Title: Proposal for encoding the Deseret Alphabet in ISO/IEC 10646

 

Source: John H. Jenkins

Status: Unicode contribution, US requirement

Action: For consideration by JTC1/SC2/WG2

This document contains the proposal summary (ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2 form N1352) and a full proposal for the encoding of the Deseret Alphabet in ISO/IEC 10646.


A. Administrative

1. Title Deseret Alphabet
2. Requester's name John H. Jenkins
3. Requester type Unicode contribution, US requirement
4. Submission date 961224
5. Requester's reference  
6. Completion Yes

B. Technical&emdash;General

1a. New script? Yes (name, Deseret Alphabet)
1b. Addition of characters to existing block? No
2. Number of characters 76
3. Proposed category D
4. Proposed level of implementation 1 (no combining characters)
5a. Character names included in proposal? Yes (in accordance with guide)
5b. Character shapes reviewable? Yes
6a. Who will provide computerized font? John H. Jenkins
jenkins@apple.com
6b. Tools used: Fontographer
7a. References to other character sets? N/A
7b. References to published material? Yes (see below)
8. Does the proposal address other aspects of character data processing? Yes (see below)

C. Technical&emdash;Justification

1. Contact with the user community? Yes (see below)
2. Information on the user community? No genuine current use outside of hobbyists
3. The context of use for the proposed characters? Very rare
4. Proposed characters in current use? Not to any significant extent
5. Characters should be encoded entirely in BMP? No; this script is not appropriate for encoding in the BMP
6. Should characters be kept in a continuous range? Yes
7. Can the characters be considered a presentation form of an existing character or character sequence? Only the DESERET LETTER LONG O can so be considered
8. Can any of the characters be considered to be similar (in appearance or function) to an existing character? No more than is true for any two alphabetic scripts
9. Combining characters or use of composite sequences included? Composition is not used with this script

D. SC2/WG2 Administrative

To be completed by SC2/WG2


E. Proposal

1. Description of the Deseret Alphabet

The Deseret Alphabet consists of 76 letters, 38 upper-case and 38 lower-case. The forms of the letters are the same for upper- and lower-case; only the size is different.

The alphabet is divided into four groups of letters: "Long vowels," "Short vowels," "Double sounds," and "Consonants." Most of the consonants are grouped together in voiced/unvoiced pairs.

