Times New Deseret

joshua.erickson's picture

This is a Deseret Alphabet font that is patterned after Times New Roman. Deseret is a phonetic, non-Roman alphabet for writing English. It has been encoded in Unicode for several years now, and the PDF sample shows the Unicode positions of the letters. Deseret does not have separate characters for upper and lower case letters - they are distinguished by size only. However, I have introduced some differences in the upper and lower case glyphs in keeping with the Times. This is the fist serious font (with many more to come) I have developed for the Deseret Alphabet (or any other alphabet for that matter) and I would appreciate any comments.

Click here to see the PDF.


Miss Tiffany's picture

Joshua, are you doing this just because you are fascinated with the set of glyphs? Or are you going to use it on some greater project?

I have always been curious about that time period. It seems there were several people interested in reforming the alphabet. Something in the air at the time I suppose.

Ken Messenger's picture

Wow, I'd never heard of such an alphabet. Curious endeavor. Might be helpful to post some kind of primer for the Deseret Alphabet otherwise I'm not sure how anyone will reference a character. Not like we're talking about Uppercase K's or lowercase b's.

joshua.erickson's picture

Miss Tiffany,

I have been working on this mostly out of a deep fascination for the Deseret Alphabet. The Deseret Alphabet is a part of my heritage, but unfortunately it is virtually unknown by others who share that heritage. I would simply like to see it become more widely known (and even used) by those who have a similar cultural heritage. I don't have any specific application in mind. I would like to see everything from poetry to personal correspondence written in Deseret.

You are quite right about the attempts to reform English orthography. There were several groups or individuals pushing for it in the 1800's, but language reform was not limited to the 19th century. The Shavian Alphabet (another phonetic alphabet for English), for example, was developed in 1958.


Quite right. Click here to see a table listing the letters, letter names, and letter sounds for the Deseret Alphabet.

aric's picture

I guess the Deseret Alphabet is part of my heritage too. Never really thought about it that way before.

You could learn a lot about early Utah English (or at least what was considered the prestige dialect in that time and place) from studying the Deseret Alphabet materials. One thing that stands out to me from looking at the chart of letters is the presence of a vowel "aw" as in "aught" (which would correspond to IPA ɔ). These days that vowel is a sort of shibboleth of American dialectology--and is absent from Utah English and other Western US dialects.

In terms of modern usage of the Alphabet, this raises an interesting question. Two main goals of the Deseret Alphabet were to standardize spelling and to correspond closely to the phonology of the language. Since the phonology of Utah English (as well as other dialects) has changed since that time, should a modern-day adopter of the Deseret Alphabet stay true to the 19th century spelling reforms and occasionally violate the phonetic correspondence, or write according to their modern phonetics at some expense to the spelling standard?

Getting back to the font--I've never liked the way the Deseret Alphabet looked, but I have to say that your font seems like a big step toward modernizing it and making it attractive. I really like the serifs. One complaint is that U+1041B looks too much like a Latin capital L to me; the original alphabet seemed to go to some lengths to avoid that resemblance (although I don't care for the original one either). I think that one and ones like it deserve some more attention. The same can be said for U+10419 and its lower-case counterpart, which incorrectly look like the letter P. The angle of the bowl is just plain wrong. On the other hand, I don't mind so much a resemblance in letters that were clearly designed to reflect letters from the Latin alphabet, such as the letters that look like an O or the letter that looks like N.

Please don't take the criticism badly. It's interesting to see a "Mormon pioneer" font and I look forward to following its development.

joshua.erickson's picture

Aric: "You could learn a lot about early Utah English (or at least what was considered the prestige dialect in that time and place) from studying the Deseret Alphabet materials."

Yes you could learn a lot, but only from the letters, journals, and newspaper articles written in it. Some research done by Ken Beeseley indicates that the books that were printed, or prepared for printing, probably followed the pronunciations given in Websters Dictionary.

"should a modern-day adopter of the Deseret Alphabet stay true to the 19th century spelling reforms and occasionally violate the phonetic correspondence, or write according to their modern phonetics at some expense to the spelling standard?

