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Deseret Alphabet


Doctor Steuss

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In a recent thread, it was brought up that the Deseret Alphabet is a source for concern. I admittedly have not researched the DA much (in fact, I had never heard of it until about a year ago when asbestosman was kind enough to introduce me to it). Iâ??m wondering what it is about the DA that causes people concern?

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When I saw the DA mentioned in a list of supposed "false prophecied" by Joseph Smith I had a good chuckle, considering the DA was introduced in Utah, years after Joseph was dead.

That said, from what I gather, one of the alphabet's main purposes was to correlate for printing useage. The Church had converts speaking many different languages, and in order to provide them all with a way to read the same language, they decided to create a phonetic[sp?] alphabet. The alphabet was overhauled several times, with different church officials directing it, but ultimately, though I don't know why, it was discontinued.

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I have heard it suggested that BY and others created the DA as a means of isolating the Mormons from the rest of the world, to give them more control over the members. But I've never seen actual documentation for this.

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I have heard it suggested that BY and others created the DA as a means of isolating the Mormons from the rest of the world, to give them more control over the members. But I've never seen actual documentation for this.

My evil trainee,

As I was musing about what could be a source for concern, this was the only thing I could think of. A kind of George Orwell meets Ray Bradbury tinfoil hat/big brother type of thing where BY would control all information by only teaching children the DA and nothing else, etc., etc.

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I have heard it suggested that BY and others created the DA as a means of isolating the Mormons from the rest of the world, to give them more control over the members. But I've never seen actual documentation for this.

My recollection was that it was formulated by Orson Pratt in an attempt to standardize spelling of the notoriously unstandardized English; sort of an early pioneer version of Esperonto; and they both had about as much success being accepted by the general populace.

But yes, this has troubled my testimony for many years now. I think I am ready to go non-denominational.

All the Best!

--Consiglieri

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My recollection was that it was formulated by Orson Pratt in an attempt to standardize spelling of the notoriously unstandardized English; sort of an early pioneer version of Esperonto; and they both had about as much success being accepted by the general populace.

But yes, this has troubled my testimony for many years now. I think I am ready to go non-denominational.

All the Best!

--Consiglieri

Wasn't there a problem with the nonEnglish speaking converts and looking for a way to simplify teaching them and teaching the children as well?

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From the utlm site quoting David Bigler: " "Aimed to reform the representation of the English language, not the language itself, the new phonetic system offered a number of advantages. First, it demonstrated cultural exclusivism, an important consideration. It also kept secrets from curious non-Mormons, controlled what children would be allowed to read, and in a largely unlettered society that included non-English speaking converts, eliminated the awkward problem of phonetic spelling. For such reasons, for nearly two decades Brigham Young pushed the new alphabet on reluctant followers."

http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/deseretalphabet.htm

On the other hand, this is what BY had to say about it:

"There are a few items I wish to lay before the Conference before we dismiss, which I think we shall do when we get through our meeting this afternoon. One of these items is to present to the congregation the Deseret Alphabet. ...The advantages of this alphabet will soon be realized, especially by foreigners. Brethren who come here knowing nothing of the English language will find its acquisition greatly facilitated by means of this alphabet, by which all the sounds of the language can be represented and expressed with the greatest ease. As this is the grand difficulty foreigners experience in learning the English language, they will find a knowledge of this alphabet will greatly facilitate their efforts in acquiring at least a partial English education. It will also be very advantageous to our children. It will be the means of introducing uniformity in our orthography, and the years that are now required to learn to read and spell can be devoted to other studies." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 12, p. 298, Brigham Young, delivered in the Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, Oct. 8th, 1868.)

Like the wiki article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deseret_alphabet

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My evil trainee,

As I was musing about what could be a source for concern, this was the only thing I could think of. A kind of George Orwell meets Ray Bradbury tinfoil hat/big brother type of thing where BY would control all information by only teaching children the DA and nothing else, etc., etc.

