cxn 'w rid dhys? (= can you read this.) hao abaot dhys dhen? (how about this then.) dhys systum qv rajtyk alaoz 'w tw rajt yn enj lxkwudd (this system of writing allows you to write in any language) 'wzyk onlj dhu stxndurd symbulz faond qn enj cibord (using only the standard symbols found on any keyboard). The sounds represented by particular letters are not always exact matches for sounds used in other languages, but they are reasonable approximations. The system can also be tweaked a little to fit some languages more efficiently. Let's begin by exploring how it works with English. There are ten important vowels in English, plus a few others which needn't be given their own symbols as they are never stressed (they are really just versions of other vowels which have become different sounds purely because they aren't pronounced clearly enough for it to matter). The ten clear vowels are the ones found in the following words, and it may surprise you to find that some vowels which you thought were quite different are in fact the same vowel, but with different lengths:-
Standard Phonetic Writing System
Some of you will disagree with the above list because people in different places can pronounce vowels very differently, so many English speakers pronounce "but" more like "boot" with a short "oo" sound, but I have to go along with the mainstream. Obscure vowels exist in words like "about" (where the "a" is similar to "u", the fourth of the ten vowels in the list), and "woody" (where the "y" is somewhere between "y" "j" and "i", the last three vowels in the list), but as they are always unstressed, you can spell them with whichever letter you feel comes closest.
- bwt (boot)
- bot (boat)
- bqt (bot), bqqt (bought), stqc (stock), stqqc (stalk), wqc (wok), wqqc (walk)
- burd (bird)
- bat (but), caar (car), haf (huff), haaf (half)
- bxt (bxt)
- bet (bet)
- byt (bit)
- bjt (bait)
- bit (beat)
indentYou may be wondering why the vowel sound in "bite" is missing from the list, but it is missing for the simple reason that it is actually a pair of vowels pretending to be one: it starts on an "a" and slides up to an "j" (remembering that "j" is the vowel sound you might normally spell as "ay"). There are at least three such sliding vowels in English, though many people use more and don't realise it. Here are the main three:-
I personally pronounce four of the "ao" words as "xo" instead ("x" being the vowel sound in the word normally spelt as "cat"), so for "down" I say "dxon" instead of "daon" (unless its feathers in which case I say "daon"), for "round" I say "rxond" instead of "raond", for "now" I say "nxo" instead of "nao", and for "miao" (the sound a cat makes) I say "mixo" instead of "miao". Many people also say "ej" instead of "j", and "eo" or "uw" instead of "o": aj sej uwld bin (I say old bean!), but you needn't worry about that unless you want to represent people's accents with precision. Pam Ayers tends to pronounce the word "I" as a slide from "u" to "j": uj lujc tw rujd muj bujc xt nujt, whereas many other people go the opposite way: qj lqjc tw rqjd mqj bqjc xt nqjt.
- lajc (like)
- laod (loud)
- tqj (toy)
Having dealt with all the English vowels (we'll deal with foreign ones later), we can now turn to the consonants (clicks and hisses). These always come in pairs, though English often just uses one member of some of these pairings: p b, f v, (hm) m, t d, th th, s z, (hn) n, (hl) l, (hr) r, sh si, ch j, c g, (hng) ng, h -. Those are standard English spellings for those sounds, but the phonetic system is different:-
Notice that "f" and "v" are similar sounds to "p" and "b", but air is allowed to escape to turn them into hisses rather than clicks. Also notice that "m" is similar to "b", but air is allowed to escape through the nose to turn it into a different kind of sound. The same relationship occurs between "s", "z", "t", "d" and "n", while the sounds "th", "dh", "sh", "zh", "r" and "l" are just varient forms of "s" and "z" with the tongue making slightly different shapes in the mouth. A third set of consonants is found at the back of the mouth with "ch" (as in "loch"), gh (a sound used in Irish and Gaelic), "c", "g" and "k" (which you normally write in English as "ng").
- pxn (pan), bxn (ban)
- fxn (fan), vxn (van)
- mxn (man)
- thyn (thin), dhys (this)
- typ (tip), dyp (dip)
- syp (sip), zyp (zip)
- nyp (nip)
- lyp (lip)
- ryp (rip)
- shyp (ship), vyzhun (vision)
- tshyp (chip), dzhet (jet)
- col (coal), gol (goal)
- lqch (loch)
- syk (sing)
- hxv (have)
indentThe sounds "tsh" and "dzh" (normally spelt "ch" and "j" in English) are not single sounds: they are each made up out of two sounds: t + sh and d + zh (in just the same way as "x" in the normal English spelling system is made up out of the two sounds c + s). Because "tsh" and "dzh" are rather long-winded, they can be spelt as "tt" and "dd" for speed, so "church" becomes "tturtt", and "judge" becomes "ddadd". The letters "q", "x" and "j" have been reallocated to vowels, while "k" has become "ng", so remember not to use them with their original sounds if you are writing phonetically.
