Why Shwa?

So a guy from Calcutta goes to Delhi on a business trip, and stops in front of this sign. He's not sure what it means - probably something to do with electricity - but he can't read it, because it's written in Hindi in the DevanāgarĪ script, while he speaks and reads Bengali, which is written in a different script. It's ironic, because if he could read the script, he'd probably understand the sign: Hindi and Bengali are closely related languages. The sign says "danger - intense noise", which is khatarā - tĪvr shor in Hindi and khatarā - tĪbr sār in Bengali.

And if our friend travels to Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Puri or Thiruvananthapuram, he'll have the same problem: in each of these cities, they use a different script. India uses 11 different scripts! And these are not simple scripts: DevanāgarĪ has 14 vowels, 34 consonants, 18 diacritics and 1296 conjuncts (combinations of consonants). It's almost as if they've gone out of their way to make writing as difficult as possible.

When we travel somewhere where they speak a different language, we expect not to be able to read a newspaper. But if you can't even read the letters, you can't read street signs, spell out names, or use a local keyboard. You've become illiterate!

About a quarter of the world writes in this Roman alphabet, but we don't always agree on what the letters mean. For example, the Js of English John, French Jean, German Johann and Spanish Juan are all different sounds. Would you recognize that a Budapest shop marked szendvics sells sandwiches?

Even just learning to read and write English is a huge effort. That's why we invented spell-checkers, and that's why our dictionaries and phrasebooks indicate pronunciations (which many languages don't need). The English Spelling Society says that "English speaking children take up to three years longer to learn to read and write than others". Three years! We could be learning a lot of useful stuff in those three years.

Shwa is the solution to all those problems. It's a phonetic alphabet with enough letters for all the world's sounds, but it cleverly fits on a standard 20-key keyboard. All over the world, the letters are the same, and the sounds they represent are the same, so you can read any language, even if you don't understand it. And the letter shapes are featural, so it's easy to learn and to read.

Why not take a look?

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