Engul: syllabic script for English    Engul

Engul is an alternate writing system for English invented by Colin Harrison and inspired mainly by Korean. The idea is to permit English to be written in syllabic blocks, while preserving an essentially alphabetic character set. Why? Because he believes that Hangul is possibly the smartest writing system ever invented, and he wanted to see if its particular logic could be applied to English.

The consonants have been derived from their English counterparts for the most part, but the vowels are entirely different.

Consonants all have two forms:

a full-width form
for when they are alone (as either initials (onsets) or finals) and in unreduced (heavy) syllables. A heavy syllable is either one that carries a tonic stress, or else which has a full vowel (not [ə]), whether stressed or not. All monosyllabic words (except grammatical words) are heavy syllables. The word "syllable" itself has one heavy syllable (the first one) and two light ones.
a half-width form
for when they occur in clusters (see below), or else in reduced (light) syllables. A reduced syllable is one whose vowel has been reduced to [ə] (or indeed to [], such as the first syllable of the word "about", or the second syllable of "industry".

Engul consonants

Note that the symbol Engul letter h stands for [h] if it is initial, and for [ŋ] if it is final. Note also the distinction between initial and final "r".

Note also the special symbol for the final "-r" (rhotic syllable final) which is generally silent in nonrhotic dialects of English (British, Australian, New Zealand...). Engul r curls This same symbol is also used for cluster-final "r" (e.g. br- str-, NB. In clusters the rhotic final is always pronounced, regardless of the dialect). It is a downward and leftward curving hook, written off the trailing edge of the juncture bar (for clusters) or the (upper) vowel line for syllable-final "-r". The word "brotherhood" (once again) shows two such rhotic finals, one in the cluster "br-" and the other in the syllable -er-. Engul should keep this rhotic final, even in syllable final position where non-rhotic dialects do not normally pronounce it because (a) rhotic liaison brings it back from time to time, and (b) it maintains spelling consistency between dialects.


Syllables are constructed, more or less as in Korean, from the top down. Onsets are written along the top, from left to right if clustered. The vowel symbol is written directly beneath the onsets, and the final consonant(s) beneath that. A syllable can thus have a maximum of three "levels". These levels remain horizontally aligned across the page.

Engul syllables

Engul syllable example Syllabification demands an initial consonant whenever possible (so sequences like CVC.VC, CVCC.VC are impossible word-internally, becoming obligatorily CV.CVC, CVC.CVC respectively).

All consonants have a horizontal baseline (juncture bar) that joins up across the onsets (only) of a word to show the cohesion of the word - (this is an idea from Devanagari). The example shows the word "brotherhood", with the juncture bar highlighted (linking the onsets: br - th - h). Note also the light syllable in this word (the 2nd one -ther-) written in half-width letters.

Engul syllable example Note that a few consonants are open along their bottom edge (like the "w" in "twelfths" above). These consonants connect to those around them by a horizontal extension of their bottom right or left corners (or both), but the area directly beneath the consonant remains open.

Unlike Korean, there are no "space-filler" consonants: zero onsets/finals are simply left blank (as in "ants" above), although the juncture bar will extend across the blank space in polysyllabic words with vowel-initial syllables (to preserve its word-marking function). If the strategy for "capitals" were to be adopted, the capital mark could equally float above the empty space where an initial onset would otherwise be. The example shows the word "almost", with the juncture bar extending across the "blank" onset space for the first syllable.


Vowels are all horizontal forms, and stretch laterally as necessary to match the width of the consonant groups (single and double consonants are the same width, as double consonant clusters use the half-with consonant forms, but triples are slightly wider. The rare quadruple clusters are twice as wide as normal syllables (see examples above).

Engul vowels

Engul example Note that certain vowels are shown with the rhotic hook (see above). This is because these vowels are almost always rhoticized in rhotic dialects (US, Canada, Irish, Scots). This hook can be considered (mostly) silent in non rhotic dialects.

There is in addition a lexical stress marker that is attached to the vowel sign in the stressed syllable of poly-syllabic words. Once again, the word "brotherhood" is given to the left, this time with the lexical stress mark highlighted.

Engul aims to be phonemic (rather than following standard English spelling), so for instance "gait" and "gate" will be spelt the same way. Some distinctiveness is lost in this way, but Engul is able to distinguish stress-pairs which are homonyms in standard English spelling, e.g.

Engul example


Just like modern Chinese: largish standard punctuation symbols, with the small central circle in place of the full stop (there are two examples of this in the text below), written in the centre of the line.

Engul punctuation

Sample text in Engul

Sample text in Engul


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

If you have any questions about Engul, you can contact Colin via his website:

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