Quikscript (also known as the Read Alphabet and Second Shaw) is an alphabet (and phonemic orthography) specifically designed for the English language. Quikscript replaces traditional English orthography, which uses the Latin alphabet, with completely new letters. It is phonemically regular, compact, and comfortably and quickly written. There are also adapted Quikscript alphabets for other languages, using the same letters for sounds which do not exist in English.
Origins and History
George Bernard Shaw, the writer, critic and playwright, was a highly vocal critic of English spelling because it lacked a coherent system for representing the phonemes of English accurately. As a result, for years he wrote his literary works using Pitman shorthand. However, he found its limitations frustrating as well and realized that it was not a suitable replacement for the Latin alphabet, being difficult to use to produce printed material and impossible to type. A shorthand is, by definition, more specialized than an alphabet, which represents the standard written form of a language. Shaw desired and advocated a phonetic reworking of written English, and this called for a new alphabet.
To that end, Shaw placed in his will provisions instructing his executor to organize a world-wide competition to design an improved English alphabet. A British designer, Ronald Kingsley Read, who had corresponded extensively with Shaw for several years regarding just such an alphabet, was selected along with three other finalists as the winners of the competition. Read was chosen to design the final form of the alphabet. The "Shaw Alphabet" or "Shavian", as it is now generally known, was the result.
To provide field testing of the new alphabet, Read organized a lengthy public testing phase of Shavian by some 500 users from around the world who spoke different dialects of English. Once he had analyzed the results of those tests, Read decided to revise Shavian to incorporate a number of changes to improve the alphabet and make it both easier and faster to write. He called the revised alphabet "Quikscript". In 1966 he published the Quikscript manual which set out the alphabet's rationale, and briefly discussed different possible methods of alphabet reform. The heart of the manual provided comprehensive instructions regarding the use of the alphabet along with reading samples.
Each Quikscript letter represents one, and only one, English phoneme. There are 25 consonants and 15 vowels, totaling in all 40 letters. The letters are also designed to be written easily and each of them only requires a single (usually curved) stroke of pen.
- Just as in the Roman alphabet, there are short letters, a, c, e, m, and n, written between the base writing line and the "upper parallel" (as Read calls it), tall letters, b, d, f, k, and t, which ascend above the top of the short letters, and deep letters, g, j, p and y, which descend below the base writing line. Quikscript, however, makes better use of these possibilities by using 11 tall, 11 deep, and 18 short letters. All vowels are short letters, just as they are in the Roman alphabet.
- The most common phonemes have the simplest letter shapes.
- Similar sounding phonemes have similar letter shapes. Examples:
- Long vowels and glides are written with a larger bend or loop, while short vowels have a simpler shape.
- Every voiced consonant is written with a deep letter similar in shape to the corresponding voiceless consonant which in turn is written with a tall letter.
- While the Roman alphabet has two distinct forms in common use, which are designated as lower and upper case, this concept does not exist in the Quikscript alphabet. There is only one form for the majority of the letters. Names and proper nouns are preceded with a mid-line dot (called a name-dot) which is sufficient to distinguish them from ordinary words.
- Beginners learn Junior Quikscript first. Each word is spelled "as it is spoken". Each letter is written separately from the next so that it is equivalent to what is termed "printing" in the Roman alphabet. Some people may prefer Junior Quikscript for printed texts as readers are used to the Roman alphabet being printed in that manner.
- Senior Quikscript introduces a number of advanced techniques which save time in writing. The most obvious difference between the two is that Senior encourages the connection of one letter to the next as long as the shapes of the letters are not altered. The design of the alphabet fosters these natural connections, as each Quikscript letter either begins or ends on the base line or the upper parallel. This structure permits letters to connect easily yet maintains the shapes of the individual letters because there are no connecting strokes between letters as there are in cursive Roman alphabet writing. It is common that Senior writing will have several letters in a row which are connected to each other, but when such a connection is not possible, the letters are simply left unconnected. Read added a very small number of alternative letter forms, which permit even more letters to connect easily. It is the writer's choice whether to use them or not.
- Senior Quikscript also introduces the concept of half-letters. Read recognized that the top half of several tall letters and the bottom half of several deep letters clearly distinguish those letters. Therefore, the portion of the vertical shafts of those letters which lie between the base line and upper parallel can be discarded without legibility being affected. Using half-letters increases the number of letters which can connect with each other. This produces several benefits: 1) it speeds up handwriting because fewer pen-lifts are required; 2) the alphabet takes on a more cursive and fluid appearance, which is artistically attractive; and 3) most importantly, it increases the variability of the word-shapes. Fluent readers do not sound out words letter by letter. They recognize a familiar word-shape without conscious thought of the individual letters. Anything that increases the distinctiveness of the word-shapes should promote the legibility of the script and the average reading speed. The use of Quikscript's half-letters create more varied and distinctive word-shapes than Junior Quikscript, which may make reading fluency in Quikscript easier to achieve and ultimately lead to faster reading speeds. If this proves to be true in actual usage, then it should encourage the use of Senior Quikscript in printed texts rather than Junior Quikscript.
- Senior Quikscript also introduces a number of abbreviations for the most common English words, which writers may choose to use. These further reduce the space requirement for printed material and hence the costs.
Modern day use
Quikscript computer fonts have been developed so that the alphabet can be used with computers and the Internet. There is also a computer program which will transliterate Latin alphabet text into Quikscript text.
References in literature
Book two of the popular Cole's Funny Picture Books, published in Australia by E. W. Cole at the turn of the 20th century, was revised in 1979 to include an article introducing Quikscript under the name Second Shaw.
- Quikscript Outpost
- Read Alphabet Yahoo group (Registration required)
- Quikscript page (which also includes the PDF of the original manual) at Omniglot.com
- World English Bible in Quikscript – a work in progress to transcribe the World English Bible.