Writing System

Completed: 2017 | Skills: typography design

I'm fascinated with linguistics; I'm particularly interested in writing systems. Unlike spoken language, which evolves naturally, writing systems are invented and standardized. They often go unchanged, even as languages evolve, resulting in spelling that could depart significantly from the pronunciation of the word (caught and cot could be pronounced the same or differently depending on where in the US you live).
Interested in thinking about English spelling in a different way, I worked on creating a phonetic writing system for the English language. In addition to making the writing system phonetically represent English as I pronounced it, rather than the only semi-phonetic spelling that currently exists, I chose to make the writing system an abugida as opposed to an alphabet. In an abugida, words are spelled with consonant bases that are modified with vowels. This would save space and make a writing system that is more visually efficient.

Final Writing System

My name, Sebastian, written in the final writing system.

full system

All the consonants and vowels in the writing system. English has both voiced and unvoiced consonants in it. Many of these voiced and unvoiced consonants exist in pairs, where the tongue and mouth are in the same position, and the only difference is the voicing of the consonant (whether or not the voice box is being used). To emphasize these pairs, a number of the consonants in the writing system are different only by a voicing mark that is added to differentiate them.
You may also notice that there are more consonants and vowels here than are in the current English alphabet. This is because we actually have more sounds in our language than we do in our alphabet. Some letters represent multiple different sounds or combine with other letters to represent new sounds. I chose to represent every sound with a different character for the sake of clarity.


I initially set about creating the writing system by exploring types of writing systems that already exist. I looked at how sounds are organized into symbols in different languages and explored the major categories of writing systems. Keeping this information in mind as a baseline, I wrote down all the phonetic sounds in the English language (at least in my dialect of it). From this, I considered which of the types of writing systems might suit English, and I made random symbol scribbles to explore what a writing system might look like. I chose to pursue an abugida that follows the style of the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic.
I then created characters for the vowels and consonants. These characters were fairly arbitrary in their form, though there were a couple of cases where the sound influenced the shape of the character. Voiced and unvoiced consonants were differentiated with a bar at the bottom of the character, and the three nasal consonants (m, n, and ŋ) all share similar forms.
With the character forms mostly figured out, I explored serif and sans serif variations of the writing system before creating the characters. Preferring the appearance of the serif version, I created the final digitized version of the writing system by cutting up and reassembling parts of letterforms from Times New Roman.
A couple of months after making the final version, I revisited the writing system and worked on making improvements to it. I worked on making the forms more visually appealing and sensible, and I worked particularly the t, ʃ, and ʧ (and by extension d, ʒ, and ʤ) to visually demonstrate that ʧ, while it operates as its own consonant, is really just a combination between t and ʃ. I also added the ʔ to the writing system. ʔ (the glottal stop) is present in the English language, although it is a fairly hidden consonant as it only shows up in rare cases and is never identified in written English. I never digitized this updated version of the writing system.

©2019 Sebastian Carpenter