Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

26 August 2009

Shaw’s Alfabet & Textual Intercourse

George Bernard Shaw wanted to change the alphabet to the ‘alfabet’ believing that a high proportion of semi-literate children in British and other English speaking countries’ schools was because of alphabetical confusion.

He blamed the fact that many of the alphabet’s written letters signified more than one sound and that a plethora of two-letter combinations such as sh and th and ph was detestable.

Examples: C is sounded differently in cooking and cease. G in geranium and gallop. And the anomaly of ph was emphasized in alphabet and alfabet. (Or was it emfasized ?!)

So he set out to reform the alphabet and left money in his will for his crusade to be furthered. On 22 November 1962 his work Androcles and the Lion was published using his new set of symbols. This excerpt is what it looked like:

Which, in every day English reads:- ‘A jungle path. A lion’s roar, a melancholy suffering roar, comes from the jungle. It is repeated nearer. The lion limps from the jungle on three legs, holding up his right forepaw, in which a huge thorn sticks. He sits down and contemplates it. He licks it. He shakes it. He tries to extract it by scraping it along the ground, and hurts himself worse. He roars piteously. He licks it again. Tears drop from his eyes. He limps painfully off the path and lies down under the trees, exhausted with pain. Heaving a long sigh, like wind in a trombone, he goes to sleep.’
Today Shaw’s alfabet is as incomprehensible as heiroglyphs except to the scholar or kinky enthusiast.
Shaw might have been eccentric but he was no fool. He knew that if his alfabet was to be adopted it would be for economic, not cultural reasons. New communications in the language would lead to efficiency and profits. ‘England knows nothing of phonetics, hates education, but will do anything for money.’ He declaimed.

What would Shaw have made of a new reform grown out of the need to save money in telephone communication? A spelling reform most used by the very young people whom he thought couldn’t cope with confusion? What would he have thought if (had he still been alive at the start of the 21st century) his cell phone had given him a new rendering of that extract from Androcles that went something like this…

‘jngl pth. lion rors. lion gt thrn n paw. hrts lk hel. lixit, suxit. nbg. stffd. zzz unda tre’

I expect some nerds out there will tell me I’ve done it all wrong but I’m sure they’ll get my drift.

Txt msgs remind me a bit of telegrams. I expect that if Shaw had read Androcles in telegraphese or textual intercourse he would thought them a huge joke but he would probably have pointed out that while both methods might convey the gist of the story they effectively kill off any literary colour. In doing so he might have realized, too, that it’s the anomalies in English and its alphabet that make the language, its literature and its poetry so rich and exciting. It grows and it changes, it bends and it moulds all at unhurried and majestic pace.

Shaw’s alfabet never stood a chance, and text messaging will only last as long as the technology that supports it.



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By Don Donovan

About Me

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Don Donovan: Biography

I was born on 20 January 1933, nine days before Hitler came to power in Germany, I grew up in south London. Although evacuated during the phoney war and the quieter times I lived in and out of air raid shelters during the blitz and experienced both V1 and V2 attacks on London. Left grammar school in 1948 aged 15 substantially undereducated. I wanted to go to art school but because of family ‘poverty’ joined a commercial art studio in the West End. I was, thereafter, variously a messenger boy, commercial artist and typographer. I was in the Royal Air Force from 1951 to 1953 when the only useful thing I did was to take part in King George VI’s funeral parade.

In 1955 I married Patricia O’Donnell, a RADA graduate, at that time playing opposite Derek Nimmo, they were juvenile leads in a touring repertory company. He went on to great success because he had a funny voice.

We came to New Zealand in 1960 where I worked in advertising. At length I became managing director of one of the companies of whose holding company (the largest domestic advertising complex in New Zealand) I was also a proprietor and shareholder. I left the industry in 1990 when my company was bought out by American interests. My timing was brilliant, at that point my first book had been published and the next was on its way.

We have two daughters and four grand-children.

Now, apart from writing, I function as a self-educated grumpy old man.

Books & Writings

‘New Zealand Odyssey’, with Euan Sarginson, Heinemann-Reed, 1989.

‘One Man’s Heart Attack’, New House, 1990. (A special edition of this book was purchased by CIBA-Geigy for distribution to NZ doctors).

‘Open 7 Days’, Random Century, October 1991.

‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’ by Saint Publishing in 1995 followed by:
‘New Zealand House & Cottage’ in 1997. (Saint Publishing have also published calendars for the years 1994 to 2004 using my watercolour illustrations).

‘The Wastings’, my first novel was published in July 1999 by Hazard Press. Although an international subject it had very limited distribution, only in New Zealand, and the rights have reverted to me. (Colin Dexter read 'The Wastings' and wrote to me: 'I enjoyed and admired "The Wastings"... a beautifully written work... a splendid debut in crime fiction... More please!'.)

Also the texts of photographic books:
‘Colourful New Zealand’
‘New Zealand in Colour’
‘Top of the South’
‘Above Auckland’
‘Hauraki Gulf Destinations’
‘Bay of Plenty’
and a compilation of photographs and quotations titled ‘Anzac Memories’ 2004 all published by New Holland.

My written and illustrated book, ‘Country Churches of New Zealand’ was published in October 2002 by New Holland, who also published ‘Rural New Zealand’ 2004 (photographs and text), and a series of four humorous books of photographs and quotations in 2004 and 2005 titled ‘Woolly Wisdom’, ‘Chewing the Cud’, ‘Fowl Play’, and ‘Pig Tales’. My most recent book was published in August 2006 by New Holland, titled ‘Political Animals’.

Over the years I have written for NZ Herald, Heritage Magazine, Next Magazine and various local and overseas travel and general interest media.