The idea of making up my own alphabet was probably the first thing that attracted me to conlanging. After I learned Bulgarian, I made up a code that was based on Cirth and Bulgarian. I sent my brother the code and would mail him letters using it, just for fun. I started thinking about developing a new alphabet later, when I was playing the Myst games, and I saw the flowing script of D'Ni (D'Ni is a conlang Cyan/Richard Watson developed for their games and books).
First things to consider as you start developing your alphabet - What do you want?
- a phonetic alphabet
- a non-phonetic alphabet (like English)
- or a syllable-based alphabet (meaning one character per syllable, like po, kee, ot, or kel, would be represented by one character/Tibetan is syllabic)
- or an abjad, which would be a consonant-only-alphabet, and all vowels would be represented by diacritic marks (Hebrew and Arabic are examples)
Two main principles guided me as I began developing my alphabet: as I had been studying phonology, I realized that Tolkien designed and arranged the Cirth runes so that sounds that came from different regions of the mouth looked different, and sounds that came from a certain place in the mouth resembled each other. Meaning, the P and B are similar, B just has an extra stroke, which seems natural because B is P but voiced. And P and M are similar, because they are both bilabial consonants. Personally, I just thought there was something cool about that. The other principle I wanted to integrate into my alphabet was something I found while researching D'Ni: the letters seemed to be made up of simple strokes, combined in different ways. And the D'Ni numbers, which look so different from the letters, also appeared to be rooted in the same simple strokes.
So, I wanted to create an alphabet that would correspond in some way to the IPA chart, where simple strokes could be substituted for 'bilabial,' 'dental,' 'velar,' etc. and another set of strokes for 'plosive,' 'nasal,' 'fricative,' etc. so that if you knew what strokes meant what, you could tell how a letter should sound, just by looking at it.
After learning about aUi, I toyed with the idea of giving runic meaning to each letter, so that just by putting a certain vowel or consonant in a word, you knew it had something to do with sound, or motion, or movement. I still toy with this idea, but for now, I think it restricts me on word creation more than I would like. But I still find the ideas of multiple layers of meaning built into the language to be delicious... Mmm... :)
So I had pretty clear design principles. But what sort of look did I want for the letters? I wanted something that could first be drawn with sticks in the dirt, that looked runic enough to be carved into wood and stone, but which had the potential to later become a beautiful flowing script like D'Ni. I spent a lot of time on Omniglot.com, studying all sorts of alphabets there. I found myself looking at Tibetan over and over. I liked the shapes and curves in the letters, but not the complexity. I didn't want letters that had so many strokes it took a long time to write anything. The other alphabet I started looking at a lot was Georgian. It was probably modelled after the Greek alphabet (as is our English alphabet), but the Asomtavruli version looked different in a way I liked. Thats really the only way to describe it.
Despite knowing the design principles I wanted, and having a resource like Omniglot.com at my fingertips, it was a long time before I discovered the letter shapes I would ultimately use for my conlang.
Continue to part two!