Dutton Speedwords

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Dutton Speedwords
printed shorthand and auxiliary language
CreatorReginald J. G. Dutton
1935, 1946, 1951
Parent systems
  • Dutton Speedwords
Dutton Speedwords
Created byReginald J. G. Dutton
Constructed language
  • Dutton Speedwords
SourcesEnglish, French, Latin, German
Language codes
ISO 639-3dws

Dutton Speedwords, sometimes called rapmotz IPA: [ˈrapɪŋmɔtəz], is an international auxiliary language as well as a shorthand writing system for all the languages of the world. It was invented by Reginald J. G. Dutton (1886–1970) in 1922. It was first published in 1935 under the title International Symbolic Script and a year later using the name Speedwords. Revisions were made and published in 1946 and 1951.

The dual function of being both an international language and a shorthand system was intended as a way of encouraging more people to see the value of the method. The original Dutton Speedwords manuals are now out of print, but the method has seen a revival since the start of the 21st century, as its applications in online work have become noted, such as the benefit of using a shorthand method for typing e-mail.

Unlike other shorthand methods, such as Pitman's shorthand, the Speedwords method uses ordinary Roman letters to represent the semantic qualities of words rather than using new symbols. This means it can be typed using a normal keyboard. The vocabulary of Speedwords uses many international words and compressed forms of the writer's[who?] own language.

Dutton claimed that Speedwords was "the first abbreviated writing invention in history which at once transcribes all languages",[1] though really its lexicon only fits the English it was patterned after.

Dutton conceived Speedwords not only as a system of shorthand but as an auxiliary spoken language; thus, he provided rules of pronunciation.


The principle behind the choice of word roots of Dutton Speedwords is the maxim that frequently used words should be shorter than seldom-used words in order to speed up communication (see information theory). There are 493 one-, two- and three-letter roots. The 46 most frequent English words are equated with 27 one-letter Speedword roots:

a [aː] "at, to" (< French à)
b [bʊt] "but, butt" (< English)
c [tʃə/tʃi] "this" (< French ce)
d [də/di] "of, from" (< French de)
e [eː] "to be, is, am, are" (< French est)
f [froː] "for" (< English)
g [ɡə/ɡi] "they, them"
h [hiː] "has, have" (< English?)
i [iː] "in, within" (< English)
j [ʒə/ʒi] "I, me" (< French je)
k [kə/ki] "that" [conjunction] (< French que)
l [lə/li] "the" (< French le)
m [mɪt] "with" (< German mit)
n [nɔt] "no, not" (< English)
o [oː] "on" (< English)
p [pə/pi] "can, to be able" (< French peut)
q [kwə/kwi] "do (question particle), question, query" (< English)
r [rə/ri] "will, shall" (< ?)
s [sə/si] "he, him" (< French se)
sh [ʃə/ʃi] "she, her" (< English)
t [tə/ti] "it" (< English)
u [uː] "a, an, one" (< Latin unus)
v [və/vi] "you" (< French vous)
w [wə/wi] "we, us" (< English)
x [ɪks] "whether, if"
y [joː] "was, were"
z [zuː] "as, then" (< English? "zen"?)
& [and] "and" (< English)

Some two- and three-letter words are

good -- gu
know -- sa
love -- am
beautiful -- bel
language -- lin
game, play -- lud

(Note that all but the first of these examples are taken from Latin roots —sapio, amo, bellus, lingua, ludus—as are "room" and "sleep" below—camera and dormio—while "good" and the root for "air" below come from German: gut, luft.)

The few hundred roots are combined through the use of affixes to expand vocabulary. For example: the affix -a indicates an unfavorable connotation to the root-word; thus, bixy = kill, bixya = murder. Some compounds appear fanciful, or at least not immediately transparent, such as ky + luf (eat + air) to mean "picnic". Grammatical features include the use of single letters (as opposed to verb conjugations) to indicate tense; the letter r indicates future tense and y indicates past. Thus, j sa = I know, j ysa = I knew, j r sa = I will know. Nouns and verbs have the same form (as do many English words: the light, I light, etc.) as do adverbs and adjectives (bel = "beautiful" and "beautifully"). Compounds follow a headnoun-modifier sequence, as in ca + dor (room + sleep) = bedroom.

Phonology and orthography[edit]

Dutton orthography is irregular. It is combined with phonology below.


Stress is on the first syllable (first vowel), except that the opposite suffix -o is always stressed, and the prefixes u- and past y- are never stressed.


Vowels are rather similar to Latin. When a vowel occurs at the end of a morpheme or before another vowel, it is long, otherwise it is usually short (though some suffixes shorten a preceding morpheme-final vowel).[2]

Letter a e i o u au y -
Long "ah"
Short "at"

Vowel length is only phonemic in a few cases where a root contrasts with a suffixed word, with suffixes that do not shorten the vowel. For example,

pad [paːd] "paid" (pa "pay" + -d passive participle) vs pad [pad] "pad".

Only au and y are diphthongs. Other sequences of vowels are pronounced in separate syllables, e.g. eis "ice" is [ˈeː.ɪs].[4] Vowel sequences in roots are ei, eu, oi, oe, ui, ue, ia, io, iu. The sequences ie, uo are found in written contractions, but may not be pronounced that way.

