Makers provides a graphic overview of something we tend to take for granted: the importance of alphabets. It also tells of the people who made them and reminds us that the process of making them is not yet complete. There are still many languages without a writing system. It is for this, who speak these languages, that Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics exist. To date, they have worked with speakers of over 1000 languages. The cultures mentioned in this book, particularly in the Modern Alphabets section, are some examples of alphabet development in our world today.

This site presents several tours of the museum from different perspectives: the museum galleries, significant people in the development of writing systems, and samples of a variety of scripts from around the world. The initial goal is to disseminate to a broader audience what the museum has to offer, as depicted in the book. We expect this site to become a valuable resource on writing and writing systems, with links to other sites and articles on the general topic of alphabets. Check the site index to see what has changed since your last visit.

The Museum is the fulfillment of a dream by William Cameron Townsend "to help the world come to a genuine appreciation of the gift of writing systems. Most people ... never think about the tools for reading and writing. They have no concern about what life would be like without an alphabet. And they have no idea that thousands of people groups around the world still have no way to read and write their own spoken language."*

"When Cameron Townsend first envisioned the Alphabet Museum, the Summer Institute of Linguistics [which he cofounded in 1934] had made major contributions to the alphabetless peoples of the world. As a historian, he also admired four important linguists: Mashtotz of Armenia, Panini of India, Sejong of Korea, and Sequoyah of North America. Townsend knew that any research team would discover strong historical ties between alphabets and Bible translation. Indeed, that's what happened."

Richard Pittman came up with two guidelines in developing the museum: "focus on the alphabet makers, and select the stories first, not the artifacts." Katherine Voigtlander, an artist and the only full-time worker on the project, was responsible for the implementation of these guidelines in a 4900 square foot building at the entrance to the JAARS Center.

During the creation of the Alphabet Museum, hundreds of people gave of their time and talent. Jointly sponsored by Wycliffe, SIL and JAARS, the Museum of the Alphabet in Waxhaw, North Carolina, is another attempt to serve. A 4900 square-foot multimedia exhibition, the museum vibrantly tells the story of alphabet makers from ancient history to modern times. Photographs and paintings, sculpture and weavings, quiz boxes and models help the visitor grasp and appreciate the vast amount of information available.

*The Alphabet Makers, Summer Institute of Linguistics, Inc. © 1990.

Related Organizations

For More Information Contact:
JAARS Alphabet Museum
Box 248
Waxhaw, NC 28173

Tel: 704-843-6000
FAX: 704-843-6200

About the Museum of the Alphabet Web Site

This web site was conceived, designed and implemented by Robert Reed, with text and graphics from the book and other sources.

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