"There are a few items I wish to lay before the Conference before we dismiss, which I think we shall do when we get through our meeting this afternoon. One of these items is to present to the congregation the Deseret Alphabet. ...The advantages of this alphabet will soon be realized, especially by foreigners. Brethren who come here knowing nothing of the English language will find its acquisition greatly facilitated by means of this alphabet, by which all the sounds of the language can be represented and expressed with the greatest ease. As this is the grand difficulty foreigners experience in learning the English language, they will find a knowledge of this alphabet will greatly facilitate their efforts in acquiring at least a partial English education. It will also be very advantageous to our children. It will be the means of introducing uniformity in our orthography, and the years that are now required to learn to read and spell can be devoted to other studies." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 12, p. 298, Brigham Young, delivered in the Tabernacle

My concern as well. It appears to me that the mindset of the LDS is not have people follow without complete knowledge. God demanded of his children to seek him, pray to him, but find knowledge before agreement. The DA could have been, imo only, a way of secluding members of the movement into learning only what was thought important. As far as it making it easier for foreigners, I can assure you that learning a language that has been created by only a few people would have been of no small task for anyone that did not already have knowledge of the basis of the language. BY had many wild ideas, some I have found humor in, and some I have taken comfort in, but this one was a little slanted so his means were met in the end.

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"There are a few items I wish to lay before the Conference before we dismiss, which I think we shall do when we get through our meeting this afternoon. One of these items is to present to the congregation the Deseret Alphabet. ...The advantages of this alphabet will soon be realized, especially by foreigners. Brethren who come here knowing nothing of the English language will find its acquisition greatly facilitated by means of this alphabet, by which all the sounds of the language can be represented and expressed with the greatest ease. As this is the grand difficulty foreigners experience in learning the English language, they will find a knowledge of this alphabet will greatly facilitate their efforts in acquiring at least a partial English education. It will also be very advantageous to our children. It will be the means of introducing uniformity in our orthography, and the years that are now required to learn to read and spell can be devoted to other studies." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 12, p. 298, Brigham Young, delivered in the Tabernacle

My concern as well. It appears to me that the mindset of the LDS is not have people follow without complete knowledge. God demanded of his children to seek him, pray to him, but find knowledge before agreement. The DA could have been, imo only, a way of secluding members of the movement into learning only what was thought important. As far as it making it easier for foreigners, I can assure you that learning a language that has been created by only a few people would have been of no small task for anyone that did not already have knowledge of the basis of the language. BY had many wild ideas, some I have found humor in, and some I have taken comfort in, but this one was a little slanted so his means were met in the end.

Can you name anything BY or JS did that didn't involve some ulterior motive or evil scheme to blind the hearts of the children of men?

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The DA could have been, imo only, a way of secluding members of the movement into learning only what was thought important. As far as it making it easier for foreigners, I can assure you that learning a language that has been created by only a few people would have been of no small task for anyone that did not already have knowledge of the basis of the language.

You seem to have no idea what the Deseret Alphabet actually was. It was not a special "language" created by a couple of Mormon elite, it was a phonetic alphabet, simply meaning every character represented a phoneme, and had a universal pronunciation, as opposed to our current means of writing in (and pronouncing written words in) English, which is actually rather annoying.

The DA is not a language, it is simply a different and, in my opinion, simpler, way of writing in English.

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From the wiki article:

This would offer immigrants an opportunity to learn to read and write English, which is often less phonetically consistent than many other languages. Similar experiments were not uncommon during the period, and some of the more well known results include Pitman Shorthand and (much later) the Shavian alphabet.
Were all these systems created to limit access to a certain set of information?
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Interestingly, the Deseret Alphabet is included in the Unicode character set used by Microsoft Windows.

Actually, it is a standard part of Unicode. The reasons for this were explained by J.H. Jenkins, who was the person who proposed including the Deseret alphabet in Unicode:

The Deseret Alphabet and Unicode

The Unicode Standard is a new 16-bit character set under development by various movers and shakers in the computer industry such as Microsoft, Digital, HP, and my own Apple Computer, Inc. Its goal is to provide a common way of representing all human writing systems in current or past use. As such, it's quickly becoming the lingua franca for text on the Internet.