"Y" is a consonant in ye [jɛ] "yes" and in y [ˈjoː] "was, were". (The diphthong y never appears next to another vowel within a root, so the pronunciation of the letter "y" in ye is predictable.)


Consonants are mostly as in the IPA; e.g., s is always voiceless, as in "less", g is always hard, as in "get", and r is trilled, as in Scots and Italian. Exceptions:

  • c is [tʃ] (as in "itch")
  • j is [ʒ] (as in French)
  • q is [kw] (as in "quick")
  • sh is [ʃ] (as in English)
  • x is [ks] (as in English)

Words spelled as a single consonant are usually pronounced as that consonant plus a "very short ee" before a vowel, and as that consonant + schwa otherwise. (This epenthetic vowel parallels the pronunciation of e in the English word "the".) The suffixes -r (agent) and -z (plural) are pronounced with a preceding schwa when they follow a consonant.

[ʒ, h] do not occur in final position.[5] [ʃ] only occurs in final position in an unwritten affix. A nasal [ŋ] occurs (in final position only) in two affixes, but is not written in either. (See below.) [j] occurs initially in just two words, ye and y; finally it arguably ends the diphthong y. The letter w does not occur in final position, but [w] arguably ends the diphthong au.

Consonant sequences in word-initial position are bl, br, pl, pr, dr, tr, gl, gr, kl, kr, fl, fr, sl, q [kw], sp, st. The only consonant sequence in root-medial position is tt in otto "eight". Consonant sequences in word-final position are nd, nt, ng, lk, rb, rd, rt, rg, rk, rm, rn, st, sk, x [ks], and q [kw] (in aq "water").[6]

Unwritten consonants and vowels[edit]

Some morphemes spelled with a single consonant have an unwritten vowel, and one prefix spelled with a single vowel has an unwritten consonant:

  • b "but" is [bʊt], as in English "but"[7]
  • -c (a suffix) is [tʃoː], as if it were written co. That is, lec "mail" is pronounced [ˈleːtʃoː], not *[ˈlɛtʃ].
  • f "for" is [froː], as if it were written fro
  • h "have/has" is [hiː], as if it were written hi
  • m "with" is [mɪt], as if it were written mit
  • n "not" is [nɔt], as if it were written not
  • -st "-ist" is [ɪst], as if it were written ist
  • u- (participle) is [ʊŋ]
    (though "having" is hu [hʊŋ] rather than expected *uh)
  • x "if" is [ɛks], as if it were written ex
  • y "was/were" is [joː], as if it were written yo (with the y pronounced as a consonant)
  • z "as" is [zuː], as if it were written zu
  • & "and" is [and], as if it were written and

Some suffixes have an unwritten vowel that only occurs after certain consonants. They are detailed below.


As noted above, the prefixes past-tense y- [ai̯] and u- [ʊŋ] do not take stress, and u- is pronounced with an unwritten engma. Me- [ˈmeː] and my- [ˈmai̯] are regular.

Suffixed vowels are long and take an epenthetic [j] (English y) when following a vowel. For example, dau "allow, grant" (< da + u) is pronounced [ˈdaːjuː], gan "scarcely" (< ga + n) is [ˈɡaːjʊn], and rist "clerk" (< ri + st) is [ˈriːjɪst].

Suffixes pronounced as a single consonant after a vowel generally shorten that vowel. The exceptions are -d, -z, -r, which leave the vowel long. (As noted above, -z and -r take an epenthetic schwa after any consonant.) Many consonants are pronounced with an unwritten vowel after certain consonants:

  • -d is pronounced [d] after vowels and voiced consonants but d, and [ɛd] after d and voiceless consonants.
  • -m shortens a preceding vowel and is pronounced [ɔm] after any consonant.
  • Other single-consonant suffixes (-b, -g, -k, -l, -p, -s, -t) may take an epenthetic vowel when they would otherwise be difficult to pronounce. The epenthetic vowel is [ɛ] for the suffix -t (as it is for -d) and maybe for -p,[8] and [ɪ] for all others.

In addition, three suffixes have completely different forms after consonants and vowels:[9]

  • -f after vowels and -y after consonants
  • -v after vowels and -i after consonants
  • -x after vowels and -o after consonants

Irregularities to avoid homophones[edit]

Besides the epenthetic vowels mentioned above, many suffixes take epenthetic vowels (or their other alternative form) to avoid homophones.[9] More generally, the suffix -s takes its epenthetic [ɪ] after k and g to prevent confusion with final x, regardless of whether this would create a homophone.

Usually, the root-plus-suffix is written the same as the potential homophone, and only pronounced differently. For example, -m is pronounced [ɔm] after consonants, and [jɔm] after vowels when a pronunciation of [m] would create a homophone, but it is always written -m. On the other hand, -v, -f, and -x after a vowel are replaced with their post-consonantal forms -i, -y, and -o when their normal post-vocalic forms would create a homophone;[10] here the difference is reflected in both pronunciation and writing (though the epenthetic [j] is still not written). One suffix, -r (agent suffix, as English "-er"), has a special disambiguating form:

  • The agent suffix -r is pronounced and spelled -er, rather than with its normal epenthetic schwa, when it would otherwise create a homophone with an existing word. For example, "maker" is maer [ˈmaːjɛr] to avoid confusion with mar [mar] "marry, marriage". (The only other suffix to take an epenthetic schwa, plural -z, would never create a homophone, so schwa never occurs after a vowel.)

