Welcome to the Alternate Script Bureau! This is a blog dedicated to the various writing systems and alternate orthographies for English and other languages that I have devised, including a phonetic English orthography, and English-language adaptations of non-Latin scripts such as Hangul and Khmer.
Glorius Iŋglish Orthogrufi (GIO) – an yzi-tú-ryd olturnut orthogrufi dhat yúsus minimul daiukritiks and adisiuns
The English orthography is widely known to be inconsistent and troublesome, with its many silent letters (such as ‘gh’ in the word ‘though’ and the ‘b’ in ‘debt’) and exceptions to the rule (‘gh’ is also pronounced ‘f’ in words like ‘laugh’ and ‘cough’). There’s surely a better way to write it phonetically, isn’t it?
Introducing GEO (Glorious English Orthography), a phonetic Latin script orthography that utilises 2 additional diacritic-capped letters (‘á’ and ‘ú’) and 1 additional letter (‘ŋ’) to complement the existing 26 letters of the alphabet and allow them to be able to cover all 43 English phonemes without relying too much on diacritics. In addition, GEO uses common digraphs that are widely used in current English orthography, such as ‘sh’ for the /ʃ/ sound in ‘sure’, and diphthongs such as the ‘ay’ sound in ‘say’ are directly represented with their constituent vowels, not as something else.
Cherokee is the first Native American language to have their own writing system, invented by a Cherokee man named Sequoyah. Its history is somewhat like that of Korean Hangul, as they are both invented scripts created by individuals to write their native languages accurately for the first time, raising suspicions from the establishment before they were widely adopted and embraced by their compatriots.
As the only syllabary besides Japanese kana to be widely supported on major OSes, I decided I had to learn the Cherokee syllabary. And with 86 characters total, it was definitely a worthwhile challenge to learn.
To adapt any script for a different language for English, we must consider its features and limitations. As English language consonants are somewhat different from the Cherokee language’s consonants, I had to change some things around for maximum efficiency.
Greek was one of the first alphabetic writing systems to be created, and its letters are widely used as symbols in the mathematics, science and engineering fields. This is my take on using Greek script to write English phonetically.
When adapting Greek, the biggest challenge was finding a way to distinguish the /b/ and /v/ sounds, as the letter that once represented /b/, beta ‘β’, is now pronounced /v/ in Modern Greek. The same issue arises with /d/ and /ð/ for delta ‘δ’. (This is not the case for gamma ‘γ’, as its modern Greek pronunciation /ɣ/ does not exist in English.) And then there’s the problem of differentiating /s/ and /ʃ/ without resorting to digraphs.
My solution was pretty simple: put a dot underneath the aforementioned letters (U+0323 Combining Dot Below) to indicate the fricative version (that is, /v/ instead of /b/ and /ð/ instead of /d/, since the stop consonants are more common than the fricatives). I selected this diacritic because it was able to display on many devices in a highly consistent way (other diacritics did not render properly), and ended up using it to distinguish the following phonemes:
β /b/ -> β̣ /v/
δ /d/ -> δ̣ /ð/
ν /n/ -> ν̣ /ŋ/
σ /s/ -> σ̣ /ʃ/
ζ /z/ -> ζ̣ /ʒ/
κ /k/ -> κ̣ /tʃ/
γ /g/ -> γ̣ /dʒ/
Note: depending on your font, the dot diacritic may not show as intended, especially on older devices.
Cyrillic is one of the most widely used alphabets in the world, besides Latin, and it was only a matter of time before I had a go at using it to write English phonetically.
Adaptation was fairly easy, as many Latin letters can be easily substituted for their Latin counterparts. For some of the letters, I used digraphs or Cyrillic letters from the Serbian and Bashkir orthographies, and also took some inspiration from an earlier Latin script orthography called BEO.
In Cyrillic for English, ‘ь’ is used as a vowel to write the schwa /ə/. Although it is primarily used to modify the sound of consonants in most Cyrillic orthographies today, it once represented a vowel a long time ago, and it seemed more natural that I use it as a vowel in my adaptation. Also, since there appears to be no letter for /w/ in Cyrillic, I used the vowel letter for ‘U’ as a stand-in.
After adapting the Arabic script for English in my previous post, it was only natural that I have a go at the only other widely used right-to-left script in the world today: Hebrew.