The original design of Unicode allowed the inclusion of some 65,534 characters, with some six thousand of those "private use characters" which basically anybody can use any way they like. When it became clear that this simply wasn't enough to accomodate all the large, rare character sets such as Egyptian hieroglyphics and uncommon Han ideographs, an extension mechanism (surrogates) was added to the standard which allow the addition of another million characters.

The problem was, a vicious circle quickly arose. Nobody started to implement surrogates because there were no characters encoded using them, and nobody wanted their characters to be encoded using surrogates because nobody was implementing them.

To break the cycle, someone needed to propose for encoding a writing system which was at once real and at the same time so rare and/or dead that nobody would object to its being encoded with surrogates. I proposed the Deseret Alphabet in late 1996 as such as script, and it was quickly accepted.

Being approved for adoption and being adopted are two different things, however. It was March 2001 before the Deseret Alphabet was formally added to Unicode, with the release of Unicode 3.1. Other scripts, such as Shavian, the Cypriot syllabary, Linear B, Gothic, and Old Italic have also been added to Unicode using surrogates and dozens of additional scripts have been earmarked for encoding that way. The Unicode encoding also includes two rare ligatures which were included in some of the formal descriptions of the Deseret Alphabet.

As part of Unicode, the letters of the Deseret Alphabet are the scalar values from 0x00010400 through 0x0001044F.

Characters in Unicode are assigned scalar values, a 32-bit number that uniquely identifies them. There are three basic schemes for mapping these scalar values into actual sequences of bytes used on a computer.

UTF-32 has been recently adopted. This is a thirty-two bit form of Unicode. Each scalar is represented by itself.

UTF-16 is the oldest form of Unicode. It uses one or two sixteen-bit words to represent a scalar value. If the scalar is less than 0x00010000, then the scalar value is packed into sixteen bits; otherwise, it is split into a two surrogate values. Interconversion between the scalar value (SV) and the high and low surrogates (HS and LS) is accomplished by the following algorithms:

SV = 0x00010000 + ( HS - 0xD800 ) * 0x0400 + ( LS - 0xDC00 )

HS = ( SV - 0x00010000 ) / 0x0400 + 0xD800

LS = ( SV - 0x00010000 ) % 0x0400 + 0xDC00

UTF-8 is a variety of Unicode which is intended for using Unicode in situations or applications which are designed for text that comes in eight-bit chunks. Many older operating systems and transmission protocols are like this. (C programmers will be familiar with the idea of strings being represented as arrays of characters ending with a 0 byte which serves as an end-of-string flag. Since many Unicode code points have one byte or the other equal to zero, these characters will break existing C libraries. UTF-8 is one solution to this problem.)

UTF-8 also has the advantage that characters from the ASCII character set in their traditional representation of 0x00 through 0x7F are represented by the single bytes 0x00 through 0x7F. This means that English text in UTF-8 looks pretty much as it has for the past thirty-five years.

The transformation between UTF-16 or UTF-32 and UTF-8 is relatively straightforward and described in The Unicode Standard, Version 3.0, pp. 45â??47.

(The whole issue of encoding forms of Unicode is complicated by the fact that different computer architectures don't agree on how to combine two eight-bit bytes to form a single sixteen-bit word.)

It is strongly recommended that any implementations of the Deseret Alphabet conform to Unicode/10646, if at all possible.

It is most decidedly improper to hijack the standard ASCII code points and assign various Deseret Alphabet letters to them so as to make typing easy. This is considered a very Bad Thingâ?¢ in the world of text encodings.