Upper case letters

xxxx xx00 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER LONG I

xxxx xx01 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER LONG E

xxxx xx02 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER LONG A

xxxx xx03 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER LONG AH

xxxx xx04 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER LONG O

xxxx xx05 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER LONG OO

xxxx xx06 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER SHORT I

xxxx xx07 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER SHORT E

xxxx xx08 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER SHORT A

xxxx xx09 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER SHORT AH

xxxx xx0A DESERET CAPITAL LETTER SHORT O

xxxx xx0B DESERET CAPITAL LETTER SHORT OO

xxxx xx0C DESERET CAPITAL LETTER AY

xxxx xx0D DESERET CAPITAL LETTER OW

xxxx xx0E DESERET CAPITAL LETTER WU

xxxx xx0F DESERET CAPITAL LETTER YEE

xxxx xx10 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER H

xxxx xx11 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER PEE

xxxx xx12 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER BEE

xxxx xx13 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER TEE

xxxx xx14 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER DEE

xxxx xx15 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER CHEE

xxxx xx16 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER JEE

xxxx xx17 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER KAY

xxxx xx18 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER GAY

xxxx xx19 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER EF

xxxx xx1A DESERET CAPITAL LETTER VEE

xxxx xx1B DESERET CAPITAL LETTER ETH

xxxx xx1C DESERET CAPITAL LETTER THEE

xxxx xx1D DESERET CAPITAL LETTER ES

xxxx xx1E DESERET CAPITAL LETTER ZEE

xxxx xx1F DESERET CAPITAL LETTER ESH

xxxx xx20 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER ZHEE

xxxx xx21 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER ER

xxxx xx22 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER EL

xxxx xx23 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER EM

xxxx xx24 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER EN

xxxx xx25 DESERET CAPITAL LETTER ENG

Lower case letters

xxxx xx30 DESERET SMALL LETTER LONG I

xxxx xx31 DESERET SMALL LETTER LONG E

xxxx xx32 DESERET SMALL LETTER LONG A

xxxx xx33 DESERET SMALL LETTER LONG AH

xxxx xx34 DESERET SMALL LETTER LONG O

xxxx xx35 DESERET SMALL LETTER LONG OO

xxxx xx36 DESERET SMALL LETTER SHORT I

xxxx xx37 DESERET SMALL LETTER SHORT E

xxxx xx38 DESERET SMALL LETTER SHORT A

xxxx xx39 DESERET SMALL LETTER SHORT AH

xxxx xx3A DESERET SMALL LETTER SHORT O

xxxx xx3B DESERET SMALL LETTER SHORT OO

xxxx xx3C DESERET SMALL LETTER AY

xxxx xx3D DESERET SMALL LETTER OW

xxxx xx3E DESERET SMALL LETTER WU

xxxx xx3F DESERET SMALL LETTER YEE

xxxx xx40 DESERET SMALL LETTER H

xxxx xx41 DESERET SMALL LETTER PEE

xxxx xx42 DESERET SMALL LETTER BEE

xxxx xx43 DESERET SMALL LETTER TEE

xxxx xx44 DESERET SMALL LETTER DEE

xxxx xx45 DESERET SMALL LETTER CHEE

xxxx xx46 DESERET SMALL LETTER JEE

xxxx xx47 DESERET SMALL LETTER KAY

xxxx xx48 DESERET SMALL LETTER GAY

xxxx xx49 DESERET SMALL LETTER EF

xxxx xx4A DESERET SMALL LETTER VEE

xxxx xx4B DESERET SMALL LETTER ETH

xxxx xx4C DESERET SMALL LETTER THEE

xxxx xx4D DESERET SMALL LETTER ES

xxxx xx4E DESERET SMALL LETTER ZEE

xxxx xx4F DESERET SMALL LETTER ESH

xxxx xx50 DESERET SMALL LETTER ZHEE

xxxx xx51 DESERET SMALL LETTER ER

xxxx xx52 DESERET SMALL LETTER EL

xxxx xx53 DESERET SMALL LETTER EM

xxxx xx54 DESERET SMALL LETTER EN

xxxx xx55 DESERET SMALL LETTER ENG

2. History

The Deseret Alphabet was an attempt at English spelling reform promulgated by the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) in the mid-19th century. Its strongest proponent was Church President Brigham Young.

The Deseret Alphabet had a number of goals -- or, more accurately, its proponents used a number of arguments to foster its use, and not all of them were compatible. The main advantage was perceived as boosting literacy, making English easier to learn both for Mormon immigrants from non-English speaking countries and children. It would also cut Mormons off from the damaging literature of the outside world, and at the same time, show the world the wonders which the Mormon people could achieve.

The name of the alphabet is derived from a term in the Book of Mormon, a volume of LDS scripture. "Deseret" is said to mean "honeybee," and was adopted by the earlier Mormons as a symbol of the busy, purposeful lives they intended to live. In particular, they termed the region they settled "the State of Deseret"; the current name of "Utah" was imposed by the US government.

The alphabet was designed in the early 1850's by English immigrant George D. Watt, who had some familiarity with Isaac Pitman's method of shorthand. The Church began promoting it at once -- some people kept journals or wrote letters using it, it appeared on street signs and storefronts, and even on coins.

By 1859, the Church had managed to secure a font for the Deseret Alphabet. In 1859, 1860, and 1864, the Deseret News (the Mormon Church's official newspaper) published scriptural passages using it. Young was unsatisfied with the font, however, and a new one was commissioned, completed by 1868, when four books were published: Three primers (two based on the McGuffie readers, and the third selections from the Book of Mormon), and the entire Book of Mormon. The Bible and other Mormon scriptures were transcribed, but never published.

Despite heavy promotion by Brigham Young, however, the new alphabet never caught on. The Mormon rank-and-file showed little inclination to abandon the Latin alphabet in its favor, and the cost of providing custom typefaces limited the amount of published material that could be produced.

After Young's death in 1877, the movement to use the Deseret Alphabet collapsed. Church leaders who followed him were both too lukewarm themselves and too preoccupied&emdash;pressure from the US government to end the Mormon practice of polygamy forced most into hiding and left little energy to promote spelling reform.

