Deseret Alphabet Chart

Some time ago I posted about Deseret Alphabet.  This summer I put together a chart to help make it easier to learn.  Everything is in one place this way, instead of having to check multiple documents.  Thought I’d share.

This is not technically shorthand; it was used for spelling reform more than anything else, to make it easier for the immigrants of the 1800’s.  George D. Watts was one of the primary developers of the system along with Brigham Young (Watts was a Pitman scribe also).  I seriously doubt it was speed-oriented, and cursive forms of it were too illegible and dropped out of use pretty quickly.  There is scanned correspondence and journal entries out there in handwritten printed Deseret that are pretty neat to see.  Today it has the advantage of having free fonts to download for it, which makes it really fun to play with.  And public domain books are still being published in Deseret, which provides plenty of practice material.


Deseret Alphabet chart

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  1. One observation:  though it's mostly phonetic, I find it annoying that Deseret uses the "uh" letter for the schwa sound (such as the "e" in river).  I like that Gregg drops that and just lets it gets swallowed up by the following r consonant. 

  2. The Deseret Alphabet is a bit off subject on a shorthand site, perhaps. But to bring it back into line, I'll point out that shorthand and spelling reform seem to go hand-in-hand. Sir Isaac Pitman developed a phonetic alphabet which he called the English Phonotypic Alphabet, and which he hoped might replace traditional writing. His grandson, Sir James Pitman, invented a phonetic alphabet to help children learn to read, called the Initial Teaching Alphabet.

    George Bernard Shaw, an avid spelling reformer who wrote most of his work in Pitman shorthand (for his secretary to transcribe), left a sum of money in his will to be paid out to the inventor of a phonetic alphabet which should meet certain criteria. Sir James Pitman was to oversee the invention and the distribution of the money. Pitman announced a contest to invent such an alphabet, and four people shared the prize. The resulting alphabet was dubbed Shavian. A paperback copy of Shaw's Androcles and the Lion was printed in facing-page Shavian and standard English writing. It was available through bookstores, and free copies were sent to many libraries.

    For what it's worth, I was an early buyer of this version of Androcles and the Lion. I still have my copy, which I've kept in fine condition. But I've never bothered to learn to write Shavian, which I consider basically useless.


    1. How fascinating!  I looked up Shavian on Wikipedia to see what it was like.  Glancing over it, I suspect it might have some of the same criticisms as Deseret… both lack ascenders and descenders and are a bit hard on the eyes due to this lack of variety (though I do see some of the Shavian characters are higher or lower than some of the others).  Still, it's pretty impressive both have a following.  I'm impressed with the logic of Shavian.  It's similar to Gregg in a way (such as P B and V have a similar outline).  Deseret was far more random.

  3. I agree about the logical construction of Shavian. One thing that I think is a weakness, though, is that so many of the letters are reflections of others, either sideways, upside-down, or both. In shorthand, where the same is true, the letters in a word are connected, giving the word a unique outline. But Shavian is a form of printing, so the letters are disconnected. This could also be a nightmare for a dyslexic person. I don't see the same weakness in the Deseret alphabet.

    1. Whoops! Forget the word "also" above. It's from a scratch copy of my comment, and should have been expunged. (I wish we had the ability to edit our comments here after posting them.)

    2. Oh yes, I can see what you mean about it presenting problems with someone with dyslexia.


      Anyway, this business of mark-making is pretty fascinating.  I picked up a fun book called The Language Construction Kit by Mark Rosenfelder.  Its intended audience is for writers and gamers who want to create their own languages and worlds.  Tons of fun!

  4. I made some conlangs many years ago, before the word "conlang" was invented. I also invented alphabets for them. They were fun, but of course have little use—except that phrases in them make for good passwords.

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