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Questions and answers about the Ewellic alphabet

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This page provides answers to some questions that might arise about the Ewellic alphabet. Considering the limited interest that has been shown so far, it seems presumptuous to refer to these as “frequently asked” questions.

If you have a question about Ewellic that isn’t answered here, feel free to write to me and I will answer it (and probably add it to this list).

What is the Ewellic alphabet?

The Ewellic alphabet is a constructed (or “invented”) script meant for writing English and other human languages. It’s designed to be easy to write and understand. I invented it as a high-school student in 1980, and have added some features to it since then.

How does it work?

Very simply, words are written in Ewellic the way the writer understands them to be correctly pronounced. Spelling is based on careful pronunciation—as if the speaker were trying to guard against being misheard. There is considerable flexibility in spelling, depending on different people’s ideas of “correct pronunciation.”

Conventional Latin-script orthography is not taken into account. If you understand that there is no “g” sound in English high, and no “e” sound in French eau, you’re most of the way there.

Ewellic is written in horizontal lines, left-to-right, top-to-bottom.

What do the Ewellic letters look like?

Runic example
Cirth example
Ewellic example

Letters in Ewellic consist entirely of straight lines—usually one main vertical stroke (two for vowels), with a few horizontal or diagonal half-width “tails” or full-width cross-strokes. All letters are the same height, except that the full-width diagonal strokes can extend slightly above the cap line or below the baseline. Accent marks are placed above stressed vowels. There are few basic shapes; most letters are rotations or reflections of other letters.

The Ewellic letterforms were heavily influenced by the Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon runes, as well as the Cirth alphabet invented by J.R.R. Tolkein for The Lord of the Rings, although none of the Ewellic letters was intentionally assigned to the same sound as a similar-looking Runic or Cirth letter. The chart at right shows the visual similarities between these three writing systems.

Are there any sample texts that show what Ewellic text really looks like?

I’ve transcribed a few extended texts into Ewellic, including the American Declaration of Independence and the entire Universal Declaration of Human Rights (not just Article 1, as usually seen). Other sample texts are listed here. You’ll need the Code2000 or Code2001 font by James Kass to read these pages; an alternative font (including an imaginative italic version) will be available in the future.

The Omniglot page on Ewellic includes Article 1 of the UDHR in both English and German.

David McCreedy has transcribed the Four Essential Travel Phrases into Ewellic, which is a shorter but perhaps more practical sample than the ones I’ve provided.

Wazu Japan provides a brief description and test page for Ewellic, mainly for testing fonts.

What languages can be written using the Ewellic alphabet?

It should be possible to write at least English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Esperanto in the Ewellic alphabet. These are the languages with which I have the most familiarity (although I needed a lot of help with French and German) that did not pose major problems fitting into the original model. Languages that rely heavily on tone (Chinese and Vietnamese), vowel length (Japanese), or palatization (Russian) are not currently supported. Dutch, Portuguese, and Welsh are almost supported.

Is there an invented language, culture, race of creatures, or storyline that goes with this alphabet?

No, there is none. Although I respect the conlang and fiction-writing communities, they are not relevant to the Ewellic alphabet. In particular, there is no “Ewellic language.” Of course, you can always use the Ewellic alphabet to write your favorite conlang, if the necessary letters exist.

Is there a Ewellic dictionary?

How do you say “Hello,” “Thank you,” “My name is...” etc. in Ewellic?

Can you send me the Ewellic words for numbers “one” through “ten”?

Ewellic is not a language. Write these words in whatever language you choose, using the Ewellic letters and orthography.

Is this one of those “English spelling reform” projects that have failed so dismally in the past?

No, Ewellic is just a hobby project (of the type Wikipedia calls “things made up one day”) that I happen to have maintained over the past three decades. I have no desire to promote it as a replacement for the established Latin-script orthography.

Is Ewellic a cipher for the Latin script?

Why are there more than 26 letters?

What is the Ewellic letter for “C”?

Ewellic is a phonemic alphabet, which means roughly that there is one letter per sound. There is not necessarily a 1-to-1 relationship between Latin-script letters and Ewellic letters. A word like shoe is spelled with only two letters: one for the sh sound and one for the oe sound. (Some words like box and giant require more letters in Ewellic than in Latin.) There is no single letter directly corresponding to “C” because in the supported languages, “C” does not refer to a single sound the way that, say, “M” does.