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Assuming for a moment that the Deseret Alphabet was a nefarious plot on the part of Brigham Young to control information, it would have been a very stupid plot. First off, not only is it fairly easy to learn the Deseret Alphabet, but it's also fairly easy to learn a correlation between the Latin Alphabet and the English alphabet. It'd only take one person to publish a list of Latin phonomes and the Deseret Alphabet. Think of the many people who already knew the Latin Alphabet. Many had read the Book of Mormon in the Latin alphabet.

Recall also that many missionaries would have to know the Latin alphabet in order to share the Book of Mormon with others. Furthermore the telegraph was coming and last I checked, messages were only sent via Morse Code.

Cryptographically speaking, new alphabets / substitution ciphers are extremely weak. It's fairly simple to figure out how letters are correlated between alphabets when they encode the same language. I heard somewhere that such a thing cost a prisoner her blood in England.

Also of interest is the fact that Masons used their own alphabet called the pigpen cipher. However, unlike the Deseret Alphabet, this one is not phonetic.

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You seem to have no idea what the Deseret Alphabet actually was. It was not a special "language" created by a couple of Mormon elite, it was a phonetic alphabet, simply meaning every character represented a phoneme, and had a universal pronunciation, as opposed to our current means of writing in (and pronouncing written words in) English, which is actually rather annoying.

The DA is not a language, it is simply a different and, in my opinion, simpler, way of writing in English.

I am very well versed in what the DA was set up to be, and in the end, it was to be a basic loop of language. It would not have been any easier for people who spoke different languages to learn to use the DA. In fact, it would have most likely caused confusion as only select people would have known its use. It would have limited it's members to learning the so called secrets of the faith to a formal approved mark that only those invovled would have been aware of.

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Assuming for a moment that the Deseret Alphabet was a nefarious plot on the part of Brigham Young to control information, it would have been a very stupid plot. First off, not only is it fairly easy to learn the Deseret Alphabet, but it's also fairly easy to learn a correlation between the Latin Alphabet and the English alphabet. It'd only take one person to publish a list of Latin phonomes and the Deseret Alphabet. Think of the many people who already knew the Latin Alphabet. Many had read the Book of Mormon in the Latin alphabet.

Recall also that many missionaries would have to know the Latin alphabet in order to share the Book of Mormon with others. Furthermore the telegraph was coming and last I checked, messages were only sent via Morse Code.

Cryptographically speaking, new alphabets / substitution ciphers are extremely weak. It's fairly simple to figure out how letters are correlated between alphabets when they encode the same language. I heard somewhere that such a thing cost a prisoner her blood in England.

Also of interest is the fact that Masons used their own alphabet called the pigpen cipher. However, unlike the Deseret Alphabet, this one is not phonetic.

Interesting that someone would bring up the Mason cipher. Actually the Mason cipher would have been easier for someone that did not speak the native tongue to learn. Instead of making a new alphabet the cipher subs each letter (which anyone can identify) with a symbol. It works like this, the alphabet would be written in grid form, and each letter replaced with a symbol that relates to the section of the grid that was contained by the letter. Easy enough... however, the cipher was designed to record records... far different then what the DA was attempting to do. Probably not a smart idea to relate the DA with the Masons in the first place imo.

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It would not have been any easier for people who spoke different languages to learn to use the DA. In fact, it would have most likely caused confusion as only select people would have known its use.

What are you talking about? Phonetic alphabets are exceptionally more easy to learn than the garbled stuff that modern English is.

Consider the following two words:

Gary

George

Note the difference in the g.

or:

Pew

Fel

Note the difference in the pronunciation of the e.

Meanwhile, a language such as Hebrew has consistent pronunciation of its words. Learning to read and pronounce Hebrew was immensely easier than when I took French in high school. Phonetic alphabets aid in language acquisition, they do not detract.

Interesting that someone would bring up the Mason cipher. Actually the Mason cipher would have been easier for someone that did not speak the native tongue to learn. Instead of making a new alphabet the cipher subs each letter (which anyone can identify) with a symbol. It works like this, the alphabet would be written in grid form, and each letter replaced with a symbol that relates to the section of the grid that was contained by the letter. Easy enough... however, the cipher was designed to record records... far different then what the DA was attempting to do. Probably not a smart idea to relate the DA with the Masons in the first place imo.