indentThere are four remaining consonants in English which are really half vowel in nature:-
You'll notice that the same letter is used for the vowel w (oo) as the consonant w, but this isn't a problem: words like "queuing" simply take a hyphen to ensure that the w is taken for a vowel (c'w-yk). The need to distinguish between vowel and consonant for i and ' is far more important, so that's why they are written differently: there are masses of words where a hyphen would be needed otherwise, such as being (biyk) and skiing (sciyk), but it is also vital for other languages where the consonant ' can occur without a full vowel following it, such as the French "fille" (fi').
- wjr (wear), hwjr (where)
- 'w (you), h'wdd (huge)
indentNow that you've met all the English sounds, you need some practice reading phonetic English, so ajl ddast go strjt yntw sam nxo so I'll just go straight into some now xnd cip goyk fqr sam tajm and keep going for some time. yv 'w evur traj tw mjc ap 'or on lxkwudd if you ever try to make up your own language 'w wyl fajnd dhys fqnetyc rajtyk systum verj 'wsful fqr yt you will find this phonetic writing system very useful for it, bat ytz qlso gwd fqr rajtyk fqrun wurds but it's also good for writing foreign words qr enj adhur wurdz hwytt 'w hxv no ajdia hao tw spel or any other words which you have no idea how to spell. notys dhxt 'w cxn mys aot sam qv dhu "u" vaolz yn wurdz hwjr dhj ar matrd notice that you can miss out some of the "u" vowels in words where they are muttered, qr ivn yn wurdz lajc "brd" whjr dh "u" saond yz haaf bylt yntw dh "r" enjwj or even in words like "bird" where the "u" sound is half built into the "r" anyway. dher yz 'wzhulj no nid tw sho vaol lenth yn wurdz lajc "thqqt" and "hqp" there is usually no need to show vowel length in words like "thought" and "hop": 'w onlj nid tw dabl dh vaol yv a pjr qv adhurwajz-ajdentycl wurds egzyst fqr both lenthz, xz wyth "cqt" xnd "cqqt" you only need to double the vowel if a pair of otherwise-identical words exist for both lengths, as with "cot" and "caught".
indent'w shwd prxctys rajtk wyth dhys fqnetyc spelk systm xz wel you should practise writing with this phonetic spelling system as well bicqz dhxt wyl help 'w tw fycs yt yn 'or hed prqprlj because that will help you to fix it in your head properly. 'w mj qcjzhunulj nid tw 'wz a hajfun tw dil wyth wurdz lajc "bw-yk" so dhxt dh "w" daznt bicam a cqnsununt you may occasionally need to use a hyphen to deal with words like "booing" so that the "w" doesn't become a consonant. symylarlj, "pqt-hol" cxn tjc a hajfun yn dh mydl similarly, pothole can take a hyphen in the middle, ivn dho yt lxcz wan yn nqrml lajf even though it lacks one in normal life. 'w mj hxv notysd by nxo you may have noticed by now, dhxt spelk thykz fqnetyclj yz mor ifyshnt that spelling things phonetically is more efficient xz yt tjcz ap les spjs as it takes up less space, bat yt srtnlj daz lwc wird but it certainly does look weird, xnd yt tjcz cwajt a hwajl tw get 'wst tw ridk yt cwyclj and it takes quite a while to get used to reading it quickly.
Foreign Sounds:-There are many other vowels and consonants which exist in other languages, but the system can be adapted to cover them all. Any of the Magic Schoolbook language courses which need to use these other sounds will explain them there, but it is worth having an overview of them here as well. Vowels in many languages can be half way between two English vowels, giving a choice as to which letter to use for them, so with Spanish it is best to use "e" for "e" and "o" for "o", even though the Spanish "e" is usually somewhere between phonetic "e" and "j", while likewise the Spanish "o" is usually somewhere between phonetic "o" and "q". Italian is easier as its "e" is always phonetic "j" if unstressed and either phonetic "e" or "j" when stressed, while its "o" is always phonetic "o" when unstressed and either phonetic "o" or "q" when stressed - it doesn't go to half-way-in-between positions like Spanish. The thing to do whenever it is a cross between two vowels is to use the same letter as in the normal spelling for that language if possible, but otherwise to go for the closest phonetic letter.
