Elektrum was invented by Ian James in October 2011, as part
of a series of regularly-formed alphabets founded on phonetic
principles. The name comes from the ancient alloy made of silver
and gold, and hints at a mix of pre-classical epigraphy and modern
- Type of writing system: alphabet, with simple syllabification rules.
- Direction of writing: left to right, but could be boustrephedon.
- Accomodates a wide range of phonemes, each regularly formed.
- Vowels have structures derived from spectrogram images of their spoken sound.
- Consonants and vowels differ visually, in that the latter do not have frames, suggesting their relative openness.
- The overall effect is epigraphic, since the letters are not cursive but stand geometrically in a formal manner.
- Versatile syllabics – final or closing consonants are simply given a no-vowel marker.
The consonants are all made with enclosed shapes, their frames
matched to regions of articulation. Within the frames are various
points, or rivets, or bumps, which identify the manner of articulation.
Plosives are given forms which are reminiscent of plates being bolted
hard to a surface. Devoicing is shown with a middle horizontal. The
velar series ranges from /k/ to /q/ position, depending on adjacent
vowels (front or back). The glottal region includes some "most rear" phonemes.
The fricatives are given simpler internals, since their sounds
are freer, softer and continuous. Note the way the extra sibilants
are used in the affricate situation. Semivowels have symbols related
to their vowel form.
The vowels use point motifs similar to those found within consonants,
but they have no enclosing frame (their sound is free of constriction).
The tone suffixes may be used together to show rise and fall.
The shapes for the vowels are based on structures revealed in spectrograms
of the spoken sounds – the grouping of their formant frequencies. For example,
here are spectrogram patterns for the vowels [i], [æ] and [o], where the vertical
axis shows frequency in Hz and the horizontal axis is time:
Mattias Persson has suggested various extensions to the system
described above. They are realized without much fuss, using the basic
elements already given: devoiced nasals, implosives, fricative ejectives
and another semivowel. The "voiceless throat nasal" can represent a
more definite caesura than the "voiced" equivalent. A nasalizer (coming
after vowels) is made from the nasal internals.
This is the first line of Shakespeare's sonnet 18, phonetically spelt
out using Elektrum. (Ian commonly uses Shakespeare's poetry because
of its relatively rich mix of phonemes.)
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Alphabets by Ian James
Sigil Panel Script,
Tengwar for Scottish Gaelic,
See also: http://www.skyknowledge.com/orthographies.htm
Other phonetic scripts