Generally, the more letters / symbols your alphabet has, the more hassle it is to type on a keyboard.
There are ways to mitigate this issue (e.g. Japanese and Chinese manage), but it’s a lot more straightforward if you can just cut down the number of symbols entirely.
English, with 26 letters plus a few extras (numbers, space bar, shift key, etc…) isn’t too bad in this department, but we can still improve it!
As inspiration, the Hawaiian alphabet only has 13 letters.
We’d like to reduce the alphabet so that we can create a keyboard that can be operated with minimal finger movement. (This already exists in the form of the “chorded keyboard,” but we’re going to solve the problem at a more fundamental level.)
Ideally, we’d get it down to 10 symbols (one per finger), but this might be a bit excessive.
Looking at a standard keyboard, there are about ~20 keys that can be easily reached by each hand.
If we can cut the alphabet down to about 15 letters, we’ll still have 5 keys left over for important “special” keys (space bar, shift key, etc.).
This would let a person keep a hand on the keyboard and a hand on the mouse, and not have to constantly switch. Good for gamers and spreadsheet aficionados!
Here’s our starting point (26 letters):
- ABCDE FGHJI KLMNO PQRST UVWXY Z (26 letters)
Immediately, several letters seem like good candidates to remove:
- W: replace it with “VV.” VVhat an easy solution!
- X: usually replaceable by “ks” or “z” or “ch.” Don’t need it! Eksellent.
- Q: “kw,” “k,” or similar. The letter is kvvite unnecessary.
- J: Somehow the Romans managed without it by using the “I” and “J” as a single letter. We’ll replace it with the “i” and make people figure it out from context. So the word “join” now becomes “ioin.” A little confusing, but English is already a mess.
- Y: Usually replaceable by “ee” “i,” or similar. “Yak” can become “iak.” Yo-yo can become “io-io.” Close enough!
- C: Replaceable by a “K” or “S,” except for “CH,” which will need to be represented a new way. How about “KS:” so a “choice” is now a “ksoice.” Questionable, but you’ll get used to it!
Now we’re down to these 20 letters:
- ABDEF GHIKL MNOPR STUVZ (20 letters)
Time to get ruthless in our trimming.
- Z: Can be vaguely approximated by an “S” or “SS.” So zebra becomes ssebra and zipper becomes ssipper.
- F: The “F” and “V” are somewhat similar, so we’ll delete the “F.” People will just have to figure it out—or “vigure it out”—vrom context.
- U: Rolled into “O.” So “pull the upper door handle” becomes “poll the opper door handle.” Not bad!
- M: Combine it with N. “Temporary measures” becomes “Tenporari neasores.” Could be worse!
- P: The “P” can become a variant reading of “B.”
And we’re done! Here are the 15 letters that survived:
- ABDEG HIKLN ORSTV (15 letters)
Let’s test our new stripped-down alphabet.
1. If we start with: The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog—what a bold choice, full of vulpine zeal.
We’ll end up with: The kvoick brovvn voks ionbed over the lassee dog—vvhat a bold ksoice, voll ov volbine sseal.
2. An example from Hamlet (“brevity is the soul of wit”): Since brevitee is the sool ov vvit, and tedioosness the linbs and ootvvard vloorishes, i vvill be briev.
3. And the beginning of the the U.S. Constitution: VVe the beoble ov the Onited States, in order to vorn a nore bervect onion, establish iostice, insore donestic trankvoilitee, brovide vor the connon devence, bronote the general vvelvare, and secore the blessings ov libertee to oorselves and oor bosteritee, do ordain and establish this constitotion vor the Onited States ov Anerica.
The colored keyboard area below (Fig. 1) shows a possible layout for our 15-letter English.
Here’s the full translation command, which should work on any Mac or Linux system:
echo “your_text_here” | tee /dev/stderr | sed -e 's/w/vv/g' -e 's/x/ks/g' -e 's/q/kvv/g’ -e 's/ch/ks/g' -e 's/z/ss/g' -e 's/y/ee/g' | tr 'jfupm' 'ivobn'
PROS: Reduces the alphabet to 58% of its original size! Think of the savings.
CONS: ”Big Typography” will fight tooth-and-nail to prevent these reforms from going through, so it might never happen.