Created Languages: Why alphabets?

One of my lectures has said on more than one occasion that breaking down our language into individual sounds is not the easiest thing for us humans. It is more intuitive for us to have syllables or meaningful units be the smallest units for us.

That was interesting to me. After all, I am typing this in a writing system that has letters (which each [well, in principle, anyway] represent a single sound, not a syllable or meaning), and this Latin alphabet has spread far and wide. Why?

Well, my lecturer says, the beauty of alphabets such as these is in the fact that, with a relatively small collection of symbols, we can write out all the sounds of the language. That’s the very opposite of the almost 50 hiragana characters of the Japanese syllabary, and the thousands (even tens of thousands!) of characters in meaning-based (ideographic) systems like Chinese Hanji and Ancient Egyptian medu netjer (hieroglyphs).

That explains why the writing systems of created languages of sci-fi and fantasy lore tend to be alphabets.

Take, for example, the Elvish language of Tolkien fame:


And then, these’s Superman’s Kyptonian:


This does not look easy to write…

And Klingon:


Really, using alphabets for these languages makes things a lot easier. Which linguist or writer is going to sit down and create syllabaries or ideographs?


About Ken Drake

Jamaican writer and aspiring fantasy novelist.
This entry was posted in Languages, Linguistics, Miscellaneous Language Issues and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s