Sunday, June 21, 2009

Forgotten texts

The following index cards contain the forgotten alphabet of George Bernard Shaw. While Shaw was primarily known as a playwrite and author, he was also a linguist. One of his favorite commentaries was how ridiculous the English language was, at least in its written form. While other phonetic scripts have been created, Shaw put out an open challenge to the public for a new written alphabet to replace the Phonecian alphabet we have become accostumed to. 

The following are examples of end result of the challenge. One of his plays, Androcles and the Lion, was published both in traditional English text and in the new alphabet.
Needless to say, the Shavian language never quite took off. Some people still grasp onto it like those who try to speak Esperanto. 
If it had succeeded, who knows what would have come of our typewriters and keyboards? But it didn't. So there. Now we are left with odd curiousities of forgotten scripts and texts.

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  1. I can't speak for Shavian, but I - and about 2,000,000 others - do more than try to speak Esperanto, we actually do speak it. Although practically invisible to the general public - hence the very undertandable assumption that it's dead - Esperanto, both the language and the community, is very much alive and growing. People use it in every imaginable circumstance, just like any other real, living, natural language. If you're curious, check out for information, or for free self-learning material.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I must say, that I did make an over-generalization with my first post. As with many posts, tongues are placed firmly in cheek as I approach the world of ephemeral objects. As thousands of various languages, both written and spoken disappear yearly, I honestly admire your effort to keep Esperanto alive.

    However, Esperanto, is somewhat an anomaly of a language. And the actual estimates of native speakers of the language reside only in the thousands versus the millions. And while it is a great language for travel and for commerce, it has not taken off as the universal tongue that most the creator wanted. Without native speakers, the language will be go extinct as languages often do. Think of it as those who try to speak Old English, not what people think of when they hear Hamlet, the the almost unrecognizable words in the original Beowulf.

    All languages are unique and equally complex. Shaw's alphabet did not replace a language and the complex grammar there within, but simple took out the ridiculous spelling constructs of the English text. Since no all language evolved from other languages and fuse other dialects, creoles, and pidgins, to create new structures and syntax, English ended up with a set of arcane spelling rules that made no proper phonetic sense.

    I applaud your effort...And by chance did you ever see the one movie ever released in Esperanto with William Shatner as the lead?

  3. Thanks for the compliments! I have to admit, though, that my motives are less than altruistic - I use Esperanto for what I get out of it as a fun, cool language, not for what I can give back to it.

    About the future of Esperanto, in spite of the small number of native speakers, Esperanto has grown steadily since its inception. All that is really needed for a language to survive and thrive is a community of dedicated speakers who use it regularly, and Esperanto has had that from the beginning. The Old English analogy doesn't really hold - even though the vast majority of Esperantists speak Esperanto as a foreign language, they do so with surprisingly natural ease and fluency, due to its simplicity, logic and extensibility which put it within relatively easy reach of anyone. If you ever get a chance, you should sit in on a conversation in Esperanto and observe its fluidity. As long as Esperanto keeps going the way it has, it is in no danger of going extinct.

    True, Esperanto is not yet spoken by a large segment of the population. However, it has grown steadily from the beginning, faster than the world's population; as long as that continues, it will eventually reach a critical mass from which it could take off and achieve common use. Like the search for a cure for cancer, it's a work in progress that just hasn't had enough time to reach its final goal, but it's getting there and doing a lot of good in the process. Consider that the metric system and (in Europe) Arabic numerals languished for hundreds of years before gaining widespread acceptance.

    About Incubus, the William Shatner movie, yes, I have seen it, and even have a copy of it :-) (it can be purchased from Amazon). It's fun to watch in a Japanese-sci-fi-flick kind of way. As you point out, the dialogue is entirely in Esperanto, although the pronunciation is atrocious. Incidentally, Incubus is not the only movie to be filmed entirely in Esperanto; see this Wikipedia article for more details.

    Thanks again for the encouraging remarks!