During its long history the problem of reducing language to writing, and conversely that of interpreting written signs as language, has found a variety of solutions which still exist in the form of different writing systems. Written by a leading expert, this new textbook provides an accessible introduction to the major writing systems of the world, from cuneiform to English spelling. Florian Coulmas presents detailed descriptions of the world's writing systems and explains their structural complexities as well as the intricate relationship between written and spoken language. The book also provides a clear and engaging account of the history of writing and its consequences for human thought and literate society. This illustrated textbook includes questions for discussion at the end of each chapter, and an up-to-date explanation of theoretical issues. Clearly organised and engagingly written, it is the ideal textbook for use on courses on writing systems.