Is Ewellic a cipher for the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)?

IPA is a phonetic transcription system that contains symbols for the distinctive sounds (phonemes) of every known human language. IPA can be used to create a broad or narrow transcription of language; the difference is in the amount of phonological and dialectical detail reflected in the transcription. IPA is invaluable for serious linguistic study.

Ewellic is intended as an everyday writing system for a small set of languages, for use by ordinary speakers of those languages rather than linguists. It is meant to be used in a very broad sense, without capturing exact phonetic differences between speakers and dialects. Ewellic cannot be easily expanded to represent phonemic features or distinctions far removed from those in the supported languages, as IPA can.

I had no knowledge of IPA at the time I created Ewellic. I did have knowledge of the various English-based “pronunciation keys” used in U.S. dictionaries, but Ewellic is not a cipher for any of those, either. Comparisons between Ewellic and the Deseret or Shavian alphabets are more appropriate, although those writing systems (unlike Ewellic) were intended as replacements for the Latin alphabet.

Does Ewellic have uppercase and lowercase letters?

No, there is only one case for all letters. There is also no “namer dot,” as in Shavian, or other indication that a letter or word is to be considered special in some way. The name Jim (a nickname for James) is spelled exactly the same as the word gym (short for gymnasium).

Most of the world’s writing systems are monocase, with the rather prominent exception of alphabets derived directly or indirectly from Greek (including the widespread Latin and Cyrillic alphabets).

How do you indicate stressed (accented) syllables in Ewellic?

Most of the supported languages (except French) recognize stress as an aspect of pronunciation. For multi-syllable words in these languages, an acute accent  ´  is written above the vowel of the syllable with primary stress. This is basically the same meaning that the acute accent has in Spanish, but it is applied to all words of two or more syllables—not just those that don’t fit the default stress rules—and it is never applied to one-syllable words.

Only one accent should be used in a given word, except for long compound words like undersecretary where each constituent word has its own stressed and unstressed syllables. A merely long word like incontrovertibility does not qualify for a second accent. Unlike the practice in IPA and dictionary keys, there is no mark to show secondary stress.

When writing French in Ewellic, an accent may optionally be placed on the stressed syllable of a word or phrase to facilitate correct pronunciation. The normal practice for French would be to omit all accents.

For other languages, including English, accents on multi-syllable words are part of the spelling of the word, and are mandatory. Omitting them is considered a spelling error, much as writing a proper name like england with a lowercase e would be considered a spelling error.

Neither the acute accent nor any other combining diacritical mark is used in Ewellic for any other purpose, such as to indicate a change in vowel quality or tone.

So I can’t just leave off the accents? Shavian and Deseret don’t use them.

Accents are essential to Ewellic, as noted above. If you are using a script to convert text from another phonetic writing system into Ewellic, you will need to add the accents manually.

What other punctuation is used with Ewellic?

The preferred primary quotation marks are the double guillemets « » , and the preferred secondary quotation marks are the single guillemets ‹ › . For nested quotations, double and single quotation marks are alternated as in English. Periods (full stops) and commas that do not belong to a quoted passage are placed outside the quotation marks (like the U.K. style, unlike the U.S. style).

All other punctuation marks are essentially the same as in English written in the Latin script. This includes the period, comma, colon, semicolon, exclamation point and question mark (optionally preceded by a space, as in French), and dashes. Hyphens may occur between complete words (e.g. a full-scale effort), but are generally not used with prefixes and suffixes such as re- and non- and -ish. Spanish-style inverted exclamation points and question marks are not used.

How do you write English contractions such as “can’t” in Ewellic?

The same way you write other words: as they sound. The contraction can’t (“cannot”) is spelled the same as the word cant (“jargon”). The apostrophe within a contraction is not pronounced (unless you are Victor Borge), so it is not written.

How do you indicate liaison in French using Ewellic?

Liaison in French is the practice of pronouncing the (normally silent) final consonant of a word in certain cases when it is followed by a word with an initial vowel. Since individual words are spelled in Ewellic according to their pronunciation, liaison should be reflected in the spelling:    (“vu”) for vous, but     (“vuz et”) for vous êtes.

