Glorious English Orthography (GEO) – an easy-to-read alternate orthography that uses minimal diacritics and additions

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.

The problem with alternate English orthographies

Many of the alternate English orthographies promoted by English spelling reformers have issues that make them more complex:

  • SoundSpel uses just the original 26 letters with an emphasis on retaining the existing phonetic English spelling conventions (e.g. ‘all’ to represent /ɔl/), but contains a sizable amount of exceptions to the rules that increase the complexity.
  • Cut Spelling aims to reduce redundant letters in the current orthography and make it more phonetic to a limited extent, but doesn’t try to re-spell words in a more phonetic manner.
    • It introduces an additional layer of guesswork as unstressed vowels are completely removed – for instance, ‘permanent’ gets re-spelled as ‘permnnt’. When someone sees this, should they pronounce it as ‘permanent’, ‘permnent’ or ‘permnanet’?
    • Also, this system only seems to cater for those who already know how to read the current English orthography.
  • Many other alternate orthographies published by individuals over the years tend to focus exclusively on representing 1 particular English dialect. Those that are based on American accents tend to merge the /ɔ/ sound in ‘not’, ‘lock’ and ‘bother’ with the /a/ sound in ‘father’, while some of those based on non-rhotic accents leave out final -r altogether. This makes them harder to understand for those who are not familiar with the accent of the creator.

Unlike these previous orthographies, GEO provides a more literal way to write English that is easier to understand, as each grapheme represents exactly 1 single English phoneme, and only that phoneme. GEO also aims to represent the 2 most widely known accents, British RP and General American.

Why yet another English orthography?

Previously, I had created 2 other alternate phonetic English orthographies: Better English Orthography (BEO), which uses the same 26 letters of the Latin alphabet; and Even Better English Orthography (EBEO), which uses diacritics and simple letter modifications to represent each distinct English phoneme in 1 single letter. However, EBEO was starting to look really messy with all those diacritics, and I wanted something less intense. BEO was good in its own way, but had its own issues – using ⟨W⟩ as a vowel and having to write ⟨AA⟩ for one of the most common vowel sounds seemed too jarring for me over time. After using BEO for quite some time, I decided I could make it better – really, GEO is just a slightly modified form of BEO that uses 3 additional letters: ‘á’ instead of ‘aa’, ‘ú’ instead of ‘w’, and ‘ŋ’ instead of ‘ng’.

Advantages:

  • 1 letter or digraph represents 1 phoneme, and only that phoneme
  • Minimal additions – GEO aims to minimise the usage of diacritics and new letters except where needed, with only 3 new letters added to the existing 26 letters of the Latin alphabet: ‘á’, ‘ú’, and ‘ŋ’
  • No obsolete letters (like Þ and ƿ)
  • No nonsensical letter choices – ⟨J⟩ = /dʒ/ and not /j/, for instance
  • Easy to type – all new letters are located on the left side of the keyboard opposite the Alt Gr key for easy access
  • 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’
  • Usually more compact than conventional English orthography – in GEO, the 11-letter word ‘acknowledge’ becomes ‘aknolij’, which is just 7 letters
  • Plural -s is always written as -s, which significantly reduces the ‘jarring’ effect one gets when confronted with some alternate English orthographies

Disadvantages:

  • Many words will have different spellings (kof kof)
  • Requires a new keyboard layout to write the 3 new letters (but it’s not a big deal since there’s only 3 new letters)
  • Some words become longer, especially if they have a lot of diphthongs: ‘isolation’ (9 characters) becomes ‘aisouleisiun’ (12 characters)
  • The use of the letter ⟨C⟩ in GEO differs from its normal usage in the current English orthography

Creation process

Defining vowel letters

In GEO, 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: /a/, /ʊ/ and /iː/ in particular. Since ⟨Y⟩ is regularly used to represent an ‘I’-like sound, it shall be used for representing the vowel sound in ‘bead’.