Compound words[edit]

When two roots form a compound, the unwritten affix [ŋ] is placed after the first root. When three roots form a compound, the unwritten affix [ʃ] is placed after the first root. Either affix takes an epenthetic [ɪ] after a consonant. Examples:

albe "already" (< al + be) is [ˈalɪŋbeː]
diel "telephone" (< di + el) is [ˈdiːŋɛl]
rysan "hospital" (< ry + san) is [ˈrai̯ŋsan]
opmekav "anti-aircraft" (< op + mek + av) is [ˈɔpɪʃmɛkav] 'OPP-ish-mek-avv'
ryefki "gymnasium" (< ry + ef + ki) is [ˈrai̯ʃɛfkiː]

Morphology and syntax[edit]

Many roots function as either noun or verb:[1]

J ra cde [ʒə ˈraː tʃəˈdeː] "I work today"
C ra e fas [tʃə ˈraː eː ˈfas] "This work is easy"

The past tense of most verbs is marked by the unstressed prefix y- [ai̯]. Two verbs are irregular:[9]

  • to be: e [eː] "is, are, am"; y [joː] "was, were"
  • to have: h [hiː] "has, have"; hy [hai̯] "had".

The possessive of nouns is [zai̯], and written with an apostrophe:[11]

  • l ont' ka [liˈɔnɛtzai̯ˈkaː] "the boy's head" (< on man, ka chief, head)
  • u femtz' ryu [uˈfɛm(ɛ)təzzai̯ˈrai̯juː] "a girls' school" (< fem woman, ry building)

List of affixes[edit]

u- [ʊŋ] progressive (and gerund?), -ing
y- [ai̯] past tense, -ed (related to y [joː] was, were)
me- [ˈmeː] comparative, more, -er (< me greater, increase, more)
my- [ˈmai̯] superlative, most, -est (< my most)
-a [aː] unfavourable
-b [b, ɪb] possibility, -ible, -able (< ib possible)
-c [tʃoː] collection (< co collect, collection)
-d [d, ɛd] passive voice, past participle, -ed (< ed conclude, end, finish)
-e [eː] augmentative
-f [f] causative (after a vowel) (< fy cause, make, reason, render)
-g [ɡ, ɪɡ] (an idea having a general relationship to the root) (< ig general)
-i [iː] association (after a consonant), possessive on pronouns (< iv association [indefinite preposition])
-k [k, ɪk] quality, -ic (< ik property, quality)
-l [l, ɪl] (an idea having a special relationship to the root) (< il particular, special, especial)
-m [m, ɔm] thing (< om article, object, thing)
-n [ʊn] negative, -less, in-, un- (< un negative)
-o [oː] contrary, opposite (after a consonant) (< op against, contrary, oppose)
-p [p, ɛp] place (< ep location, place, position, put, set)
-r [r, ər, ɛr] person, agent, -er (< er person)
-s [s, ɪs] (an idea having a complementary relationship to the root) (< is complement)
-t [t, ɛt] diminutive, -ette (< et little, small)
-u [uː] favorable
-v [v] association (after a vowel) (< iv association [indefinite preposition])
-x [ks] contrary, opposite (after a vowel)
-y [ai̯] causative (after a consonant) (< fy cause, make, reason, render)
-z [z, əz] plural, -s
-st [ɪst] professional, -ist (< ist professional)
-' [zai̯] possessive, -'s
Interfixes (not written)
- [ŋ, ɪŋ] two-root compound
- [ʃ, ɪʃ] three-root compound


  1. ^ a b Robert Petry, 1997, "The Only Official Site for Rap Lin Rie / World Speedwords"
  2. ^ Richard Kennaway, ca. 2003, Dutton Speedwords: Pronunciation. Compiled by Raymond Brown.
  3. ^ This presumably reflects Dutton's northern English accent. See Raymond Brown, 2003, Speedwords pronunciation is complicated
  4. ^ Or perhaps with an epenthetic yod, [ˈeːjɪs], as occurs with suffixes.
  5. ^ Lack of final [ʒ] is presumably an accidental gap; there is also no suffix j. Lack of final [h] reflects English phonotactics.
  6. ^ Speedwords–English dictionary
  7. ^ Presumably with the northern English pronunciation, with the usual Dutton pronunciation of short u, considering that the prefix u- [ʊŋ] below is described as being pronounced as in young.
  8. ^ According to Brown, but not Kennaway. This is presumably a typo or oversight by one of them.
  9. ^ a b c Raymond Brown, 2003, Speedwords pronunciation is complicated
  10. ^ Brown writes that the substituting form of -f is fy, but his wording suggests this is a typo.
  11. ^ The homophone "disease" is spelled zy.

External links[edit]