Brevian alphabet

The Brevian alphabet is a proposed alternative alphabet for typing English. Drawing inspiration from the Shav­ian alphabet, it is a phonetic alphabet which utilises letter pairs (tall/low letters for unvoiced/voiced consonants, and dotted and undotted letters for long/short vowels) to depict related letters. It was created by Brian Mansberger, and first published in 2021.

The alphabet has 40 core letters (22 consonants, 13 pure vowels, 3 diphthongs, 2 semivowels), and three extra letters to be used in Welsh and Scot­tish dialect words. Brev­ian thus has eight vowel letters less than Shav­ian; the reason is that Shav­ian has rhotic vowels as ligatures, while in Brev­ian they’re just written as a vowel followed by R. In neither alphabet is it strictly permissible for a speaker of a non-rhotic accent to omit the silent Rs in spelling. Brevian does also have a “ring” diacritic, used both under the first letter of proper nouns, and to show stress, if stress isn’t on the first syllable of a word (which is what’s assumed by default).

Compared to Shav­ian, I think Brev­ian has some neat ideas (like marking stress, and the vowel letters seem nicely systematic, for example) but the lack of rhotic vowel ligatures ends up being a problem, in my opinion. In particular, the sound /ɜː/ (as in work) gets spelt as if it was /ʌɹ/, which feels profoundly wrong. This would seem to be the result of the hurry-furry merger in Amer­i­can English (except that if you have that merger, the merged sound is /ɜɹ/, not /ʌɹ/!). Personally, I prefer a cross-dialectical system like Shav­ian’s over an Amer­i­can-centric one.

Being a very recent invention and also basically the hobby project of one guy, Brev­ian characters are not supported by Unicode 🙂 Instead, there’s a font. This font assigns Brevian glyphs to the standard Latin characters (plus some extras, because 43-letter alphabet); as much as is possible the most logical character is chosen, like for example the letter “p” will show up as the Brev­ian letter for the phoneme /p/. The capitalised form of a letter will result in the Brevian letter with the ring diacritic. Below is a chart, although it won’t display properly if you’ve disabled my stylesheet or are using a screenreader:

BrevianIPAWhat to TypeExample BrevianIPAWhat to TypeExample
ppppea bbbbee
ssssea zzzzoo
ttttea ddddad
þθþthank ðððthat
ffffast vvvvat
kkkcat gggget
xʃxshark `ʒ`mirage
ccchair jjjoke
hhhhawk \ŋ\fang
llllike rɹrread
mmmmum nnnnice
iɪikit íiífleece
uʊufoot úuúgoose
eeedress ééface
oɔothought óógoat
aæatrap áɑápalm
;ə;comma qʌqstrut
òɒòlot œɔɪœchoice
ææprice ååmouth
yjyyes wwwwest

The only thing that bugs me about its assignments is that almost all the letters can be typed easily on a default English keyboard in macOS… except for eth and thorn. And /ð/ in particular is the eighth-most common phoneme in the English language 🙃 Just seems a shame to be almost perfect OOTB but not fully there. All the other assignments are fine from a macOS perspective.

The extra letters are found as follows: ñ /ɬ/ is on ñ, è /r̥/ is on è, and ç /x~χ/ is on ç.

See Also / References