Shavian alphabet

Wednesday 5 February 2003This is more than 20 years old. Be careful.

George Bernard Shaw always detested the absurd hodge-podge of English spelling. He first made the classic observation that “fish” could be spelled “ghoti” (by using pieces from laugh, women, and nation). One of his legacies is the Shavian alphabet, a phonetic alphabet for English.

Androcles and the Lion, in Shavian alphabet

Like Esperanto, the Shavian alphabet is an idealistic attempt to synthetically improve human communication. I admire its idealism. Also like Esperanto, there is a small but dedicated community keeping it alive, despite a lack of general acceptance (or even awareness). For example, there is a proposal to add Shavian to Unicode.

Interesting to note, though, that even Shaw gave up on a little phonetic purity for the sake of convenience: the four most common words in English (the, of, and, to) are spelled with a single letter rather than phonetically.


Your post implies that Shaw invented the Shavian alphabet. He didn't; Kingsley Read did. Shaw's estate funded a competition for the creation of Shavian. There is a little more on the history here:

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