Many constructed writing systems are purportedly used to write conlangs, but in reality are actually used to write English or another natlang.

For example, omniglot.com says that Kryptonian is "a transliteration alphabet containing symbols for each of the letters of the English alphabet. ... They just used this alphabet to write things in English in the comics."

The Kryptonian alphabet

Matoran has been called "similar to the English alphabet, being a simple substitution cipher".

And in Star Wars, Aurebesh is essentially the same, a different way of writing English, although technically it's actually "Galactic Basic". Apparently another script was also used to write Galatic Basic, called Outer Rim Basic, although there's very little information about it.

The Aurebesh alphabet

I'd consider these example to be a different kind of thing compared to something like the dancing men script from Sherlock Holmes as they're ostensibly constructed writing systems for other languages, whereas the dancing men script is explicitly another way of writing English.

In the conlang community, is there a specific term for this type of constructed writing system? Or should we just refer to them as "transliterations" or "substitutions"?

Please note that I am specifically asking if there is a term which excludes these categories:

  • new orthographies for natlangs (ex. Canadian Aboriginal syllabics or Deseret for English)
  • a new writing system actually used to write a conlang (ex. Tengwar for Quenya)
  • Omniglot has a lot of these; Simon calls them "con-scripts". Whether that's in any way a "recognized" or "official" term, I don't know, which is why this is a comment rather than an answer. I do think that if someone were to propose that this stack use that term 'formally', I'd support it. For writing one language in a script designed for another (e.g., writing English with tengwar or cyrillic), he also uses the term "adapted scripts". Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 17:35
  • @Jeff I thought "conscript" was used for any constructed writing system.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 23:32
  • 3
    @curiousdannii "Conscript" is indeed used for any constructed writing system, in my experience. I'm actually not aware of a term for these, which is vexing, since I've had times when a term specifically for these would be useful. "Substitution cipher" is the most specific/accurate existing terminology that I've found so far ("transliteration" having a much broader meaning than just this), but it has the problem that it doesn't really convey that these are purported to be 'other languages.'
    – Sparksbet
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 7:45
  • OK, it wasn't actually clear that you were interested specifically in scripts used to purport to be other languages, but which are actually simple substitution cyphers - in other words, you're distinguishing between these and the 'dancing men' on the basis of "self-story", rather than actual usage. Yes, 'con-script' is a more general term, applicable to both these and scripts devised specifically to write conlangs. Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 11:21
  • 2
    Incidentally, I tend to prefer to hyphenate 'con-script' in the meaning appropriate to this stack, and leave the unhyphenated 'conscript' to mean (roughly) 'someone who has been forced into [usually military] service' or the equivalent verb, 'force a person into [usually military] service'. Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 11:23

2 Answers 2


I don't think there's already a word for this exact subset of scripts.

However, I think such a term would be a useful one -- we certainly have to refer to these sorts of scripts in the conlanging community -- and I think there are a number of options here.

1. Circumlocution

We could refer to these sorts of scripts in paraphrastic ways, like how you have in your question. "Transliteration alphabet" and "substitution cipher" both work for this purpose. However, I don't think this is a particularly attractive option, as these are long and rather unwieldy. Shortenings of these phrases end up being pretty ambiguous, as well. "Transliteration" in particular is usually used to describe completely separate things entirely, so using it in isolation to refer to these scripts would be confusing at best, and "substitution" is too vague.

2. Neologism

Since these sorts of scripts are really the neographic equivalent of relexes, we could also coin a new term like "relex" to refer to these scripts. Just spitballing, here are a few examples of the sorts of coinages that could work:

  • transbet (from "transliteration alphabet")
  • subscript (from "substitution script" -- though this word does obviously already have another meaning so that might not be desirable)
  • rescript (from analogy with "relex")
  • keychain script (because these sorts of scripts are easily used to sell keychains with people's names on them 'in another language')

There are any number of ways that such a term could be derived beyond these, but I feel that in order to have a term that describes this subset of scripts, some sort of new coinage is necessary.

  • Maybe something like faux conlang would work, focusing more on the language side of it than the writing. But that could also describe gibberish "conlangs" too.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 1:05
  • Okay, so much for two possible methods of coining a phrase; but how does this answer the OP's question? To these, I'd add "organic consensus" (i.e., how we got saddled with "conscript" and "conlang" in the first place!) and "geniusly spontaneous insight", which is simply were someone who feels the need to Name something just comes up with a name.
    – elemtilas
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 2:37
  • If I ever finish my conlang, I'll make sure there are words for these in my lexicon ;)
    – Domino
    Commented Feb 18, 2019 at 7:17

I would call this a cipher. Dictionary.com's 6th entry for "cipher" reads, in part:

a secret method of writing, as by transposition or substitution of letters, specially formed symbols, or the like.

This gives us two requirements for being a cipher:

  • Secrecy
  • Substitution

Since this sort of script is ostensibly used to write a constructed language while actually just transcribing English (or another natlang), the requirement for secrecy is satisfied. As the conscript comprises symbols that stand in for Latin (or other natural script) letters or symbols, the requirement for substitution is satisfied.

Let's look at the examples of scripts you want to exclude:

  • Deseret: This is explicitly for the purpose of writing English and is widely published for such purpose and thus it fails the requirement of secrecy.
  • Tengwar: Tengwar are not primarily used to replace otherwise extant letters or symbols and thus fails the requirement of substitution
  • I think it would be pretty natural to call the dancing men a cipher though.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 23:23
  • @curiousdannii Yes, under the traditional meaning of a term. But it's not uncommon for specific fields to have particular meanings that are narrower, broader, or different. Ask a botanist, for example, whether a tomato or strawberry is a fruit (a tomato is, a strawberry isn't), or a linguist whether "It is raining" contains an expletive (it does). Yet ask a lay person, and you'll get different answers. Thus a conlanger's definition of "cipher" needn't match a cryptographer's. Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 3:16
  • Are other conlangers actively using "cipher" with this meaning, or are you just suggesting it?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 3:33
  • @curiousdannii I can't say what word others would use. This would be my pick. As elemtilas said, the best solution would be organic consensus, but that doesn't seem to have happened here. Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 3:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.