  • Y = /iː/

This leaves me with /a/ and /ʊ/. For /a/, there are 2 options to distinguish /a/ from /æ/, which is already represented by ⟨A⟩: (1) a digraph ‘aa’, or (2) adding a simple diacritic such as the accent ‘á’. Likewise for /ə/ and /ʊ/, there are 3 options: (1) a digraph ‘uu’, (2) using the letter ‘w’, or (3) adding a simple diacritic such as the accent ‘ú’.

/a/ and /ʊ/ occur with high frequencies, and it would be less desirable to use digraphs to represent these phonemes. This is why I opted to represent these with an accent.

  • Á = /a/
  • Ú = /ʊ/

The rest of the vowel letters can then be covered with digraphs in a mostly intuitive way:

  • Ai = /aɪ/
  • Ei = /eɪ/
  • Oi = /ɔɪ/
  • Wu, úu = /ʊə/
  • Yú, iú = /ju/
  • Oo = /ɔː/
  • Ou = /oʊ/
  • Oú = /uː/ (this one’s due to aesthetics: I think ‘oú’ looks nicer than ‘uu’)

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 GEO, ⟨C⟩ represents the ‘ch’ sound in ‘change’, as in Malay and Indonesian orthography. Examples: ‘contact’ -> ‘kontakt’, ‘celebrate’ -> ‘selubreit’, ‘cheese’ -> ‘cyz’. Also, ⟨Q⟩ shall only be used for personal names and brand names – in English language words, all instances of ⟨Q⟩ (e.g. ‘queue’) are replaced with ⟨K⟩ as its sound is already represented with ⟨K⟩.

The velar nasal /ŋ/ is one of the most common sounds in English without its own letter, and is almost always represented with the digraph ‘ng’. Hence, ⟨Ŋ⟩ shall be used to represent it in GEO, as it visually integrates well with the other Latin letters and can be easily interpreted as the end result of slurring the lowercase letters ‘n’ and ‘g’ together in handwriting.

  • Ŋ = /ŋ/

Still, there are 4 more consonants that don’t have a letter of their own. Representing each with a single letter would change the look of the text too much – hence, these are represented with the same digraph system of appending ‘h’ at the end, as in normal English.

  • Th = /θ/ (as in normal English)
  • Dh = /ð/ (the voiced variant of /θ/)
  • Sh = /ʃ/ (as 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 ‘thank’.

On the common suffixes ‘-tion’, ‘-sion’, ‘-tial’

If writing these suffixes as ‘-shun’ or ‘shul’ seems too jarring (due to association with uneducated spelling), they can optionally be written as ‘-siun’ and ‘-siul’ instead. Hence, ‘education’ gets rendered as ‘ejúkeisiun’ instead of ‘ejúkeishun’.

Letters

Consonants

/p/ p (port)/b/ b (born)/f/ f (free)/v/ v (van)/m/ m (muse)
/t/ t (test)/d/ d (done)/θ/ th (thank)/ð/ dh (the)/n/ n (new)
/k/ k (call)/g/ g (get)/x/ kh (loch)/ɣ/ gh/ŋ/ ŋ (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)

Vowels

/a/~/ʌ/ á (sun)/æ/ a (can)
/ə/~/ɜ/ u (sure)/ɛ/ e (red)
/ɪ/ i (bid)/iː/ y (bead)
/ɔ/ o (pot)/ɔː/ oo (call)
/ʊ/ ú (pull)/uː/ (pool)

Diphthongs

/aɪ/ ai (side)/aʊ/ au (now)
/ɔɪ/ oi (toy)/oʊ/ ou (dough)
/eɪ/ ei (say)/ɪə/ iu (hear)
/ʊə/~/wə/ úu, wu (tour)/ju/ iú, yú (news)

Note that /ʊə/ and /ju/ come 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.

Phoneme1st form2nd form
/ʊə//dʊə/ = dúu/wə/ = wu
/ju//dju/ = diú/ju/ = yú

Triphthongs

/aɪə/ aiu (flyer)/aʊə/ auu (tower)
/jʊə/ iúu (cure).