Liaison is not the same as enchaînement (linking), the practice of pronouncing the final consonant of a word as though it belonged to the next word. Enchaînement moves the boundaries between spoken words, and is generally not reflected in Ewellic spelling; that is, vous êtes would not be written as *    (“*vu zet”).

How do you distinguish long and short vowels in German using Ewellic?

Most of the distinctions between “long” and “short” vowels in German are phonetic but not phonemic; the occurrence of one or the other can be predicted from context and they do not participate in minimal pairs. In cases like Bann versus Bahn, the vowel quality is also affected and there are two separate vowel letters in Ewellic (AE and AA) that can be used to capture this distinction.

How do you write doubled (geminated) consonants in Italian and other languages using Ewellic?

Gemination is a feature of Italian and some other languages, in which a consonant pronounced for a longer period of time is phonemically different from the “normal” short consonant. It is indicated in Ewellic by writing the consonant letter, or the first letter of an affricative pair, twice in succession.

Gemination is a basic phonemic distinction in Italian. For example, the words camino (“fireplace”) and cammino (“road”) are distinguished by the length of the “M” sound. The difference is shown in the Latin-script orthography, and also in Ewellic, by the contrastive use of single and double letters.

This feature is less common in English and the other supported languages, but does occur in some compound words such as midday and coattails, as well as words with certain prefixes and suffixes, such as unknown and meanness. This is not a critical distinction in English as it is in Italian, but a few pairs of words like unaimed and unnamed can only be distinguished in speech by the length of the spoken consonant. In other cases, even if there is no minimal pair, it would be considered unusual or substandard to pronounce a word like midday without lengthening the “D” sound.

Note that gemination also occurs in some English words like bookcase that are not spelled by doubling a letter in the Latin-script orthography. Conversely, double letters in the Latin script do not always indicate gemination. For example, in attic and apply the consonant sound is not lengthened, and in accent the two C’s stand for completely different sounds. The important point is that, as always, Ewellic spelling is determined by the way a word is pronounced and not by the way it is spelled in the Latin script.

When do you use the “schwa” vowel in Ewellic?

Not as often as you might think. Unlike the practice in some U.S. dictionary pronunciation keys, which use the schwa (ə) liberally to indicate almost any neutral or weakly stressed vowel (e.g. /ənʹdər/ for under), this letter should be used in Ewellic only for vowel and semi-vowel sounds that would simply sound wrong if pronounced with a more definite vowel sound. This includes unstressed a, an, and the, and the last syllable of little and forgotten in English, as well as le in French and the last syllable of bitte and haben in German. The Ewellic schwa letter should never be used in a stressed syllable (marked with an acute accent).

When do you use the glottal stop consonant in Ewellic?

The glottal stop is the newest Ewellic letter, added in 2012. Like the schwa, it is meant to be used sparingly. Use it to write words like uh-oh which would sound truly bizarre if the vowels were allowed to glide together without the stop. (There are very few words like this in English.) Don’t use it routinely for things like sentence-initial words that begin with a vowel sound (“Apples are good”), even if a pronouncing dictionary that follows narrow IPA includes it.

How are acronyms (“NATO”) and initialisms (“IBM”) handled in Ewellic?

Acronyms are pronounceable words that are made up of the Latin-script initials of other words. These should be spelled as they are commonly pronounced (“nay-toe”).

Initialisms are “words” that are pronounced by speaking the names of their individual Latin-script letters, which are language-dependent and not necessarily related to the letters that would be used to write the underlying words in Ewellic. These can be written by spelling out the Latin letter names (“eye bee em”) as individual words. The Ewellic letter names given in the accompanying charts are for identification purposes only, and should not be taken as pronounceable names for these letters.

Latin-script letters are sometimes used as symbols for ordering (“Section A”) or unique indexing (“part number SR626SW”). How does that work in Ewellic?

There is no provision for this at present. Letters in Ewellic are intended for writing pronounceable text. Decimal or hexadecimal digits or Latin-script letters can be used for indexing.

How are words sorted in Ewellic?

