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Shavian alphabet

Posthumously funded by and named for 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 as great as 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 modified the Shavian alphabet to create Quickscript, with more ligatures intended for handwriting, and another 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 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.

Tall and deep letters:
Shavian letter
(may vary, see below)
/p/ /t/ /k/ /T/ /f/ /s/ /S/ /tS/ /j/ /N/
Name/example peep tot kick thigh fee so sure church yea hung
/b/ /d/ /g/ /D/ /v/ /z/ /Z/ /dZ/ /w/ /h/
bib dead gag they vow zoo measure judge woe ha-ha

Short letters:
/l/ /r/ /m/ /n/ /I/ /i:/ /e/ /eI/ /{/ /aI/
loll roar mime nun if eat egg age ash ice
/@/ /V/ /A./ /@U/ /U/ /u:/ /aU/ /OI/ /A:/ /O:/
ado up on oak wool ooze out oil ah awe

/A:r/ /O:r/ /e@r/ /E:r/ /@r/ /I@r/ /I@/ /ju:/
are or air err array ear Ian yew

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, many American dialects merge /A:/ and /O:/ into a single phoneme (the so-called cot-caught merger), and others merge /E/ and /I/ (the pin-pen merger).

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:

Spelling of words differentiated by stress
Traditional spelling convict
1st syllable stressed /"kA.n'vIkt/
2nd syllable stressed /'k@n"vIkt/

Additionally, certain common words are abbreviated as single letters:



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 " class="external">

"Ŝava alfabeto"

An adaptation of Shavian to another language, Esperanto, was developed by Ĝan Ŭesli 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.

Ŝava letter
Pronunciation [a] [b] [ts] [tS] [d] [e] [f] [g] [dZ] [h] [x] [i] [j] [Z]
Conventional orthography a b c ĉ d e f g ĝ h ĥ i j ĵ
[k] [l] [m] [n] [o] [p] [r] [s] [S] [t] [u] [w] [v] [z]
k l m n o p r s ŝ t u ŭ v z


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. 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.

External links