04 July 2011

A Guide to Constructed Languages: Writing Systems: Alphabetic and Phonetic

An alphabetic system is a standardised writing system with graphemes (letters) that roughly represent phonemes (basic sounds). The Latin or Roman alphabet (colloquially known in some parts as 'the English alphabet') is the most commonly used writing system in the world, and is considered an alphabetic writing system. Other examples include Greek, Hiragana and Katakana (Japanese), and Hangul (Korean).

This is the most basic and probably the most often used writing system for conscripts. If you are new, this may be the best option to use, as you can easily create a script to go with sounds or letters from your own language.

Alphabets use spelling rather than word meaning to write words. You can also choose to have irregularities in your language to make it more natural; English examples:
  • Through is pronounced 'thru'
  • Thought is pronounced 'thawt'
  • Draught is pronounced 'draft'
  • Hiccough is pronounced 'hiccup'
  • Fiery is pronounced 'fire E'
Not all languages have as many irregularities as English does, though, so you don't need to consider it a requirement. Japanese is a good example of a language with very consistent pronunciation. The pronunciation is, overall, so exact and consistent that different dialects of the Japanese language do not have to do with pronunciation, but rather which words are used (ai versus koi, two words for 'love').

Note: True alphabetics do not contain diacritic marks such as accents, but that does not mean you cannot include them.

A phonetic transcription is a writing system that has visual representations of exact speech sounds ('phones'). It is similar to an alphabetic system in that it is not based on meaning. The main difference is that alphabetic systems are standardised and have correct or incorrect spelling (though, words can have more than one correct spelling, such as 'colour' and 'color' or 'favour' and 'favor'), while phonetic systems are based on how the words are pronounced. The word route can be pronounced 'root' or 'rawt', but it is still spelt R-O-U-T-E; if this were a phonetic system, it would be spelt differently based on its pronunciation. The most commonly used phonetic system is the International Phonetic Alphabet.


Choose which letters or sounds (from here on out letters or sounds will together be known as 'letters') you want for your language and write them down. If you're a beginner, it may be easier for you to choose letters from your first language to start. You can add any notes that you want.

Note: You may be unsure at first if you want to go with a specific decision; -- just write it down and add a question mark to it so that you remember it later. It's better to write it down and not use it, than it is to forget something good you would have used.

Here is my example based on the English alphabet:

Vowels: A E I O U
Consonants: B D F G H J K L M N P R S T V Y Z


- No C, because it sounds like S or K
- Q is also replaced with K
- S becomes Z if it sounds like a Z
- G is always hard, like in 'goat', and 'soft' G is replaced by J, like in 'large'
- W is replaced by U
- X is replaced by KS

Punctuation is a very helpful thing to have in a script. If you would like to include any, write those down too.

Note: Not all scripts use punctuation, so it's not a requirement. Feel free to make up your own marks too. Perhaps you will have something for '?!'/'!?' or three full stops, one for sentences talking about the past, another for sentences talking about the present, and a third when sentences refer to the future.


full stop (.)
comma (,)
apostrophe (')
quotes ("" or '')
exclamation point (!)
question mark (?)
parenthesis ( () )

Lastly, design your letters and punctuation. Don't be afraid of making mistakes, because you can always correct them later. You can design these 'characters' separately from your letters and punctuation and assign them to a specific letter or punctuation later on.

Note: If you're not sure where to begin, consider these questions:
  • Do you want capitalisation or not?
  • Do you want more rounded letters (ex. hiragana), or letters made of straight lines (ex. futhorc runes)?
  • Do you want simple letters, or more complex letters?
  • Do you want letters that can be joined together like cursive, or would you prefer each letter is written separately like print?
And you can always create letters inspired by a variety of things as well, such as
  • Animals
  • Buildings
  • Cars
  • Cloud shapes
  • Cooking
  • Flowers
  • The beach
  • Lamps

This example was inspired by tea sets; it is more simple and rounded with no capitalisation or joined letters:

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