Rhotic vowel sequences

IPA charts for English often include these phonetic vowel sequences as well. This shows how they are represented with GEO:

/aː(ɹ)/ ar (far)/ɔː(ɹ)/ or (north)
/ɛə(ɹ)/ er (chair)/ɜː(ɹ)/~/ə(ɹ)/ ur (nurse)
/ɪə(ɹ)/~/ɪ(ɹ)/ iur (near)/jʊə(ɹ)/ iúr (cure)

All other rhotic vowel sequences are represented by appending the letter ‘r’ at the end of the vowel, e.g. /oʊɹ/ = our.

Although iur is the preferred spelling for the /ɪə(ɹ)/~/ɪ(ɹ)/ sound, ir or yr are acceptable alternate spellings.

Special contractions

GEO 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 ⟨ŊK⟩, as in normal English.
/ks/, /gz/ x (box)/ŋk/ nk (bank)

Miscellaneous digraphs

The following digraphs can be used for transcribing particular accents of English.

/ʍ/ wh (what)/aː/ aa (father)
  • wh is to be used if the 1st consonant in ‘what’ and ‘way’ needs to be distinguished.
  • aa is to be used if the 1st vowel in ‘son’ and ‘father’ needs to be distinguished. (Normally, both will be written as á)

Examples

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Yúnivursul Deklureisiun of Hiúmun Raits

Ol hiúmun byŋs ar born fry and ikúul in digniti and raits. Dhei ar endaud with ryzun and konsiuns and shúd akt towurds wán unádhur in u spirit of brádhurhúd.

(Artikul 1 of dhi Yúnivursul Deklureisiun of Hiúmun 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 uweikuniŋ, laiiŋ on soft gryn grás, in u fantusi 8-bit wurld suraundud bai kompiúturs. Dhu lúminuns of blinkiŋ moudems and worm, ciurfúl ciptiún miúzik fild dhi er. Oldhou evrithiŋ lúkd bloki and skwer, it broot mi bak tú dhouz deis. Of ol dhu kompiúturs Ai soo, 1 of dhem wus pleiiŋ mai feivurut soŋ! Ai jámp and lyp in joi ouvur dhu sait. Ai dhen soo mai haus, and Ai sed “Hai” tú mai best meits, hú wur weitiŋ autsaid. Wi wookd túgedhur, haviŋ u ciuri cat ubaut dhu kompiútur geim Ai wus wurkiŋ on urliur.

“Sou wáts dhat kúl geim goná bi ubaut, ei?” wán of dhem áskd.
“If yú luvd Máriou, yúl luv dhis!” Ai sed.
“Oosum!!! Kant weit tú si it!” Insaid mi dhu faiur tú kyp mi gouiŋ bikeim stroŋgur.

Wi wookd intú u vivid sánset. Ai reminisd dhu memoris of pást sámurs, pleiiŋ retrou vidiou geims in dhu kúl sheid, ivun dhou dhu sán autsaid pykd at 42 digrys and meltud evrithiŋ els.

GEO Keyboard Layout

To type GEO efficiently, I created a keyboard layout that augments the traditional QWERTY layout with the 3 additional letters and places the ⟨Ŋ⟩ letter in the same location as ⟨X⟩, since ⟨Ŋ⟩ is used far more frequently than ⟨X⟩. The additional letters and the ⟨X⟩ letter are accessed by pressing the Right Alt key on your keyboard.

Download links

Want to try GEO on your computer? Here you can download the Windows, Linux and Android (Multiling O) versions I have made.

You can find more information on how to install keyboard layouts here.

2 thoughts on “Glorious English Orthography (GEO) – an easy-to-read alternate orthography that uses minimal diacritics and additions

    1. If you meant blog posts, I’ve been doing a lot of other things at the moment and haven’t really gotten around to finalising some of my other script adaptations

      Like

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