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  1. Abbreviation
  2. Bezenshek Shorthand
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  16. Quikscript
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  18. Shavian alphabet
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  25. Stenograph
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  28. Teeline Shorthand
  29. Thomas Natural Shorthand
  30. Tironian notes
  31. Transcript



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Shavian alphabet

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Shaw Alphabet Edition of Androcles and the Lion, 1962. Paperback cover design by Germano Fancetti
The Shaw Alphabet Edition of Androcles and the Lion, 1962. Paperback cover design by Germano Fancetti

Posthumously funded by and named after Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, the Shavian alphabet (also known as Shaw alphabet) was conceived as a way to provide simple, phonetic orthography for the English language to replace the difficulties of the conventional spelling. Shaw set two main criteria for the new alphabet: that it should be phonetic with, to the greatest extent possible, a 1:1 correspondence between letters and sounds; and that it should be distinct from the Latin alphabet so as to avoid the impression that the new spellings were simply "misspellings".

A contest for the design of the new alphabet was held, which was won by a Mr. Ronald Kingsley Read. Read later revised the Shavian alphabet to create Quickscript, with more ligatures intended for handwriting. His final alphabet was a Latin-based script.

Due to contestation of Shaw's will, the trust charged with developing the new alphabet was only able to afford to publish one book: a version of Shaw's play Androcles and the Lion, in bi-alphabetic edition with both conventional and Shavian spellings. (1962 Penguin Books, London)

The letters

The Shavian alphabet consists of three types of letters: tall, deep and short. Short letters are vowels, liquids (r, l) and nasals; tall letters (except Yea image:shavian-yea.png and Hung image:shavian-hung.png ) are unvoiced consonants. A tall letter rotated 180°, with the tall part now extending below the baseline, becomes a deep letter, representing equivalent voiced consonant (except Woe image:shavian-woe.png and Haha image:shavian-ha-ha.png).

There are no separate capital or lowercase letters as in the Roman alphabet; instead of using capitalization to mark proper names, a "naming dot" (·) is placed before a name. There is no other difference in punctuation or word spacing between English written in conventional orthography and in Shavian.

Spelling in Androcles follows the phonetic distinctions of British Received Pronunciation except for explicitly indicating rhotic "r" with the above ligatures. Most dialectical variations of English pronunciation can be regularly produced from this spelling, but those who do not make certain distinctions, particularly in the vowels, find it difficult to spontaneously produce the canonical spellings. For instance, most North American dialects merge image:shavian-ah.png /ɑː/ and image:shavian-on.png /ɒ/. Canadian English, as well as many American dialects (particularly in the west and near the Canadian border), also merge these phonemes with image:shavian-awe.png /ɔː/, which is known as the cot-caught merger. In addition, many American dialects merge image:shavian-egg.png /ɛ/ and image:shavian-if.png /ɪ/ before nasal consonants.

There is no ability to indicate word stress, however in most cases the reduction of unstressed vowels is sufficient to distinguish word pairs that are distinguished only by stress in the traditional orthography:

Additionally, certain common words are abbreviated as single letters:


Some disagreement has arisen among the Shavian community in regard to sound-symbol assignments, which have been the topic of frequent arguments. Primarily, this has concerned the alleged reversal of several pairs of letters.

Haha-Hung Reversal

The most frequent disagreement of the letter reversals has been over the Haha-Hung pair. The most convincing evidence suggesting this reversal is in the names of the letters: The letter Haha is deep, while Hung, which suggests a lower position, is tall. This is often assumed to be a clerical error introduced in the rushed printing of the Shavian edition of Androcles and the Lion. It should also be noted that this reversal obscures the system of tall letters as voiceless consonants and short letters as voiced consonants.

Proponents of traditional Shavian, however, have suggested that Kingsley Read may not have intended for this system to be all-encompassing, though it seems that vertical placement alone served this purpose in an earlier version of Shavian, before the rotations were introduced. It may also be the case that Read intentionally reversed these letters, perhaps to emphasize that these letters represent unrelated sounds, which happen to occur in complementary distribution. Other reasons have been suggested by both sides, including associations with various styles of Roman letters and the effect of letter-height on the coastlines of words, but whether Read considered any of these is uncertain. Since the letter representing the same sound in Read's Quikscript appears identical to "Hung", it's doubtful that Read reversed the letter twice by mistake.

Other Reversals

Two other letters that are often alleged to have been reversed—intentionally or not—are Air and Err. Both are ligatures, and their relation to other letters is usually taken as evidence for this reversal.

Air is a ligature of the letters Egg and Roar. Based on their appearance, one would expect the ligature of these letters to be joined at the bottom and free at the top, yet the opposite is true.

Err, is a ligature of the letters Up and Roar. Based on their appearance, one would expect the ligature of these letters to be joined at the top and free at the bottom, yet once again, the opposite is true.



Some years after the initial publication of the Shaw alphabet, Read expanded it to create Quickscript, also known as the Read Alphabet. Quickscript is intended to be more useful for handwriting, and to that end is more cursive and uses more ligatures. Many letter forms are roughly the same in both alphabets; see the separate article for more details.

Revised Shaw alphabet

Paul Vandenbrink has created a modified Shavian alphabet which takes the controversial step of replacing most of the specific vowel letters with markers indicating which of several sets of vowel types a vowel belongs to, thus reducing the number of vowel distinctions and lessening the written differences between dialectical variations of English. This variant, and not the original Shaw alphabet, is presented at


Ŝava alfabeto

An adaptation of Shavian to another language, Esperanto, was developed by Ĝan Ŭesli Starling (John Wesley Starling); though not widely used, at least one booklet has been published with transliterated sample texts. As that language is already spelled phonemically, direct conversion from Latin to Shavian letters can be performed, though several ligatures are added for the common combinations of vowels with n and s and some common short words.

Pronunciations that differ from their English values are marked in bold red.

The digital age

Shavian is encoded in plane 1 of Unicode, from U+10450 to U+1047F, but appropriate fonts for Unicode Shavian are rare, the most notable being Code2001, which as of version 0.917 (April 2005) contains rough-drawn Shavian characters. Before it was standardised, fonts were made that include Shavian letters in the places of Roman letters, and/or in an agreed upon location in the Unicode private use area, allocated from the ConScript Unicode Registry.

See Also

  • Shorthand

External links

  • ConScript Unicode Registry, describes unofficial assignment of Shavian letters in Unicode private use area (Since withdrawn in favour of the official encoding)
  • Shavian fonts, list by Luc Devroye
  • article on Shavian
  • Browser test page for Unicode Shavian
  • Yahoo! Group on Shavian
  • Revised Shaw Alphabet, history, etc.
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