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5th January 2009, 10:45am  (updated 11th July 2013, 2:19pm)
New book spells out the origins of the alphabet
New book spells out the origins of the alphabet A typography and writing expert from the University of Lincoln has published a book chronicling the emergence of the modern alphabet..

Timothy Donaldson, a Research Fellow in the Lincoln School of Art & Design, has spent 15 years researching, writing, illustrating and designing the book, Shapes for Sounds.

The work charts the history of the Latin alphabet - explaining how the letters we recognise today evolved from spoken words and sounds into their current written form and how the alphabet might otherwise have developed.

The 176-page hardback book has the subtitle: “Why alphabets look like they do, what has happened to them since printing was invented, why they won’t ever change, and how it might have been”

Timothy, a former signwriter, typographer, graphic designer and tutor, developed his own method for illustrating the evolution of the 26 letters of the alphabet.

He said: “The book is a teaching tool but it’s also a piece of research. It’s aimed at undergraduate and postgraduate graphic design students but I hope it will appeal to the general public too because everybody uses visible language to a greater or lesser degree.”

Timothy was inspired to write the book while teaching graphic design students at an art school in the 1990s.

He said: “The books that were available on the subject were so dry, although I was recommending them to the students, they just were not being read — so I decided to write my own.”

Timothy was not satisfied with early drafts of his book but after “a lot of soul-searching” chose to persevere with the project.

It was starting a research fellowship at the University of Lincoln in 2007, and the help and support he received, which enabled him to complete the book.

Timothy said: “It was such a relief when I finished it. For the last three months I just worked on the book or slept. I wrote and designed the book and also produced the illustrations. I even designed the typeface.”

Despite that, Timothy is now developing ideas for several new titles.

Shapes for Sounds (ISBN-10: 0979966620; ISBN-13: 978-0979966620) is published by Mark Batty Publisher and is distributed in the UK by Thames and Hudson. It was released in November and is available in selected Waterstones stores, including the Lincoln branch, as well as online at and

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