I'd like to know if there are proposals of writing systems that would be created for a set of specific goals such as :

  • reading/writing speed as high as possible for humans
  • reading/writing learning as natural as possible
  • universality (applicable to "any" spoken language)
  • ink and paper saving
  • simplicity (no useless rules)

The key point I'm looking for is the "natural" element, i.e. optimization given how the human brain, eyes and even hands work by default.

I'm aware of neuronal plasticity, however I'm convinced that there are several aspects of our various writing systems that are not optimized, meaning that they require more time to learn, more efforts and time to read/write, or even lead to more ink and paper use than they could.

Also, I guess the "universality" objective might add a lot of complexity, especially for learning, but I feel like we can't neglect it.

Last but not least, maybe I'm too confident and it would be wiser to wait and get more knowledge before addressing such a big question ?

  • 6
    What does "optimised" even mean? All natural languages are filled with redundancies - is it more optimal to keep them because they assist comprehension, or remove them because they're redundant? Do we optimise this hypothetical writing system for people with dyslexia or those without it? Any new language system is going to be far from natural for those who first have to learn it, so how will we gauge the naturalness?
    – curiousdannii
    May 20, 2017 at 23:31
  • 2
    This post raises a problem of comparing the effectiveness of the writing systems by specific, narrow criteria. May 20, 2017 at 23:59
  • No. For starts, languages are different, and sound different. If the writing system is to be universal, it should represent the sounds. That means that half the symbols will be out of play in any language. Second, writing is secondary to speech and many (often most) people who speak a given language never learn to read or write it. Third, there are no really satisfactory human writing systems, in the sense that none of them represent all the information in the language signal -- no intonation, no gaze direction, no rhythm, no gesture, no amplitude, ... the list goes on. A new one? Nah.
    – jlawler
    May 21, 2017 at 17:51
  • @curiousdannii By "optimized", I simply mean more effective according to science, so for most people. Naturalness in this context is judged by how the brain decodes visual information, for instance. I'm not looking for an "ideal" system because I know there would be arbitrary choices to make. I just wanted to know if the effort had been made to adapt a writing system to our biology. So redundancy, dyslexia support, words with similar pronunciation, personal preferences, are just variables that have to be set, hopefully with scientific arguments : they're not counter arguments May 21, 2017 at 21:33
  • Lots of electronic communication methods have been proposed and implemented attempting to be as efficient as possible (short) but also maintain error-recovery (redundancy). Wait, are you talking about human language? what's wrong with alphabets or phonetic IPA?
    – Mitch
    May 26, 2017 at 13:28

1 Answer 1


If you want universality, then IPA letters would have to be your base. (Or, one could construct an alternative alphabet that translates the units of IPA into different-shaped letters, but that wouldn't gain you anything significant). You could write German using IPA: Nun, vi solltɛst du "bund" gegɛn "bunt" buxʃtabiʀɛn? (Apologies to German speakers). That is, there are two different German words, spelled "bund" (federation) versus "bunt" (colorful) which are pronounced the same way, because of a rule of German. A "universal" system of writing would disallow language specific rules of spelling, therefore both words would have to be spelled [bunt]. But now you cannot tell from the spelling which word you're talking about (which you can do with the present system). A similar problem arises in many dialects of American English where "writer" and "rider" are pronounced the same, but from spelling you can tell which word was intended.

"Universality" works to the advantage of people who don't know the language, but language-specificity can works to the advantage of speakers of the language. By "language", I really mean "idiosyncratic pronunciation of the individual". Some English speakers pronounce "Mary, marry, merry" differently, some pronounce two of them the same way (I think "Mary" and "merry"), and some people pronounce them all the same. A "universal" system is "write the words they way they are pronounced"; so some English speakers would write [meri], [mæri], [mɛri], and some would just write [mɛri]. This would be really confusing, and would make reading extremely difficult, at least for English, given the vast number of pronunciation differences there are.

In other words, "universality" works against the desideratum of "efficiency". A universal system would be highly inefficient: you'd need to decide which is more important.

  • I'm hesitating to accept this as an answer : the IPA part could be satisfying, but I was hoping for examples, because I can't believe that nobody tried to create "different-shaped letters" yet. Then the two examples about homophones and accents don't convince me that it's impossible because, well, oral language already works in spite of them. I understand that written words can contain more information than spoken ones, but it's not necessary. There are homophones that are homographs, at least in French, and it's not a big deal either. May 22, 2017 at 9:10
  • Also, it's funny because I'm currently reading a book from Quebec (French speaking part of Canada), and I find it refreshing precisely because some words aren't written as in my native French : they convey the accent, and it doesn't "make reading extremely difficult" at all. Same applies to reading old versions of our languages I guess, although I agree that it can be painful. Finally, universality would add complexity, but I'm still not convinced that it would make the system "highly inefficient". May 22, 2017 at 9:10

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