Romic alphabet

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Romic alphabet
Languages Proposed for English
Creator Henry Sweet
Time period
19th century
Child systems
Influenced the original International Phonetic Alphabet

The Romic Alphabet, sometimes known as the Romic Reform, is a phonetic alphabet proposed by Henry Sweet. It descends from Ellis's Palæotype and English Phonotypic Alphabet, and is the direct ancestor of the International Phonetic Alphabet. In Romic every sound had a dedicated symbol, and every symbol represented a single sound. There were no capital letters; there were letters derived from small capitals, though these were distinct letters.

There were two variants, Broad Romic and Narrow Romic. Narrow Romic utilized italics to distinguish fine details of pronunciation; Broad Romic was cruder, and in it the vowels had their English "short" sounds when written singly, and their "long" sounds when doubled:

If the beginner has once learnt to pronounce a, e, i, o, u, as in glass, bet, bit, not, dull, he simply has to remember that long vowels are doubled, as in biit—"beat", and fuul—"fool", and diphthongs formed by the juxtaposition of their elements, as in boi—"boy" and hai—"high" [...]

Sweet adopted from Ellis and earlier philologists a method creating new letters by rotating existing ones, as in this way no new type would need to be cast:

There is, however, one simple method of forming new letters without casting new types, which is very often convenient. This is by turning the letters, thus - ə, ɔ. These new letters are perfectly distinct in shape, and are easily written. The ə was first employed by Schmeller to denote the final e-sound in the German gabe, &c. Mr. Ellis, in his ‘Palæotype,’ uses it to denote the allied English sound in but.

— Henry Sweet, A Handbook of Phonetics, 1877, p. 175

The IPA letter ⟨ɔ⟩ acquired its modern pronunciation and first use with this alphabet. He resurrected two Anglo-Saxon letters, ash ⟨æ⟩ and eth ⟨ð⟩, and borrowed the Greek letter theta ⟨θ⟩, which had the pronunciations they retain in the IPA.[citation needed][these may have been used earlier] He used ⟨q⟩ for /ŋ/ and ⟨c⟩ for /tʃ/.


  Lab. Dent. Alv. Palv. Pal. Velar Glot.
Nasal mh  ·  m   nh  ·  n   qh  ·  q  
Plosive p  ·  b  ·  t  ·  d  ·  c  ·  j k  ·  g x · 
Fricative f  ·  v θ  ·  ð s  ·  z ʃ  ·  ʒ  ·   ·   · 
Lateral     lh  ·  l        
Rhotic     rh  ·  r        
Semivowel           wh  ·  w  

Aspiration is written ⟨kʜ⟩ etc. Dark L is a turned ʟ (mirror image of г).

In "wide" vowels, the tongue is described as relaxed and flattened; in "narrow", it is tense and more convex. Lax vowels are indicated by italic type, unless the tense vowel is a rotated letter (back, unrounded vowels), in which case it is turned right-side up.

Sweet's letters are given below with their IPA values. In the case of the back unrounded vowels, the description of their place of articulation does not accord well with the words given as examples.

"Narrow" (tense) vowels
Front "Mixed" Back
High i · y
(i · y)
ih · uh
(ï · ü)
 · u
(ɤ? · u)
Mid e · ə
(e · ø)
eh · oh
(ë · ö)
ɐ · o
(ʌ? · o)
Low æ · œ
(ɛ · œ)
æh · ɔh
(ɛ̈ · ɔ̈)
ɒ · ɔ
(? · ɔ)

These are defined by Sweet as:

i: French fini, e: French été, æ: English air, occasionally end
y: French lune, ə: French peu, œ: French peur
ih: Northern Welsh taɡu, eh: German Gabe, æh: English bird
uh: Swedish hus, oh & ɔh (NA)
variety of ɐ, ɐ: English but, ɒ: occasionally Scottish but
u: French sou, o: German so, ɔ: English saw
"Wide" (lax) vowels
Front "Mixed" Back
High i · y
(ɪ · ʏ)
ih · uh
(ɪ̈ · ʊ̈)
ᴀ · u
(? · ʊ)
Mid e · ə
(e̞ · ø̞)
eh · oh
(ə · ɵ)
a · o
(ɑ · o̞)
Low æ · œ
(æ · )
æh · ɔh
(a · )
ɑ · ɔ
(ä · ɒ)

These are defined by Sweet as:

i: English bit, e: Danish træ, occasionally English end, pity, æ: English man
y: German schützen, ə North German schön, œ (NA)
ih: occasionally English pretty, eh: start of English eye [ehih], æh: start of English how [æhoh]
uh: Swedish upp, oh: French homme, ɔh (NA)
ᴀ variety of ɐ, a: English father, ɑ: Scottish & broad London father
u: English full, o: Northern German stock, ɔ: English not

Vowel length is indicated with ⟨ɪ⟩, as in ⟨⟩ ([iː]) and ⟨⟩ ([uː]); nasality with an italic nasal, such as ⟨an⟩ or the four French vowels, ⟨ɑq oq æq œq⟩.


  • Sweet, Henry. (1877) A handbook of phonetics, including a popular exposition of the principles of spelling reform, Oxford: Clarendon Press. (on

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