It remained -- and remains -- of interest to Mormon historians and to Mormons in general. Mormons tend to have an intense interest in their history, and the presence of this attempt to reform English is often looked upon by a visionary attempt by Brigham Young to promote the common good. There are at least two modern implementations of the Deseret Alphabet, and a children's activity book published in honor of Utah's centennial includes a number of puzzles based on it. It is still (rarely) taught in courses about LDS history.

Meanwhile, the four books published in the Deseret Alphabet are now collectors items, with a good copy of the Book of Mormon fetching up to US$2500.

3. Encoding issues

There's no doubt but that it's appropriate to encode the Deseret Alphabet in ISO/IEC 10646. This would meet the needs of the modern user community (such as it is), and also provide for the computerization of such historical records as exist using it.

Nonetheless, this script is inappropriate for encoding in the BMP, largely because it is a dead script for all practical purposes. Current use is exceedingly slight: There are no groups or organizations devoted to its promotion. No books, magazines, or newspapers are currently being published using it, and few people indeed could even read extended texts written in it. One existing implementation has only sold about 100 copies.

Structurally, the Deseret Alphabet is a simple set of alphabetic elements. Although in theory, it provides a simple phonetic system for writing English, it is a bit spotty and inconsistent, particularly in its handling of dipthongs. Composition is not used; no letters are accented. The alphabet uses standard Latin punctuation and followed English capitalization rules.

It should be noted that this is not a reworking of the Latin alphabet. The few instances where there is a relationship between the shape/sound pairing of Latin seem to be more coincidence than not; most of the shapes for the letters seem to have no relationship at all with Latin letters. Letters have been added mostly to regularize the representation of vowels and to add letters for common consonants (ch, th) which are lacking in standard English orthography.

The names of the letters are based on English phonology. The names as written here are different from the names as written in standard presentations of the alphabet; this is done to make the pronunciation of the names clearer.

The alphabet went through two main recensions; this proposal reflects the final version. The original version differed in the shapes for some of the letters (in particular, the short vowels written smaller than the other letters), but the letters had the same order and names.

There were plans at one point to add two letters (for the sounds "ai" in "hair" and "ew" in "few"), but these never came to fruition. One author records seeing a forty-letter version when visiting Salt Lake City in 1855. The additional letters ("oi" and "yu") are not included in this proposal because there is no evidence of their actual use, and the shapes they are said to have are simple ligatures of "SHORT AH+SHORT I" and "SHORT I+LONG OO". Otherwise the thirty-eight letter set was constant.

The order was also constant, except for the first two primers, which reversed YEE and WU. Both earlier and later material, however, use the same order for these letters, and so the order presented here can be taken as the standard.

There is no evidence regarding collation of the Deseret Alphabet. One assumes that the letters are intended to collate in the order in which they were commonly presented, but there is no proof of that at this time.

4. Samples

A sample page from the Deseret First Book primer. Notice the two typographical errors in the first three lines of page 26.

The title page of the 1869 edition of the Book of Mormon, printed with the Deseret Alphabet.

A page from a 1996 children's activity book with puzzles in the Deseret Alphabet.

The original version of the Deseret Alphabet (from reference 1).

5. References

1. Anoymous. (1944) "The Deseret Alphabet." Utah Historical Quarterly, vol 12, pp. 99-102.

2. Ivins, Stanley S. (1947) "The Deseret Alphabet." Utah Humanities Review, vol. 1, pp. 233-239.

3. Monson, Samuel C. (1948). "The Deseret Alphabet." Master's Thesis. Columbia University.

4. ------ (1953) "The Deseret Alphabet." Utah Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters Proceedings, vol. 30, pp. 23-29.

5. ------ (1992) Article, "The Deseret Alphabet." Encyclopedia of Mormonism, edited by Daniel H. Ludlow. New York: Macmillan Reference.

6. Phipps, Vern R. (1980?) "The Deseret Alphabet" http://www.kdcol.com/~val/docs/DeseretAlphabet.html.

7. Remy, Jules, and Brenchley, Julius. (1861) A Journey to Great-Salt-Lake-City. London.

8. Wentz, Roby. Thirty-eight Mormon Characters: A Forgotten Chapter in Western Typographic History . Los Angeles: Zamorano Club.