The Quikscript Manual: The Introduction

Below is a transcription of Kingsley Read’s introduction to Quikscript. It’s provided here for people who want to read Read’s own justification for Quikscript in comfort. As always, the original version in the manual is available if you’d rather read it in its monospaced glory.

Introductory Review

Many reforming alphabets seek only to make Spelling more consistent. A few seek to reduce the labour of Writing as well. This is the purpose of Quickscript.

Here is a brief review of alphabetic problems and possibilities in general, preparatory to considering Quickscript in particular. Its aim is to urge upon educational experts the need for investigation, with experimental trials. Alphabetic reform is no longer rare enough to be ridiculed: it is now so overgrown as to be respectable but bewildering. No conclusions are reached: no action is taken. We are getting nowhere.

To this general stand-still, the Initial Teaching Alphabet (i/t/a) is a striking exception if only within self-imposed limits. It repudiates any claim as a reform for adult use. It is content to evade educational disaster among learners of Orthodox spellings, and this it does admirably. Limited though it is to first-year schooling of readers, it will disclose to a generation of children the archaic disadvantages of our Orthodox writing. Within two or three decades these same children will be parents and tax-payers, prepared to adopt means of overtaking alphabetic reforms already made by Russia, China, and Japan. Merely to copy these with a consistent spelling of English is no longer enough: we must do better. Are our authorities prepared for action? No: there are proposals by the hundred, few of them investigated, none adequately put to the test. There is much work to do before any survey can select, test, and recommend a new writing system which, because of its advantage to the adult community, should be taught and perfectly acquired in schools.

Classes of alphabets now competing are:

  1. The Orthodox 26-letter alphabet with Orthodox spelling: no reform.
  2. The old 26 letters used for reformed spelling which is therefore often digraphic (i.e. with two letters jointly used for single sounds).
  3. Alphabets of 40+ letters, 23 old ones (c, q, & x usually discarded) and 17+ new letters (instead of digraphs) for remaining sounds of English.
  4. 40+ shorthand-style letters, end-joined in fast unabbreviated writing. (Neither typing nor printing from type can be done with such letters).
  5. 40+ letters specially devised for fast but neat writing, typing, or printing, and with complete definition for reading.

Class 1 alphabets seek to reform spelling without reforming the old alphabet: a makeshift reform, wasteful of writing, phonetically unsound. For example: the letter h may be used digraphically or singly, for seven different sound-values: shin, chin, thin, dhen, when, fahdher, lythaus. Is a child or foreigner to guess that th stands for two separate sounds in ‘lythaus’ (lighthouse); or whether sh has two sounds or only one in ‘Bishampton’ — where the inhabitants are uncertain?

Using the old alphabet for both Orthodox and Reformed spelling would lead to great confusion unless an impossible overnight change is presupposed. Innumerable schemes of digraphic spelling are propose. They write more letters than are necessary. They use an unnecessary second alphabet of CAPITALS which is profitless learning for children and a double outfit of type for printers.

Class 2 avoids the ambiguities of Class 1 by dispensing with digraphs. Its 17+ new letters preserve some measure of familiarity in so far as they are made from old letters by adding tails, twists, or diacritical markings, or by joining two old letters to be called a single new one. Unequivocal spelling becomes possible. The extra complexity and width of the new letters tend to cancel any economy made by using fewer letters. There is clear advantage in learning to spell, or to pronounce, if, in fact, the spelling is phonetic. Economy in adult writing and reading is not the intention. (i/t/a belongs to this Class).

Classes 3 and 4 are not content with simplified spelling alone; they seek speedier writing, by means of simplified letters. Clearly, such simpler letters will be new and strange: otherwise they cannot effect that lifelong time-saving by writers which outweighs the short time spent in learning a second alphabet as well as Orthodox. If children (and foreigners) are to use an easier spelling, let it be done in a script which perpetually saves time. Both Classes do this, but differently.