indentThere are some quite different vowels, however, which are not in between normal English ones. French and Dutch both have three lip-rounded vowels which English lacks completely. These are versions of the phonetic sounds "i", "j" and "e", but with the lips in the same shape as they would be for a phonetic "w". To write these you can simply follow them with an "h" (ih, jh, eh), or alternatively you can use a degree symbol: i°, j°; e° (which is fairly easy to type if you use a French keyboard layout, but it can also be typed by pressing the "Num Lock" key and then holding down the "Alt" key and typing "ku8", though remember to press "Num Lock" afterwards to switch it off if you're using a laptop computer or the keyboard will type gibberish). These sounds are found in French words like "tu" (ti°); "deux" (dj°) and "peur" (pe°r). The "e°" sound doesn't seem vastly different to phonetic "u", but it is quite different in the way it is made in the mouth. Even so, it can usually just be spelt as "u".
indentThere are also nasal vowels in languages such as French, Portuguese, Hindi and Yoruba: these are spelt simply by using an squiggle after a nasal vowel, so "Français" becomes "frq~sj", while "são" becomes "sa~o". You can write the squiggle over the vowel if you prefer, but it won't always be possible on computers as the range of letters capable of taking it is rather limited.
indentIn Russian there is a vowel written as "ы" which sometimes sounds like a mixture of "i", "j" and "y", not unlike the "y" in words like "woody", but at other times it slides onto that sound from a starting point somewhere near "w". As there is no consonant "w" in Russian, the "ы" sound can either be spelt using phonetic "y" or "wy" if it slides.
indentDutch has an "a" which sounds more like an "q", but it is formed like an "a" made further back in the mouth rather than starting to round the lips: this can be spelt as "a", but technically it should be spelt as ",a" with a preceding comma to say that the sound is made further back in the mouth.
indentThe main action when it comes to sounds not used in English is found with the consonants, and there are many exotic ones to look at. We've already seen the Scottish "ch" which is a sound related to "c" in which air is allowed to escape to make a hiss instead of a click, just in the same way as "s" is related to "t". Similarly, "gh" is the weak version of "ch", just as "z" is the weak version of "s". Both "ch" and "gh" are found in many other languages. Arabic has both of these sounds, but it also has sounds not unlike c, ch and gh, but deep down in the throat: they are spelt "C", "H" and "9", partly inspired by a commonly used system for transliterating Arabic (which differs in that it uses "Q" instead of "C"). I may change the 9 to some other number as there seems to be another system using 3 and 7, but I don't know how it works, so this isn't fixed yet. Arabic also has four emphatic versions of "t", "d", "s" and "dh"/"z" which can be spelt "T", "D", "S" and "DH"/"Z" - they seem to involve tensing the mouth in some way and flattening the tongue, though I'm no expert on the exact mechanics of this. The glottal stop is spelt using the number 2, though ideally a small ² (squared)is used instead of a big one. "h²~~" represents a cough (~~ representing an extended escape of air).
indentIn many Indian languages there are four forms of "t": two of them are pronounced with a puff of air released after them, almost like a following "h", but this is represented phonetically by a following squiggle: this shouldn't be confused with the squiggle which turns things nasal as that can obviously only follow vowels. The other two versions of "t" both lack the puff of air. Two versions of "t" (one with a following puff and one without) are pronounced with the tip of the tongue contacting against the teeth, while the two other versions of "t" (again one with a puff and one without) are pronounced with the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth well back from the teeth. The further back versions of "t" can be spelt with a capital "T", so we now have our four types of "t" sorted out: t, T, t~ and T~. If you need to distinguish between Arabic "T" and Hindi "T", the Hindi one can be replaced with ",t" - a comma in front of a letter meaning that the sound is formed further back in the mouth. There are also four forms of "d" in Hindi: d, D, d~, D~. Puffs of air can also follow other consonants and the squiggle is used for all of them. Hindi also has three kinds of "n": n, N and ;n (the last of these not using the tip of the tongue, but the top surface of the tongue a bit further back instead, and of course N can also be written as ,n).
indentRussian has two forms of t, d, n, s, z, l and r, with the second form taking a semicolon in front to say that the top surface of the tongue is used instead of the tip, giving each of these sounds a hint of a following "y" about them (meaning "y" in the normal English spelling system). Sometimes it's better just to use a ' after the consonant instead of putting a semicolon in front of it: you just judge it by how it sounds.
indentThere are other sounds to deal with, but I'd like to consult with some experts before I set in stone how they should be spelt, and I may even change the spellings of some of the above ones. The system is sufficiently advanced to deal with most languages already: stressed vowels can be indicated simply by using upper case (though it looks neater to do so using accent marks if j, q and x can be simplified out of the system for a particular language). Using the system with tone languages may be more problematic, though fortunately they tend to have good romanisation systems of their own already and there may be no need to use my phonetic spelling system with them for any other purpose than showing how the native romanisation system works.