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In the Shavian alphabet, the letter 𐑓 makes an f sound and 𐑝 makes a "v" sound. It seems reasonable that these two letters should be reversed, since 𐑝 looks like an f. To stay consistent with the pattern of voiced/unvoiced letters in Shavian, the 𐑝 would then have to be raised and 𐑓 would have to be lowered, but this would just make 𐑝 look even more like an f.

Indeed, there is a good argument (in my view) for reversing these letters, which I outline below. Since Shavian is very carefully constructed, this doesn't seem like something the designers would have overlooked. Therefore, I think it is fair to ask, Is there a good reason that these letters were not originally reversed when the Shavian alphabet was designed?


Arguments for reversing the sounds of 𐑝 and 𐑓 (and raising 𐑝 while lowering 𐑓):

  • Visual similarity of (raised) 𐑝 with f. (Such similarity seems to have been a low-priority goal of Shavian, e.g., 𐑒 = c, π‘œ = g, 𐑕 = s, π‘Ÿ = z, 𐑦 = i, 𐑴 = o.)
  • The proposed change would keep the pattern for voiced/unvoiced pairs intact.
  • The proposed change would make the 𐑝/𐑓 pair more consistent with the 𐑐/π‘š pair, since then 𐑝 and 𐑐 would be true mirror images of each other, both being aligned in the same way (and a similar claim holds for 𐑓 and π‘š).
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  • observation that probably means nothing: the most common word in the English language with an "f" in it is "of", which is pronounced with a /v/
    – No Name
    Jan 12 at 4:58
  • evidence for the implied hypothesis above: "of" was often abbreviated to (Shavian) "v" in written texts
    – No Name
    Jan 12 at 5:00

1 Answer 1

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Your own link to the copy of the Wikipedia article on the Shavian alphabet explains:

Shaw set three main criteria for the new alphabet. It should be:

  1. at least 40 letters;
  2. as phonetic as possible (that is, letters should have a 1:1 correspondence to phonemes);
  3. distinct from the Latin alphabet to avoid the impression that the new spellings were simply misspellings.

and

The Shavian alphabet consists of three types of letters: tall, deep and short. Short letters are vowels, liquids (r, l) and nasals; tall letters (except Yea π‘˜ and Hung 𐑙) are voiceless consonants. A tall letter rotated 180Β° or flipped, with the tall part now extending below the baseline, becomes a deep letter, representing the corresponding voiced consonant (except Haha 𐑣). The alphabet is therefore to some extent featural.

/f/ is a voiceless consonant, and therefore a tall letter; the corresponding voiced consonant is /v/ and is therefore a deep letter that is the /f/ rotated 180Β°. To make the Shavian /f/ look more like the Latin 'f' would weaken criterion #3 above, and in fact it is likely that your comment about visual similarity being a low-priority goal may be wrong, to the extent that (and this is just a guess on my part) visual similarity may have been a low-priority anti-goal.

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  • But note that my proposed change is not just to reverse 𐑓 and 𐑝, but also to raise 𐑝 and lower 𐑓, which would make them consistent with the pattern you discuss in the last paragraph.
    – WillG
    Jan 11 at 20:12
  • Per criterion 3, as the goal was to "avoid the impression that the new spellings were simply misspellings," it seems that this is accomplished with or without my proposed change, since glancing at Shavian text, one would never think it is just misspelled words using the Latin alphabet.
    – WillG
    Jan 11 at 20:14
  • The creators were, after all, comfortable with the similarities 𐑕 = s, π‘Ÿ = z, 𐑦 = i, 𐑴 = o. But it is possible they were going for a compromise between having some similarities with Latin letters while also being clearly distinct from it. Still, I don't think this really explains why they wouldn't have adopted the proposed change.
    – WillG
    Jan 11 at 20:17
  • @WillG - The only way you're going to get a definitive answer is to ask George Bernard Shaw, and unless you've got a way to send the question back to before his death in 1950... Jan 11 at 20:21
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    @JeffZeitlin Of course, the point's moot because the actual designer - Ronald Kingsley Read - is also unavailable for comment, having died in1975
    – No Name
    Jan 12 at 4:55

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