Shavian, A Constructed Alphabet Developed as An Alternative for the English Alphabet

Linguist Rob Watts of RobWords looks at the Shavian alphabet, a constructed, phonemic alphabet that was developed as a more efficient alternative to the current English alphabet.

This is the Shavian alphabet – an  alphabet designed specifically for the English language. Every sound that you  can think of in any word that you can think of in English is represented by these 48 letters.

The idea for an alternative alphabet was very dear to Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw and he bequeathed a good sum of money to its development in his will. While the prescribed amount was whittled down, a call went out with very specific parameters with promise of a cash prize .

The £100,000 Shaw initially left to the alphabet project was  busted down to a rather more modest £8,300. But that was more than enough to run  a competition – with a cash prize of half a grand – for someone  to design the new alphabet. An alphabet that Bernard Shaw  insisted would need to have a minimum of 40 characters to  properly represent English. … He also stipulated in the will itself  that the alphabet must enable English to be written “without indicating single sounds by groups of letters or by diacritical  marks” – so, basically, no accents.

The winner was Ronald Kingsley Read, a designer who realized Shaw’s vision. The alphabet took some getting used to, but had its advantages.

The Shavian Alphabet was designed at  a time when handwriting was still,I guess, the dominant way that most people  in everyday life used the Alphabet. And each letter was designed to be written with a single  stroke of the pen, so it was quite efficient. Great! So noo dots or crossbars. None of these letters requires you  to take your pen off the page.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.