There is currently no established sorting order for the Ewellic alphabet. In particular, the order of code points in the CSUR encoding of Ewellic is not intended as a lexicographic order. This has been cited by a spelling-reform advocate as a “significant reason” that the Ewellic alphabet has “fail[ed] to catch on,” although Ewellic is not a proposal for spelling reform.

Is Ewellic difficult to write by hand? Wasn’t it intended just for computer fonts?

Ewellic was invented in 1980, long before the widespread availability of computers with interchangeable “soft fonts” that could display or print arbitrary letterforms. For over 20 years it existed only in handwritten form, in journals and shopping lists and the like.

Ewellic was designed to be easy to write by hand, not dependent on computer rendering techniques, and in that regard it is more like a “real” writing system than many of the alphabets shown at “conscripts” or “neographies” Web sites like Omniglot. Letters in Ewellic do not have to be drawn with any greater precision than most straight-line letters in the Latin script, such as T or L.

Shouldn’t this letter or that letter be shaped differently, if you want to be consistent and show the relationships between sounds in the letterforms?

In creating the original 36 letters and 10 digits in 1980, I tried to achieve a measure of consistency that was not present in other alphabets I had seen, particularly the Runic and Cirth alphabets which influenced the visual design of Ewellic. I didn’t get it right all of the time, but I don’t intend to change the meaning of any existing letters (which would invalidate existing text I might have in old notebooks somewhere). The 13 additional letters (added in 2007) and six hexadecimal digits (added in 2002) were designed to be consistent with the original model.

Latin-script letters can be written in thousands of different typefaces. Ewellic letters all consist of straight lines. Doesn’t that preclude any stylistic variation?

Actually, the simplicity and lack of ambiguity of letterforms in Ewellic means that they can be written in a wide variety of styles. Some of the possibilities for variation include:

An experienced and creative typographer could probably think of more.

Aren’t the Ewellic letters too similar in appearance to each other to constitute a practical script?

This was expressed in 2000 by one of the world’s leading experts on writing systems. It is accepted that writing systems that exhibit a greater amount of variety in their letterforms (within reason) are easier to learn and to read that those with less variety. (By this metric, the Greek alphabet ought to be substantially easier to read than Latin.)

While I concede that Ewellic letterforms are not as easy on the eye as Latin, I disagree that this makes the alphabet completely “impractical.” Several real-world scripts, such as Buhid, Buginese, Georgian Khutsuri, and Rejang, have been built from similar-looking, mostly straight-line glyphs, and all have achieved at least some practical use in spite of this characteristic.

What about the so-called “mandatory” ligatures?

Previous pages about the Ewellic alphabet referred to “mandatory” ligatures for the combinations AW + Y (“oy”) and OO + R (“er”). These are the ligatures I have always used in handwritten Ewellic. Due to the potential for increased use of fonts like Code2000 by James Kass, and the inability of rendering engines and fonts to apply ligatures to combinations in the Unicode Private Use Area, it seems more appropriate to think of these as “suggested” ligatures. Sic transit.

Since people speak with different accents, is there a “correct” way to spell words as there is in the standard orthographies?

Does Ewellic favor or mandate a single “correct” accent or pronunciation?

Ewellic should be written to reflect each speaker’s impression of the correct pronunciation of words. It is not an attempt to force people to speak the same language, dialect, or accent. Different speakers will pronounce certain words differently—compare American and British pronunciations of laboratory—and that will inevitably result in different spellings of those words in the Ewellic alphabet. This is a characteristic of Ewellic, for better or worse.

That said, Ewellic letters (especially vowels) are intended to represent abstract sounds, not precise variations in accents. See the example below.

I speak English with a British accent. I pronounce words like “show” with the diphthong əʊ, not a pure Italian-style o. How should I write this word in Ewellic?

This is still an abstract “o” sound. You should write it with the plain “long o” vowel in Ewellic. Ewellic is not meant to capture the exact phonology of speech, the way that narrowly transcribed IPA does.

I think Ewellic makes too many unnecessary distinctions between sounds in my language.

This is not a problem, if there are other speakers who do need to make the distinctions. If your accent or dialect does not distinguish between sound X and sound Y, choose one letter and use it consistently.

I think Ewellic doesn’t make enough necessary distinctions between sounds in my language.

