woodcut, letterpress | 9″ x 6″ x 1/2″ (closed), 9″ x 18″ (open) | edition of 30 | 2017
Asterisms: A Phonemic Exploration borrows the conventions of modern star charts in order to embody groups of linguistic sounds as constellations, or “asterisms,” as astronomers now call the traditional shapes traced among the stars. The book represents the phonemes (sounds) of the ten most widely spoken languages in the world, which together account for the first languages of almost half of the world’s population (3.4 billion speakers). Each language is given a consonant chart and a vowel chart in the guise of a star map; positions of the “stars” are based on the sound’s position on the International Phonetic Alphabet chart, with the symbol’s size correlated to the frequency of the sound in that language.
Connecting these symbols are woodcuts forming novel asterism shapes inspired by older, more primal ways of tracing patterns in the sky. The charts of Asterisms serve both as accurate maps of phoneme systems—revealing commonalities and divergences across languages—as well as imaginary paths of joined sounds. Taken together, they draw connections between the sounds of language, that most fundamental human ability, and the vast expanse of the night sky, shared by all of the earth’s inhabitants.