What is easy about learning a cipher, especially to be able to read it without constantly referring back to a key?

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Like the Dvorak keyboard, it would appear that the Deseret Alphabet was a clever idea that was too overwhelmed by the "installed base" to catch on.

I don't see anything at all sinister going on here. It was just an very inventive, sincere effort to quickly acclimate a huge influx of non-English-speaking immigrants to the English language.

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Like the Dvorak keyboard, it would appear that the Deseret Alphabet was a clever idea that was too overwhelmed by the "installed base" to catch on.

Kind of like how VHS won out the film market over its superior competitor?

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What is easy about learning a cipher, especially to be able to read it without constantly referring back to a key?

When it's a mere 26 letters, you'd get the hang of it after reading a page or two of a book. Most people do not read words by reading individual letters, but rather by the shape of the words themselves. After a while your brain will fill in the details and you'll be able to read a simple substitution cipher just fine. That's also why the idea of the Deseret Alphabet as some kind of Orwellian nightmare is silly. Even if Brigham Young cooked up the DA as some kind of nefarious plot, it would have been ineffective even if it caught on.

And yes, I can more or less read the DA without looking at the key. I'm bit rusty so I might need to quick refresher glance, but otherwise it really isn't very hard to learn.

That also reminds me, I knew a missionary who wrote some of his letters in elvish script. Really, this stuff ain't rocket science and doesn't take a genius to be be able to learn or do.

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Kind of like how VHS won out the film market over its superior competitor?

Actually, I believe Sony's Betamax format was the first to market. The competition won not because of an install base, but because of poor market decisions on the part of Sony which allowed VHS to surpass it's install base.

As for the DA, I think it didn't catch on because I really don't think it's all that useful. If we wanted to, we could instead change English spelling to be more phonetic while yet retaining the Latin alphabet. It is my understanding that many European languages have done that. However, I also think that the benefits of changing things to a phonetic alphabet would prove to be minimal, especially today with spellcheck.

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As for the DA, I think it didn't catch on because I really don't think it's all that useful.

It would seem there were simpler ways of achieving the same desire.

However, from what I've read it seems to me the main problem was of cost. Even the small amount they did was hugely expensive They were just too limited in the amount of materials available to practice this version and probably in funding for training as well. Therefore I don't think the alphabet ever got a decent chance to get off the ground.

As far as difficulty in learning new languages, I have had little difficulty with the new letters of the Cyrillic alphabet that were just repeats of the old sounds. It was the blasted new sounds I could never remember and was always getting screwed up both in speaking and writing.

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It would seem there were simpler ways of achieving the same desire.

However, from what I've read it seems to me the main problem was of cost. Even the small amount they did was hugely expensive They were just too limited in the amount of materials available to practice this version and probably in funding for training as well. Therefore I don't think the alphabet ever got a decent chance to get off the ground.

It's true that it was costly. I do imagine that it would have caught on for longer had they stuck with the Latin alphabet and then make spelling phonetic using it. However, I still think that current spelling would have won in the end with Webster, the telegraph, and so on.

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Actually, I believe Sony's Betamax format was the first to market. The competition won not because of an install base, but because of poor market decisions on the part of Sony which allowed VHS to surpass it's install base.

Well, I guess that's true, if you are willing to call "refusing to do business with pornographers" a "poor market decision." Which perhaps it was, because that decision did indeed cost them a lot of market share.

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It's true that it was costly. I do imagine that it would have caught on for longer had they stuck with the Latin alphabet and then make spelling phonetic using it. However, I still think that current spelling would have won in the end with Webster, the telegraph, and so on.

I agree. Using the Latin alphabet would have greatly cut down on cost and allow them to produce much more training materials, etc. But in the end...

Have any of these types of experiments worked?

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