Class 3, using 40+ single-stroke shorthand-style letters, spells words in full, joining letters continuously and wandering from the horizontal, more than abbreviated shorthand does. It is therefore not lettering which can be typeset for printing. (Every other class is printable from type). Though producing a fast script, letters often differ only in length, angle of direction, or weight of stroke, and are not the easiest sort to write safely or read swiftly. Any joint saving by writers-and-readers is questionable.

Such unabbreviated writing can be done with any 40-letter shorthand alphabet. Bernard Shaw wrote his manuscripts in this way to save labour, but advocated a better way.

Kunowski’s ‘Sprechspur’, of this Class, has long been in partial use in German schools by way of first-year training. The subsequent transition to orthodox German reading and writing is says to be effected in 10 to 30 days. It has the advantages and defects of its Class which should be worth investigation after more than 20 years’ limited service in schools — and by adults.

Class 4 alphabets have 40+ letters designed to be more distinguishable than shorthand characters, while being simpler and less space-consuming than Classes 0, 1, and 2 (i.e. saving material costs as well as time). As neat in appearance as Orthodox. This Class and its aims originated with the Shaw Alphabet — devised after his death, to his recommendations. That alphabet produced printers’ type in three styles. It produced a cheap portable typewriter. More immediately important, it served for handwritten correspondence spread thinly but widely over four continents, with consequent accumulation of experience on spelling and writing. From this trial by a cross-section of English-writers, marked advances are now formulated in this Quickscript Manual. (Apart from their having the same designer and similar style, they are different and separate alphabets). Junior Quikscript, as written in separate letters by young children, is as printable from type as Orthodox.

It should not be difficult to select or compile one alphabet best representing each Class; or to discover which Class best serves a writing and reading community. That one, when found, should undoubtedly be taught. It does not have to be taught universally before it will bring lifelong advantage to its learners.

But let us be realistic. No better alphabet will suddenly displace Orthodox, its text-books, its libraries, and its newspapers. If it is ever relegated to second place, that will be done by gradual experience of advantages not to be missed. The first advance will necessarily be in handwriting. Without any substantial outlay a new script can be tried in schools, using the old pen and much less paper. Whatever the system chosen, teachers will need no elaborate manual, and children will need none. But let us recognize that Orthodox remains with us, and that any new alphabet in addition to it must be of marked service to the grown community as well as to first-year schoolchildren.

Writing and Reading

We must study these as two aspects of one function — Communication. Though alphabets are beter when they allow a more consistent spelling, they are hardly ‘best’ without also being inherently more writable and/or readable. The adult reader does not go through the childish processes of breaking words down into letters, reassembling their several sounds into pronunciations, and at length recognizing these as meanings. Indeed he does the reverse, instantly recognizing each word-unit as a meaning, and then pronouncing it how he likes. This he must do to read at a tolerable speed and to grasp the connected meanings of a sentence.

We are therefore concerned with the function of letters in building uniquely shaped outlines, each of which is an ideogram, a logogram, a word-graph — call it what you will. It only needs in the end to be conveniently simple to write and familiar to read ‘automatically’. We write the date ‘1966’ economically and read it instantly; we fumble over the unfamiliar ‘MCMLXVI’. We read ‘£50 + 10%’ and pronounce it, without spellings. We are content with familiar contractions such as ‘——— & Co Ltd’. All the practised reader requires or values is a well known graph. Use will make any graph familiar, any spelling readable; but the getting used to words is eased by systematic spelling.

If we intend to learn and use two different alphabets, both should be justified by utility. Our Orthodox Capital alphabet serves no real purpose, and we are self-deluded to say that ‘the alphabet’ and ‘THE ALPHABET’ are spelt by the same letters; they are only matching letters. They differ in shape. In style they are obviously different alphabets. Can any new alphabet differ more than these do? Capital letters used to begin sentences are purely ornamental. French uses no capitals for its ‘Monday, January, English’ etc. There is no need for a separate alphabet to indicate names; a single indicator such as a preceding dot serves as well for all of them. Capitals do nothing extra as spelling. Letters can always be enlarged or decorated for display, without using basically different shapes.

