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
- Some words look rather ‘ugly’ as a result of respelling (‘ediwkeishun’, anyone?)
- Many words will have different spellings (kof kof)
Defining vowel letters
In BEO, the 5 most common English language vowels are represented with the main Latin vowel characters:
- A = /æ/
- E = /ɛ/
- I = /ɪ/
- O = /ɔ/
- U = /ə/
⟨A⟩ and ⟨U⟩ are pronounced quite differently from their original Latin values. You can blame the Great Vowel Shift for that.
- /æ/ is one of the most common English vowels, and is almost always written with ⟨a⟩ in normal English orthography (as in ‘fan’ and ‘band’).
- Since I consider /ə/ to be a distinct phoneme, I felt it would be best to write it with 1 letter, choosing the letter ⟨U⟩ because the other 4 letters were already taken, and /ə/ is a very common pronunciation of this letter (as in ‘fur’, ‘injury’ and ‘pursue’).
Still, this is not enough to cover all common vowels, /ʊ/ and /iː/ in particular. I shall therefore pull another trick up my sleeve: using ⟨W⟩ and ⟨Y⟩ as vowel letters. Other languages written in Latin script do this as well, so I might as well do so likewise.
- W = /ʊ/
- Y = /iː/
The rest of the vowel letters can then be covered with digraphs in a mostly intuitive way:
- Ai = /aɪ/
- Ei = /eɪ/
- Oi = /ɔɪ/
- Wu = /ʊə/
- Yw, iw = /ju/
- Aa = /a/
- Oo = /ɔː/
- Ou = /uː/ (this one’s due to aesthetics: I think ‘ou’ looks nicer than ‘uu’)
- Oe = /oʊ/ (once again, aesthetics)
Defining consonant letters
For most consonant letters, their pronunciations are the same as in normal English orthography: ⟨R⟩ = /ɹ/, ⟨P⟩ = /p/, etc. The key difference is that ⟨C⟩ will not be pronounced as /s/ or /k/ depending on context anymore. Instead, in BEO, ⟨C⟩ represents the ‘ch’ sound in ‘change’, as in Indonesian orthography. Examples: ‘contact’ -> ‘kontakt’, ‘celebrate’ -> ‘selubreit’, ‘cheese’ -> ‘cyz’. Also, ⟨Q⟩ is not used at all, due to its superfluous nature: its sound is already represented with ⟨K⟩.
Still, there are 5 more consonants that don’t have a letter of their own. These are represented with digraphs:
- Th = /θ/ (just like in normal English)
- Dh = /ð/ (the voiced variant of /θ/)
- Ng = /ŋ/ (just like in normal English)
- Sh = /ʃ/ (just like in normal English)
- Zh = /ʒ/ (the voiced variant of /ʃ/)
To represent the velar fricatives (because why not), just add ‘h’ to the end of the corresponding velar stop consonant:
- Kh = /x/ (used for foreign loanwords)
- Gh = /ɣ/ (used for foreign loanwords)
Distinguishing 2 sounds that happen to form digraphs
Put an apostrophe in between: “lighthouse” would be written as “lait’haus”, so that ‘th’ does not get interpreted as the ‘th’ in ‘southern’.
|/p/ p (port)||/b/ b (born)||/f/ f (free)||/v/ v (van)||/m/ m (muse)|
|/t/ t (tree)||/d/ d (drive)||/θ/ th (thank)||/θð/ dh (the)||/n/ n (new)|
|/k/ k (call)||/g/ g (get)||/x/ kh (loch)||/ɣ/ gh||/ŋ/ ng (sing)|
|/s/ s (soon)||/z/ z (zoo)||/ʃ/ sh (share)||/ʒ/ zh (azure)||.|
|/tʃ/ c (change)||/dʒ/ j (joke)||.||.||.|
|/ɹ/ r (run)||/l/ l (laugh)||/h/ h (house)||/w/ w (way)||/j/ y (yell)|
|/a/~/ʌ/ aa (sun)||/æ/ a (can)|
|/ə/~/ɜ/ u (sure)||/ɛ/ e (red)|
|/ɪ/ i (bid)||/iː/ y (bead)|
|/ɔ/ o (pot)||/ɔː/ oo (call)|
|/ʊ/ w (pull)||/uː/ ou (pool)|
|/aɪ/ ai (side)||/aʊ/ au (now)|
|/ɔɪ/ oi (toy)||/oʊ/ oe (dough)|
|/eɪ/ ei (say)||/ɪə/ iu (hear)|
|/ʊə/ wu (tour)||/ju/ iw, yw (news)|
Note that /ju/ comes in 2 different forms. The 2nd form is only to be used when it begins a syllable – the 1st form is used in all other cases.
|Phoneme||1st form||2nd form|
|/ju/||/dju/ = diw||/ju/ = yw|
|/aɪə/ aiu (flyer)||/aʊə/ auu (tower)|
|/jʊə/ iuu (cure)||.|
BEO also uses special contractions to represent common sound sequences.
- The letter ⟨X⟩ is used as a contraction of ⟨KS⟩, just as in normal English words like ‘box’ and ‘complex’ (komplex).
- ⟨NK⟩ represents what would otherwise be written as ⟨NGK⟩, as in normal English.
|/ks/, /gz/ x (box)||/ŋk/ nk (bank)|
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Ywnivursul Diklareishun of Hiwmun Raits
Ol hiwmun byngs aar born fry and ikwul in digniti and raits. Dhei aar endaud with ryzun and konshuns and shwd akt toeurds waan unaadhur in u spirit of braadhurhwd.
(Aartikul 1 of dhu Ywnivursul Diklareishun of Hiwmun Raits)
Excerpt from a short story I wrote a while ago
For comparison, you can view the original one here.
Ai had u streinj drym dhat nait.
In dhat drym, Ai faund maiself uweikuning, laiing on soft gryn graas, in u fantusi 8-bit wurld suraundud bai kompiwturs. Dhu lwminuns of blinking moedems and woom, ciurfwl ciptiwn miwzik fild dhi er. Oldhoe evrithing lwkd bloky and skwer, it brot mi bak tw dhoez deis. Of ol dhu kompiwturs Ai soo, 1 of dhem wus pleiing mai feivurut song! Ai jaamp and lyp in joi oevur dhu sait. Ai dhen soo mai haus, and Ai sed “Hai” tw mai best meits, hw wur weiting autsaid. Wi wookd twgedhur, having u ciuri cat aabaut u kompiwtur geim Ai wus wurking on urliur.
“Soe waats dhat kwl geim gonaa bi ubaut, ei?” waan of dhem aaskd. “If yw luvd Maarioe, ywl luv dhis!” Ai sed. “Osum!!! Kaant weit tw sy it!” Insaid mi dhu faiur tw kyp mi goeing bikeim stronggur.
Wi wookd intw u vivid saanset. Ai reminisd dhu memoris of paast saamurs, pleiing retroe vidioe geims in dhu kwl sheid, ivun dhoe dhu saan autsaid pykd at 42 digrys and meltud evrithing els.