[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J31, 2002/2, pp23-24]
[Steve Bett: see Journals, Newsletters, Personal View, Web link.]
[G.B. Shaw and the Shaw alfabet: see Journals, Newsletters, Bulletins.]

Introduction to the Shaw Alphabet.

Steve Bett, Ph.D.

An alphabet reform has always been considered to be a "non-starter" by spelling reformers and they have often failed to exploit the attention that an alphabet reform and parallel scripts can bring to the problems that spelling reformers wish to address. Alphabet reformers such as Franklin, Twain, and Shaw, preferred a parallel phonemic transcription system to one that added unsightly and annoying new spellings to the traditional orthography. They were not piece meal spelling reformers or advocates of mini-reforms.

Shaw Alphabet The Shaw Alphabet is a non-Roman phonemic transcription system for the "King's English". The script was designed by Kingsley Read in strict accordance to the specifications written by playwright G. Bernard Shaw in 1941 and in his 1950 Will. It consists of 48 phonograms: 36 pure phonemes plus 12 combinations. Shaw was interested in alphabet reform, not spelling reform.

Net: www.unifon.org.shaw/pref.html [not available]

While the Shaw Alphabet can be learned with a few hours of concentrated deciphering, it was not designed to take advantage of the fact that 23 of the letters in the traditional alphabet can be phonemic. The effort to obscure historical associations can be seen in the characters chosen for Th and Dh which could have been associated with the Icelandic thorn þ and crossed Ð ð. The shapes are there but they have been reversed with the p-shaped thorn associated with the /Dh/ sound. Shavian was designed as a non-Roman extended alphabet. Any resemblance to Roman shapes [e.g., o and s] is accidental.

Unifon, another phonemic transcription system, simply adds 17 new characters to the existing alphabet to cover the sounds that are not well defined. As a result, Unifon can be learned twice as fast as Shavian by those already familiar with the traditional sound-symbol relationships. There would be no advantage if learned from scratch.

All phonemic systems respell at least 60% of the words in the dictionary. Only 40% of the traditional word spellings resemble the spelling in the dictionary pronunciation guide. Thus while someone could read the passage written in Unifon [below], they would find the Unifon spellings odd and perhaps ugly. Twain and Shaw thought that an entirely new phonemic alphabet could be appreciated as beautiful the way that Arabic or another written foreign languages might be found beautiful.

•twAn and •Sx Txt that c nU fOnEmik alfcbet kCd bE cprESEAtcd. Unifon YnifOn
•twAn qnd •So Tot Dqt a nu fOnEmik qlfabet kvd bE aprESEAtad
. ENgIiS
•twān and •so Dot Lat a nu fonēmik alfəbet kūd bē aprēšātəd. ENgliS downsized
.

twEn And SY TYt HAt a nM fOnImik Alfabet kUd bI aprISIEted. Shavian SYvian Lionspaw,
A Shavian transcription

Twein aend Shaw thawt thaet a nu foniemic allfabet cud bi aprieshieited. digraphic Spanglish.

When shapes follow sounds, phonemic notations are easy to learn. Once you know the alphabet or symbol-sound correspondences, you can begin to write. 40 paired-associates can be learned in 30 minutes. Children in countries with phonemic languages take about 6 months and reach a level of skill at the end of one year that English speaking children do not match until the end of their 3rd year. The same rapid progress should be attainable in phonemic English. The i.t.a. research showed that while early progress was remarkable, most of the gain was lost during the transition to the traditional orthography.

In the early research by Downing, the i.t.a. was never taught using a mastery approach. Flynn (2001) uses it to allow each of her remedial reading students to progress at their own rate. When the i.t.a. was used with this method it was found to be five times better than four other phonics programs.

Because of the connection between spoken sounds and written words in phonemic English, (citation) spelling becomes close to 100% predictable. By contrast, traditional spelling is at only about 20% predictable until the dictionary is memorized. Dewey found over 560 ways to spell 41 speech sounds. However, five spellings account for about 75% of the spellings of any particular speech sound.

The list of (alleged) advantages for Shavian include (1) it conserves space, (2) it does not require as many strokes of the pen, (3) it is typographically pleasing, and (4) it will not be interpreted as an ignorant misspelling of English.

In his introduction to Androcles and the Lion, Pitman says, "Shaw's alphabet is both more legible and one-third more economical in space than traditional printing." There is a 10% savings due to elimination of redundant letters. The advantage for Shavian might not hold up if compared to Cut Spelling in a condensed font instead of a book face.

Item 4 was particularly important to Shaw and Twain who were sensitive to the public criticisms of simplified respellings - some of which they penned themselves.

Twain wrote, "To see our [traditional] letters put together in ways to which we are not accustomed offends the eye, and also takes the EXPRESSION out of the words:"

Ley on Macduff, and dammd bi
hi hu ferst craiz howld enuff!

rittan in Spanglish repeated below in Shavian.

shawbett3 (3K)

An inoffensive Shavian transcription of the above. Twain used a Burnz version of Pitman Shorthand to make the point

"It doesn't thrill you as it used to do." The simplifications have sucked the thrill all out of it." Twain continues. "But a written character with which we are NOT ACQUAINTED does not offend us - Greek, Hebrew. Russian, Arabic, and the others - they have an interesting look, and we see beauty in them, too. The mystery hidden in these things has a fascination for us: we can't come across a page of shorthand without being impressed by it and wishing we could read it."

The way to learn Shavian is to make use of the fact that the voiced unvoiced pairs are related both in sound and shape. As can be seen from the list of consonants below, bib is a rotated peep. In PMF and Shavian, all of the consonant characters are related in much the same way that p and b are in the traditional writing system. A similar device was used in Pitman shorthand where the voiced symbol was a bold version of the unvoiced svmbol.

Shavian Consonants.

shawbett4 (6K)

The vowel chart below shows the IPA and keyboard equivalents for the Shavian phonograms. If you want to represent George Bernard Shaw you type jYrj barnyrd SY The combinations or, er, and a:r have ligatured phonograms: P D R. So it becomes jPj bDnRd SY. "Bernard" could be pronounced as bxnDd.

Shavian - IPA Notation - Keyboard.

Shavian letter shapes: A e I o u U - short vowels

IPA symbols: æ, ei, I, δ, ʊ

keyboard symbols for almost all Shavian fonts such as Lionspaw. This is not a well thought out ascii system. See SAMPA, Kirshenbaum and Unifon for better QWERTY conventions.

1st group - 6 short vowels the ash (æ) was the Saxon addition to the Latin alphabet.

2nd group - 8 long vowels. Schwa [ə] as in /əgou/ is not necessarily long but it is free. E and O can be articulated as pure vowels or diphthongs so they are listed twice. E=ei, O= əU.
Shavian, IPA and keyboard characters.

Back to the top.