Certain familiar features are best retained in a new alphabet. It is our habit to read from left to right. It is not our habit to read whole pages in letters all alike in height. Is our unconscious habit to recognize words all the better with such diversified ‘coastlines’ as in the word ‘alphabet’ with its several Tall letters and one Deep one. Orthodox does not vary sufficiently the shape of its prominent heads and tails — h, b, k, l, d, p, q — and is deficient in Deep letters (descenders).

Simple letters should in general be assigned to frequent sounds: the frequent sound of t should not require two strokes and a penlift.

Any script will hab its scribblers. It will be clearer without the confusion of meaningless link-strokes. A break in a word does no harm.


It is popularly assumed that a phonetic alphabet is useless unless every spelling is a precise representation of speech, without reservations or conveniences. Whose speech, then, is to be so precisely represented? The beginner’s instinct says: My own, the only English I represent with conviction. ‘It’s how everyone here speaks’.

International correspondence soon discloses that every state, every district, has its almost sacred ways of speaking. Whole cultures are in revolt if ‘pass, last, fasten’ are spelt with an ah-vowel, or if ‘what, which, when,’ are not spelt with an aspirated-w. Where Britain says, ‘It has been sujested’, America says ‘It has bin sug-jested’ — and so on. Not only do the Oxford and Merriam–Webster dictionaries differ now and again as to pronunciation: in a very great number of words both will give acceptable alternatives.

If some respected model of speech is chosen (as for his alphabet Bernard Shaw chose ‘that recorded of His Majesty our late King George V’) the model speech varies, as our own does, according to context, emphasis, formality or colloquialism. We can decide to spell as though every word is emphatic; but as nobody ever speaks in that way, such spelling ceases to be phonetic.

The raw beginner, unaware of these problems, is least aware of any trouble. For a time he may be left to spell quite phonetically what he believes he should be saying. It will be intelligible; or if it is nobody’s English, it will be the sooner noticed and corrected.

But as soon as words are not to vary in their spelling, how should we spell ‘the’? We are faced at once with making an arbitrary decision. To spell ‘the’ with the vowel used in ‘then’ is phonetically misleading. The natural pronunciation where a vowel-sound follows is as in ‘swarthy’ (‘the aim, the oak’). But where a consonant follows we say ‘thuh’ as in ‘other’ (the gun, the bird). Our decision, though arbitrary, can at least be convenient; and in this case the solution which, from experience, satisfies all writers and all occasions, is to omit the variable vowel entirely. This is labour-saving, and in context the remaining consonant can mean nothing else than ‘the’. Constant spelling results, without violence to Communication.

Consider, then, how a few contracted spellings will be justified by their saving of penwork.


Compared with the number of letters required for Orthodox spelling:

Class 1 (26 letters and digraphs) uses about 4 % fewer letters.
Classes 2, 3, 4 (40 letters) use about 15 %
— or with Contractions of ‘the, of, and, to, for, it, is, be’ 20 %
— or contracting a few affixes and 50 more words 30 %

It is not to be supposed that time-saving is fully proportionate to letter-saving. But there are further valuable savings of labour if a simpler alphabet is written, besides those made by using fewer letters.

Quickscript makes both savings. It has both simpler and fewer letters. Given any truly comparable experience of both Quickscript and Orthodox writing, the reduction of penwork should be:

In Junior Quickscript (Section I only) 35 to 40 %
In Senior Quickscript (Sections II & III) 50 %

This halving of penwork (and near-halving of ink and paper) seems to be quite possible without detriment to reading.

· · ·

This review has dealt with technical issues involved in alphabetic reform. The Manual is the result of widespread experimental writing. It is not addressed to children but to their instructors.

Will this lead any further?

What unbiassed and forward-looking Authority, University or Trust will take this initiative? Who will investigate, narrow the field, conduct trials? Who will prepare the way for action?

The Manual, available here as a PDF, continues on page 8.