Deseret alphabet

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The Deseret alphabet (Deseret: 𐐔𐐯𐑅𐐨𐑉𐐯𐐻 or 𐐔𐐯𐑆𐐲𐑉𐐯𐐻) is a sound-based alphabet developed in the mid-19th century by the board of regents of the University of Deseret (later the University of Utah) under the direction of Brigham Young, second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In public statements, Young claimed the alphabet was intended to replace the traditional Latin alphabet with an alternative, more phonetically accurate alphabet for the English language. This would offer immigrants an opportunity to learn to read and write English, he said, which is often less phonetically consistent than many other languages. Similar experiments were not uncommon during the period, and some of the better-known results include Pitman Shorthand and (much later) the Shavian alphabet.

Young also prescribed the learning of Deseret to the school system, stating "It will be the means of introducing uniformity in our orthography, and the years that are now required to learn to read and spell can be devoted to other studies"[1].


Development and use

The Deseret alphabet was developed primarily by a committee made up of the university's board of regents and church leaders Parley P. Pratt and Heber C. Kimball. The two main contributors to the alphabet's character development were Pratt and George D. Watt, a local expert on shorthand systems.

The Deseret alphabet may have been inspired by or even based upon Michael Hull Barton's phonetic alphabet he published out of Boston and Harvard from 1830-1832. Originally a Quaker, Barton was baptized a Mormon in Portsmouth, New Hampshire about October 1831 (during his phonetic alphabet experiment), but within a few months then converted to Shakerism, although he continued to meet with early Mormon leaders until at least 1844[2]. The alphabet went through at least three major revisions during its first few years.

At least four books were published in the new alphabet: The First Deseret Alphabet Reader, The Second Deseret Alphabet Reader, The Book of Mormon, and a Book of Mormon excerpt called "First Nephi-Omni". Additionally published in the Deseret News were various articles and passages from the New Testament, which were printed on a press obtained by Orson Pratt.

Considerable non-printed material in the Deseret alphabet still exists, including one headstone in Cedar City, some coinage, letters, diaries, and meeting minutes. Pratt supervised the transcription of the complete Bible and the Doctrine and Covenants. One of the more curious items found in the Deseret alphabet is an English-Hopi dictionary.

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