Communication Proposals Ben Franklin's Reformed Alphabet

About a practical proposal of Benjamin Franklin's to reform the alphabet of the English language.



The Alphabet Reformed

In the late 1700s, English spelling was very disorderly; the written language was decades behind the development of the spoken language. Children who were learning to read had to recognize what was almost an ancient dialect as far as spelling was concerned; what they read did not jibe with what they heard.

American author, inventor, and statesman Benjamin Franklin decided that speech should indicate spelling and attempted to reform the alphabet. He wanted to drop the following letters because he saw them as unnecessary and superfluous: C, J, Q, W, X, and Y. Franklin also designed some new characters and reassigned limited uses for standard ones. His alphabet, which was never completed, is as follows:

Names of letters as expressed in the reformed Sounds and Characters Characters Sounded respectively, as in the words in the column below.

o o Old.

a a John, folly; awl, ball.

a a Man, can.

e e Men, lend, name, lane.

i i Did, sin, deed, seen.

u u Tool, fool, rule.

y y um, un; as in umbrage, unto, &c., and as in er.

huh h Hunter, happy, high.

gi g Give, gather.

ki k Keep, kick.

ish ?? (sh) Ship, wish.

ing ?? (ng) ing, repeating, among.

en n End.

r r Art.

ti t Teeth.

di d Deed.

el l Ell, tell.

es s Essence.

ez z (ez) Wages.

c?? ?? (th) Think.

e?? ?? (dh) Thy.

ef f Effect.

ev v Ever.

b b Bees.

pi p Peep.

em m Ember.

Franklin wished to see the order of the letters of the alphabet patterned on phonetics. In arguing for an end to A-B-C, he proposed:

o to huh It is endeavoured to give the alphabet a more natural order; beginning first with the simple sounds formed by the breath, with none or very little help of tongue, teeth, and lips, and produced chiefly in the windpipe.

g k Then coming forward to those, formed by the roof of the tongue next to the windpipe.

r n t d Then to those, formed more forward, by the fore part of the tongue against the roof of the mouth.

l s z Then those, formed still more forward, in the mouth, by the tip of the tongue applied first to the roots of the upper teeth.

n n Then to those, formed by the tip of the tongue applied to the ends or edges of the upper teeth.

f v Then to those, formed still more forward, by the under lip applied to the upper teeth.

b p Then to those, formed yet more forward, by the upper and under lip opening to let out the sounding breath.

m And lastly, ending with the shutting up of the mouth, or closing the lips, while any vowel is sounding.

A Letter from Mary Stevenson to Benjamin Franklin in His New Alphabet


Kensingtyn, 26 Septembyr, 1768.

Diir Syr,

yi hav transkryib'd iur alfabet, &c., huith yi hink myit bi av syrvis tu hoz, hu uih to akuyir an akiuret pronynsiehyn, if hat kuld bi fiks'd; byt yi si meni inkanviiniensis, az uel az difikyltis, hat uuld atend hi brigig iur letyrs and arhagrafi intu kamyn ius. aal avr etimalodhiz uuld be last, kansikuentli ui kuld nat asyrteen hi miinig av meni uyrds; hi distinkhyn, tu, bituiin uyrds av difyrent miinig and similar saund uuld bi iusles, ynles ui livig ryiters pyblih nu iidihyns. In hart yi biliiv ui myst let piipil spel an in heer old ue, and (az ui fyind it iisiiest) du hi seem aurselves. With ease and with sincerity I can, in the old way, subscribe myself,

Dear Sir,

Your faithful and affectionate servant,

M. S.

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