Like the Arabic script adaptation, I used the consonant letters for ‘y’ and ‘w’ as vowels. Unlike Arabic, though, Hebrew has a larger set of vowel markers that I could use to represent a wider set of vowels without digraphs. Some consonants were also derived from others using the dagesh diacritic ּ , which indicates a different but closely related sound (e.g. /f/ פ -> /p/ פּ). Also, some features were also taken from other Hebrew orthographies – the use of ע to write /ɛ/ originated from Yiddish.
The Arabic script is one of the most widely adopted writing systems in the world, together with Latin and Cyrillic. Its main distinctive characteristics are that letters are written right-to-left, and letterforms merge with each other in a cursive manner.
Most consonant letters were fairly straightforward: ف = /f/, ر = /ɹ/, etc. Still, some changes had to be made due to the different consonants – ط, ص and their dotted variants were excluded as their sounds did not exist in English. Additional letters were also added: ژ /ʒ/ and گ /g/ come from the Perso-Arabic variant, while ڤ /p/ and ۏ /v/ come from the variety of Arabic script used to write Malay, called Jawi.
Nanyang Script is an alternate writing system which is inspired by the abugidas of Southeast Asia.
The word ‘Nanyang’ 南洋 is an old Chinese term that means ‘Southeast Asia’, hence the name.
I was wondering whether it would be possible to make a featural alphabet like Hangul, where letters are derived from other letters with closely related sounds, but with a Southeast Asian aesthetic, which makes it easier to create letters that only need 1 or 2 strokes to write at the most. This would make the script easy to learn, easy to write, and be easier to adapt to writing different languages more easily than Hangul. The end result is a unique alphabetic script that visually resembles the Myanmar and Thai scripts and uses subscript consonants to cluster consonants together, but is distinct enough to stand on its own.
After developing the Latin-based EBEO orthography for English, which uses diacritics and Unicode characters extensively, I started wondering about older electronic devices that do not support Unicode. I asked myself: “How would I be able to type phonetically in the most efficient way on these old things?”
This made me think about ways to write English phonetically and efficiently using just the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet. I revisited an older version of EBEO from a while back, BEO (Better English Orthography), and gave it an extensive makeover to make it more suitable for practical use, taking inspiration from an alternate English orthography called SoundSpel to get the most compact form.
Unlike SoundSpel, which contains some exceptions to mimic the existing English spelling conventions without making it more compact (e.g. spelling words ending with /ɔl/ as ‘all’ instead of ‘ol’), BEO provides a more literal way to write English that is easier to understand.
Easy to type – no need to learn a new keyboard layout
Many common English words retain their original spellings, such as ‘man’, ‘red’, and ‘hop’
Many other words only differ by a few letters and are easily recognisable: ‘can’ becomes ‘kan’, ‘simple’ becomes ‘simpul’, and ‘fire’ becomes ‘faiur’
1 letter or digraph represents 1 phoneme, and only that phoneme
Usually more compact than conventional English orthography
The Javanese script (also called Hanacaraka, from the first 5 letters in the traditional Javanese letter ordering) is one of the most elaborate writing systems in the world. Having adopted Khmer script a few months back, I soon turned my attention to Javanese, as it is a descendant of the closely related Kawi script that was widely used throughout Maritime Southeast Asia a thousand years ago. The common ancestry of Khmer and Javanese is easy to point out, as a few of their letterforms are very visually similar to each other.
Just over a year ago from today, I discovered Quikscript, a minimalist phonetic alphabet for English that was designed by the British designer Kingsley Read. (Quikscript was a revised edition of an earlier and more famous script also by Read, called Shavian.) Quikscript’s most notable feature is that each letter can be written with a single stroke, and some letters can be written together without lifting the pen up, reducing writing effort. If you want to know more about how Quikscript works, including the associated complex ligature system, click here for the original Quikscript manual by Read.
Here’s a chart showing the letters of Quikscript and their phonetic values.
The problem with existing Quikscript fonts
As I delved further into typing Quikscript on my computer, however, I found that the very few Quikscript fonts out there were just plain terrible. For example, here’s the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Quikscript, using a Quikscript font called ‘Kingsley’:
Note that most of the glyphs have slightly uneven stroke width, squashed-up kerning (glyph spacing) and inconsistent glyph shapes – put together, the whole thing just looks messy and ugly. Damn, even Comic Sans looks way better in comparison!
Continue reading “Quikscript Sans, a sans-serif font for the Quikscript alphabet”→