|History of George Bernard Shaw and the Shaw Alphabet|
|Biography of George Bernard Shaw|
|Shaw was born in Dublin in 1856 to Irish Protestant parents. He moved to
London in 1876 and worked as a music and theatre critic. He married in 1898.
At first he was not very successful in London. His first five novels were
rejected by all of the publishers and his first seven plays flopped, but he
became a critical success. In the 1880s he became one of the first members
of the Fabian Society, an organization which advocated non-revolutionary
democratic socialism. He wrote numerous pamphlets for the Society, and
theatrical criticism as well as his plays. He did all his writing in
Pitman's Shorthand. He wrote more than 50 plays. He was the leading
playwright of his time. His Plays were witty and entertaining. And yet, they
overflow with ideas and serious messages. Among the most famous are
|In 1925 Shaw received the Nobel Prize for literature.
He died in 1950, aged 94.
As well as being in the vanguard of social progress for England, he also interested himself, in the blossoming science of Lingustics. He supported the popular scientific viewpoint that English, as written, has a unsuitable and inconsistent alphabet, using spellings which often represent obsolete sounds. Spelling reform of the existing alphabet, had already been tried unsuccessfully, fifty years before and had only resulted in more confusion with a proliferation of multiple valid spellings for the same word.
As a playwright, literary critic, socialist and polymath, George Bernard Shaw knew all this, and wished to clear away this quagmire. As he did all his own writing himself in the phonetically-based Pitman's Shorthand, he recognized the many benefits offered by a completely phonetic alphabet. With this in mind, he gave instructions in his will that for the first 21 years after his death, the earnings from the royalties of all his works should be spent on the creation and promotion of a phonetic alphabet, using 40 or more letters, each of which represented one sound, and one sound only, of the English language. This was the inspiration for the Shaw Alphabet.
|History of the Shaw Alphabet|
The Shaw alphabet exists as an alternative to the Roman alphabet in which English is currently written.
The Roman alphabet, in its more-or-less its current state was brought to England by Latin-speaking monks. With only 26 letters, this alphabet was used to write Latin very efficiently, but is not suited for transcribing English, which has around 40 basic speech sounds.
Originally, other letters had been added to the Roman Alphabet, for some of the additional sounds used in English words. Unfortunately, with the invention of the printing press, the Font was standardized to the basic Roman Alphabet, and English spelling was changed to accommodate those missing letters. See Icelandic Alphabet as an example of a properly augmented alphabet.
In English, to get around the limitation of 26 letters, some Roman letters can represent any one of several sounds, and pairs of letters are used to represent a single sound. In general, alternate consonant sounds are written in the Roman alphabet by affixing a silent "h" to an associated letter with a similar consonant sound. For example, "sh" represents another consonant sound similar to the "s" sound.
Lets look at one unhappy example of the complexity of English spelling, to demonstrate the problem.
The word "through", for example, is composed of three basic sounds (th, r, ough) -- but it has seven letters. The first sound can only be written with two letters, and the last sound was written with 4 letters.
Alternatively, "through" could have been written as "thru", "thrue" or "throo", with the same pronunciation of the last sound. Remove the first two letters of "through", and logically you should end up with a word that rhymes with "through". Instead you, get the word "rough", which could have been alternately spelled "ruff".
So as you might expect, it is difficult for even the most intelligent untutored person to learn the English Spelling and thus the English language, using the current flawed spelling system and the Roman Alphabet. English spelling used to be more phonetic than it is today. That is, its spellings used to correspond more regularly to the sounds they represented. But further disparities have arisen due to the tendency of spelling conventions to persist even after the sounds of a language have changed or been dropped. For example, I suspect there was originally an audible "gh" sound in English, but it has been lost.
|The Alphabet Trusts|
Due to human avarice, the development of the Shaw Alphabet was delayed. If George Bernard Shaw's will had been executed immediately, and the Alphabet Trust had been established as envisioned more than five hundred thousand pounds (worth millions today) would have been spent to develop and proliferate the Shaw Alphabet . However, the will was successfully contested by other hopeful beneficiaries, and an out-of-court settlement awarded the Alphabet Trust a meager 8,300 English pounds.
The British Public Trustee, who had been charged with the responsibility of arranging the design and promotion of the new alphabet, offered 500 British Pounds as a prize in a competition for the design of the new alphabet. By New Year's Day 1959, the closing date of the competition, 467 entries had been received. Of these, four were judged to be worthy of reward, and the author of each received 125 British Pounds. Ostensibly, the four designs would be merged together to produce one super-alphabet; but the final alphabet was based largely on the design of one Kingsley Read, an architect and designer.
The alphabet is named then, not after its creator, but after George Bernard Shaw, the playwright, who donated the seed money and inspired this revolution in English writing. He also popularized phonetics and made the argument for its necessity, in his play "Pygmalion." His actions made the development and propagation of concise, logically consistent English alphabet into a reality.
After the prize money had been distributed amongst the winners, 7,800 British Pounds remained of the portion of Shaw's estate that had been allotted for the Shaw Alphabet. The vast majority of this was used to produce the only book that has so far been printed in the Shavian alphabet: a bi-alphabetic version of Shaw's play "Androcles and the Lion". It was published by Penguin Books on 22d of November, 1962. Around 47,000 copies were printed in total: 13,000 in hardbacks for distribution to libraries around the world, and the rest in orange paperbacks for public sale. A continuing interest developed, but the book went out of print, and popular interest diminished. With the development of the internet, special interest group disseminated copies of the original Shaw Alphabet.