Teascript: A phonemic alphabet for many languages

What is Teascript?

Teascript (ti-skript) is a new alphabet based on ideas found in Tolkien's Tengwar and similar scripts. Unlike older systems such as Bell's Visible Speech, Teascript is not directly based on phonetic features of speech sounds, but instead represents more abstract relationships between the sounds of a particular language. The initial inspiration for Teascript goes back to July 2011, when I was looking for a way to notate the phonemes of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) with one letter per phoneme instead of the usual superscripts and subscripts. I worked out a system for the consonants that used the Armenian alphabet in a non-traditional way:

nasals մ *m ն *n
voiceless stops փ *p թ *t ց *ḱ չ *k ք *kʷ
voiced stops պ (*b) տ *d ծ *ǵ ճ *g կ *gʷ
voiced aspirated stops բ *bʰ դ *dʰ ձ *ǵʰ ջ *gʰ գ *gʷʰ
fricatives ս *s հ *h₁
խ *h₂
ղ *h₃
liquids ռ *r
լ *l
approximants յ *y ւ *w

But it occurred to me that a feature-based writing system like Tolkien's Tengwar might be more suitable for representing PIE phonology. I've used featural scripts such as Ljoerr-teg for my languages before, and in my revised writing system for Tirelat (Kjaginic), I was already starting to go in the direction of more abstract phonological patterns, not directly corresponding with phonetic features. Peter Cyrus had just introduced his Shwa script around that time, and although there were features of that writing system that I liked, I wanted to try a different approach. Instead of representing all possible phonetic features that might be relevant in a language (as I did years ago with Ljoerr-teg), I thought that something more like Tolkien's usage of Tengwar would be more versatile. Each language would have its own "mode" (as Tolkien put it) of the new writing system, which by September I was beginning to call "Teascript".

Teascript basics: vowels

The first part of the Teascript writing system that began to take shape in August 2011 was the vowel system. My initial idea was to have a set of 9 vowels in a circle, with an extra one in the middle. But a few languages need more than 10 vowels, even if length is marked separately, so I ultimately expanded the vowel set to 12 letters: 9 basic vowels plus 3 extra letters that can be used either for vowels or secondary articulations as needed.

As illustrated in the chart, Teascript has a circle of 8 basic vowels, with an extra 4 vowels in the middle. The IPA symbols next to the Teascript letters are rough guides as to how the letters might be used. The vowel letters can be divided into four groups: the front vowels (i, e, E), the back vowels (u, o, O), the central vowels (Y, y, a), and the extra vowels (I, U, A). Actually, these groups can be used in different ways depending on the language. For example, the "central" vowels might be used to write front rounded vowels in one language, or back unrounded vowels in another. The extra vowels can be used to represent secondary articulations such as palatalization (I) or labialization (U) in languages that don't need them for vowel sounds.

Teascript basics: consonants

Most of the Teascript consonant letters can be arranged conveniently in a table with 7 rows and 6 columns. The columns are organized by point of articulation: generally, consonants articulated in the front of the mouth are in columns 1-3 (with a vertical line on the left), and consonants in the back of the mouth in columns 4-6 (with a vertical line on the right). Consonants in column 1, with a descender on the left, usually represent bilabial or labiodental consonants. Column 2 is reserved for the most common type of consonant sounds in the front of the mouth, typically dental or alveolar. Column 3 is used for less common sounds like the English dental fricatives or the retroflex sounds in Hindi. Column 4 is used for points of articulation farther back, from postalveolar to palatal. Column 5 would typically be used for velar sounds, and column 6 for sounds deeper in the throat (uvular, epiglottal, or glottal).

The rows represent different manners of articulation, depending on the language. The D-row and T-row are most commonly used for stops or affricates, with the D-row being used for voiced or unaspirated consonants and the T-row for voiceless or aspirated consonants. If more stop letters are needed (e.g., for aspirated stops, affricates, ejectives, or implosives), the Dh- and Th-rows can be used. The N-row is usually reserved for nasals, and the S- and Z-rows for fricatives.

1 2 3 4 5 6
D-row b [b] d [d] ] [ɖ] j [ɟ] g [ɡ] x [ɢ]
T-row p [p] t [t] [ [ʈ] c [c] k [k] q [q]
Dh-row B [bʱ] D [dʱ] } [ɖʱ] J [ɟʱ] G [ɡʱ] X [ɢʱ]
Th-row P [pʰ] T [tʰ] { [ʈʰ] C [cʰ] K [kʰ] Q [qʰ]
N-row m [m] n [n] | [ɳ] M [ɲ] N [ŋ] \ [ɴ]
S-row f [f] s [s] $ [ʂ] S [ç] F [x] h [χ]
Z-row v [v] z [z] & [ʐ] Z [ʝ] V [ɣ] H [ʁ]

In addition to the consonants in the main table, there is a handful of extra consonants for sounds that don't fit into the overall pattern, such as liquids or approximants. Two of these (l and L) are typically used for laterals, two others (r and R) for rhotics, and four additional letters (w, %, W, @) for approximants.


Here is an example of Teascript writing: the Conlang Relay 18 text in Jarda.

kElzevo jo kipvO re$vod diR.
liRvi runi gru, MazAs kraV re$.
Velra vARa zEl ZReMna nA raS au keg au pin,
Ze pinsicag loFom, cydadOl zulRema lOge WEz.
zulRemvO ste wEl Mer zabe nev
nA &izAs kez ni LEv nesly baR &an,
ni REl ZUV au mavly,
ni me& sYn stonta jYn Ze tRaz.
Zin VyR SlU pRapRinvO, au fymmas vA Wo.
plen ROFe lul kezRa ni vOR faRvu ka ZEv $im degOl vA.

Jarda text: Kelzêvô jô kipvo rêłvôd diṛ. Liṛvi runi gru, ņazŏs krağ rêł. Ğêlra vŏṛa zel źṛêņna nŏ raś au kêg au pin, źê pinsiķag lôxôm, ķödadol zulṛêma logê Jez. Zulṛêmvo stê wel ņêr zabê nêv nŏ ðizŏs kêz ni ļev nêslö baṛ ðan, ni ṛel źŭğ au mavlö, ni mêð sün stônta ģün źê tṛaz. Źin ğöṛ ślŭ pṛapṛinvo, au fömmas vŏ jô. Plên ṛoxê lul kêzṛa ni voṛ faṛvu ka źev łim dêgol vŏ.