What is the Shavian Alphabet?

Shaw_alphabet_paperbackI recently learned of the existence of a hitherto unfamiliar alphabet, the Shavian Alphabet, which provides some marked improvements to the traditional Latin Alphabet. Though its appearance may seem like something extraterrestrial, it is simply another way to write the English language.

The Shavian Alphabet was named for George Bernard Shaw, who set the rules for its creation as follows:

  1. It must contain at least 40 letters.
  2. It must be as phonetic as possible.
  3. It must be distinct from the Latin Alphabet to avoid the impression that new spellings were “misspellings”.

A competition was held after Shaw’s death in which four people won. One of the winners, Ronald Kingsley Read (which is a great name for someone involved in a competition of language and alphabets), was tasked with combining the efforts of the four individuals into a single, sensible alphabet. Upon completion, George Bernard Shaw’s trust had only enough money to translate one of Shaw’s works into the new alphabet: Androcles and the Lion.

If you’ve ever read English, you know that it is a confusing language. Just look at this forgotten title from Dr. Seuss.


Tough rhymes with stuff. Cough rhymes with off. Plough rhymes with cow. Dough rhymes with go. Thanks a lot, English!

The problem of the Shavian alphabet is that we are so entrenched with Latin, it would be near impossible to retrain everyone in a new written form of the English language. That said, I kind of want to learn the Shavian alphabet, if for no other reason than to write in a way that is both sensible (in that words will sound like how they look) and insensible (in that they won’t make any sense to users of the traditional alphabet) simultaneously, and I’m a sucker for a paradoxical situations.

Anyone else want to join me?


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