This may be a problem, if the distinctions are phonemic—that is, if they are necessary to prevent confusion or misunderstanding. In general, I will consider adding new letters only if the existing letters are insufficient to communicate in one of the supported languages. Most writing systems do not capture every possible phonetic nuance (such as the various “R” sounds) and Ewellic is no different.

If you are convinced that one or more additional letters are necessary to prevent miscommunication, please contact me.

Ewellic doesn’t have distinct vowels for “father” and “bother”, but I do.

This is a known gap in the Ewellic vowel system. This distinction may sometimes be needed in British English, and some accents of American English, to avoid misunderstanding. I’m working on a solution.

What are the Ewellic digits?

An alphabet doesn’t necessarily need its own set of digits—many writing systems worldwide use the European digits 0 through 9—but since one of the original purposes of Ewellic was for secret writing, a set of digits was sometimes necessary to avoid divulging telephone numbers, dates, etc. that would give away the secret. Since I’m publishing Ewellic on the Internet, its value for secret writing is obviously reduced to near zero, but I’ve kept the digits around anyway. European digits can be used instead, if desired.

Hexadecimal (base-16) digits were added in 2002 to fulfill a (real or imagined) need: no other number system that I’m aware of has native support for hexadecimal digits. For example, the European digits 0 through 9 have to be supplemented with Latin letters A through F, and a special notation like “0x” or “16” must be used to distinguish decimal and hexadecimal values, especially when the hexadecimal form contains no letters. In Ewellic, a spacing (non-combining) grave accent  `  is written before all hexadecimal values, eliminating all ambiguity. I don’t plan to add support for other number bases.

A free library has been written for GNU/Linux that converts numeric values to and from Ewellic digits, either decimal or hex, along with about 60 other number systems.

Although there are simple rules that can be used to tell a letter from a digit, the glyphs used for letters and digits are visually very similar to each other. This is perhaps one of the most glaring flaws in the Ewellic glyph model. (On the other hand, readers have also been known to confuse the characters 1, I, and l.)

What is the ConScript Unicode Registry, and what does it have to do with Ewellic?

The Private Use Area (PUA) is a block of code space within the Unicode Standard that is reserved for characters defined not by Unicode, but by a private agreement between parties. (“Private” does not necessarily mean “secret”; the definitions may be published on the Internet or elsewhere.)

The ConScript Unicode Registry (CSUR) is a private, but fairly well-known, project for informally assigning space within the PUA for constructed scripts, like Ewellic. The CSUR project is not affiliated with the Unicode Standard, the Unicode Consortium, or the ISO Working Group (ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2) responsible for ISO 10646. A CSUR registration, or proposal, is an example of a private agreement for using the PUA to encode a given script.

Ewellic was registered in CSUR in February 2008. The proposal was originally written in 2000 and revised several times. About 40 scripts are either registered or proposed for registration in CSUR.

Are you trying to get Ewellic added into the Unicode Standard itself?

No. To be encoded in Unicode, a script or character must be demonstrably useful to a much larger group of users than the small handful of hobbyists and collectors who have expressed interest in Ewellic. The WG2 “Principles and Procedures” document recommends “use of the Private Use Area... if the proposed character has an extremely small or closed community of customers.” This is what I have done by proposing the Ewellic alphabet for CSUR. Probably thousands of people have invented their own alphabet; mine is perhaps just a bit better documented than most.

For the same reason, I don’t seek an ISO 15924 script code element for Ewellic, but instead suggest the private-use code element Qabe.

Where did you get the name “Ewellic”? It seems awfully conceited to name an alphabet after yourself.

The alphabet did not have a name until 1998. Since there was no fictional language or imaginary civilization associated with the alphabet, it seemed pointless to invent an arbitrary name for it. The main identifying feature of the alphabet was that it was mine.

The Cyrillic alphabet, named for the Byzantine Greek St. Cyril (827-869), served as the model for the name “Ewellic.” I briefly considered “Ewellian,” but for some reason that name sounded more like a language than a script.

How do you pronounce “Ewellic”?

The first syllable sounds like the English word you, and the stress is on the second syllable.

In IPA:  /juˈwelɪk/
In dictionary respelling:  /yo͞o-wĕlʹĭk/
In Ewellic:  ́

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