Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The 17/13 Alphabet - A Trial

I thought it was about time that I trialled my stripped back alphabet, so I've rendered some generic text in it. To keep things simple I'll continue using the vowels as they are used in standard English, except for [y] which will forever more be a consonant and nothing else in my new phonetic alphabet. Each passage of text I'll render first with the 13 consonant alphabet, then with the less daunting 17 consonant version, and then finally in standard English.

To refresh our memories this was the consonant list I'd established. With the letter Þ (thorn) signifying the [th] consonant.

The first piece of text. Can you read it?

Was andhiendh Adhlandhis a mivh or was idh a real aghdhual bhlase?
Bhladho ghlaimed þadh Adhlandhis had been submerged nine vhousand years ago.
He sdhadhed þadh Adhlandhis lai beyond þe Bhillars ovh Herghyules and þadh idh was þe sise ovh Asia and Libia ghombined.

The 17 consonant version may be a little easier.

Was antient Atlantis a mif or was it a real aktual plase?
Plato klaimed þat Atlantis had been submerged nine fousand years ago.
He stated þat Atlantis lai beyond þe Pillars of Herkyules and þat it was þe sise of Asia and Libia kombined.

And finally, in plain English.

Was ancient Atlantis a myth or was it a real actual place?
Plato claimed that Atlantis had been submerged nine thousand years ago.
He stated that Atlantis lay beyond the Pillars of Hercules and that it was the size of Asia and Libya combined.


The first version looks suitably foreign. I quite like the way it looks on the page, though I think that may just be the novelty factor. The obvious problem concerns the rendering of the "push" consonants. You may recall that I'd decided that P, F, K and T were simply B, V, G, and D accompanied by a "push" of air. So I toyed with the idea that I could remove those consonants from my phonetic alphabet and just use each letter in the second group combined with the letter H - which effectively just represents the sound of a breath of air.

So for example, the letter [P] could be written as a [B] plus a [H]  - [BH]. This is a very hard sell, and it looks completely bizarre at first. I'm starting to get a little used to it now though, however I think I'm just remembering what the substitutions stand for, rather than actually reading out the letters phonetically, which was the aim. I think it's worth pursuing further though.

The second version, rendered with the 17 consonants, is much more readable. In fact, I would imagine most people would easily be able to decipher it, providing they remember that [Þ] stands for the [th] sound. The only other thing worth noting is that in both translations I had to remove the [y] from the word lay and replace it with an [i]. Obviously people would have to guess what vowel sound this new rendering was attempting to represent, and therefore would have to essentially guess the word itself too. This is more a problem concerning the vowels though, so isn't in need of addressing at the moment in this article.

Now text no. 2. Will this one be any easier with just the 13 consonants?

William Shaghesbheare was an English bhoedh and bhlaridhe.
He rodhe sudhy worghs as Romeo and Dyuliet, Hamledh and Maghbevh.
He was born and died on Saindh Dyeodye's Dai.
He was aghdhive durin þe Elisabevhan bheriod and also durin þe rein ovh Dyames þe Vhirsdh.

Text no.2. The 17 consonant version.

William Shakespeare was an English poet and plarite.
He rote suty works as Romeo and Dyuliet, Hamlet and Makbef.
He was born and died on Saint Dyeodye's Dai.
He was aktive durin þe Elisabefan period and also durin þe rein of Dyames þe First.

And once again, the plain English.

William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright.
He wrote such works as Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Macbeth.
He was born and died on Saint George's Day.
He was active during the Elizabethan period and also during the reign of James the First.


As with the first example the 13 consonant version is very difficult to follow, but the 17 consonant version much, much easier.

One thing worth mentioning is the rendering of the word such. I came to the conclusion that the [ch] sound can be produced by the combination of the consonants [t] and [y]. This may look strange at first, especially as we're so used to seeing the [y] symbol signifying a vowel when following a [t]. However, if you mouth these consonants out yourself you'll see what I mean. In a similar way the [j] sound can be created by a combination of a [d] and a [y]. The [j] and [ch] sounds are very similar sounds, though this isn't obviously apparent from the way we write these sounds in standard English. After all, does [ch] really sound like a [c] plus a [h]?

Another thing worth mentioning regarding this passage is how I've rendered the word first. Phonetically I don't really need the [r] consonant in there. However, I've left it in as without it first would look identical to the word fist. Again, this is a problem concerning the vowel sounds so not of huge concern in this particular article. However, it's worth making note of as in the case of words such as first the [r] seems to symbolise a sustained vowel, rather than a "curled-tongue" [r] consonant.

For example, the vowel sound in first sounds like an [e] to me - as in the word egg. Ferst. However, the inclusion of a single [e] without the [r] would just give us the word fest. Whereas what we actually want is something more along the lines of "err" -

f -- errr -- st

 - i.e. a long vocalised [e] sound. So it would seem from this that we often use the [r] symbol to express sustained, or held, vowels, and not just for the actual consonant sound itself. In fact, we even use the written term err to express the "err" sound we often make when we pause or stutter during speech. This extra use of the [r] symbol is something that hadn't previously occurred to me, and it may present something of a problem if we decide to use [r] exclusively as a consonant, which was my intention.

It may perhaps be time to rethink the vowels once again. However, before that I may continue with a few more trial examples of the consonants as I enjoyed doing the first two :)

I'm now starting to think I may end up with a few different alphabets. Some more pure and accurate, others more for practical use.

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