This is an interesting question. I think there is a balance that needs to be struck. In the first Deseret News articles that are written in the Deseret Alphabet there is included a brief explanatory paragraph before the actual Deseret text. In this explanation it is stated:

"We present to the people the Deseret Alphabet, but have not adopted any rules to bind the taste, judgment or preference of any. Such as it is you have it, and we are sanguine that the more it is practised and the more intimately the people become acquainted with it the more useful and beneficial it will appear.
The characters are designed to represent the sounds for which they stand, and are so used. Where one stands alone, the name of the character or letter is the word it being the only sound heard. We make no classification into vowels, consonants, &c., considering that to be of little or no consequence; the student is therefore at liberty to deem all the characters vowels or consonants or starters or stoppers or whatever else he pleases.
In the orthography of the published examples, Webster's pronunciation will be generally followed, though it will be varied from when general usage demands. All words having the same pronunciation will be spelled alike, and the reader will have to depend upon the context for the meaning of such words..."

It seems that the rules were intended to be rather loose; however, the newspaper used Webster's dictionary as a guide, but even then they varied the spellings according to the local dialect.

I appreciate the comments on the font. Those are the kind of comments I was originally after. I'm not sure what could be done with U+1041B (the letter ehthh). The original letter looks like a Latin capitol L. However, I could see changing the bowl angle on U+10419 (the letter ehf).

aric's picture

The historical info is fascinating. There's some wisdom in not dividing things into consonants and vowels, etc. since it presents a somewhat false dichotomy of how phonetics works. Thanks for sharing this.

joshua.erickson's picture

Just for your information, that Deseret News article I quoted from was dated Feb 16, 1859. If you are interrested, I know a fellow at UC Santa Barbara named Alex Walker. He is a linguistics grad student like yourself, and he has written a short, but very excellent, book about the Deseret Alphabet. You can download it for cheap from Lulu.

Randy's picture

My first thought when looking at this alphabet:

Whoever invented the original Deseret alphabet glyphs should have looked at Hoefler's type 110 class here on typophile ( http://typophile.com/courses/type110 ). I understand of course that Mr. Hoefler arrived to late to help Deseret, but it does suffer from lack of unity and practicality in many of the fanciful shapes. And while the exercise would be purely academic, it would be interesting to try and use the alphabet as a starting point for the assignment in Hoefler's lesson.

Still it will probably help you Joshua, to look at it for your Times adaptation.


joshua.erickson's picture

Thanks Randy. I'll take a look.
I would like to know which Deseret letters in particular appear to be unpractical, un-unified, or fanciful. Please don't assume that it is obvious to me. I've never set foot in a design class or even read a book on typography. These are the kind of comments I was looking for when I posted the original message.

Randy's picture

Glyphs circled in green suffer from color issues. They are generally too dark, or at risk of becoming so. Sometimes it's caused by overlaps that mass dark areas, othertimes it's just too much stuff happening. These are the shapes that I would characterize as too fanciful. They look like letters someone invented in one sitting verses letters with roots in writing that developed over a long time with efficiency as a motivator.

Glyphs circled in red suffer from spacing and balance issues. In latin type, there are some letters that cause spacing problems P, L, T , r, etc, but for the most part latin letters set up a nice rythm. In Hoefler's lesson these shapes would be modified because the white and black areas would be out of balance. Also on the bottom, the "reverse N with raised left side" glyph :-) shows very poor balance. One of the things latin letter strive to do is fit inside a trapazoid with wider base than top. This allows them to rest on the baseline and feel stable. This is why the top loop of a B is smaller, why the top of an S doesn't stick out as far as the bottom, why the top bar of and E is shorter than the bottom. Some instability is fine, but this alphabet is rife with unstable characters.

The purple reversed N shows what the stress would look like if and N was redrawn in reverse, not merely flipped. Interesting that the lowercase version of the same glyph has "correct" stress.

Finally, the terminals on the strokes seems arbitrary in some places. On the slash 8 (second to last line) why a serif in one, and a ball terminal in the other? This difference between lower and upper is all over the alphabet, but missing in the Ss Flipped Jj etc.

One last note: I'm framing my thoughts by relating this alphabet to priciples from the latin alphabet. Partly because this borrows heavily from it. But it also has elements of greek and cyrillic.


joshua.erickson's picture

Thank you for your very insightful comments Randy. Some of the arbitrary stress and terminals comes simply from trying to fit the Deseret Alphabet into the Times New Roman motif. For example, in Times New Roman both J and j have lower ball terminals while S and s have serif terminals. However, I see what you mean, and I will have to take another look at the differences between cases.

paul d hunt's picture

of interest: this post on the H&FJ blog.

Syndicate content Syndicate content