Hangul (한글), the script of Korean, is arguably the best-thought-out script ever invented by humankind, for it takes one step beyond where other scripts have trodden: the letters’ shapes reflect their sounds.
All languages allow for similar clauses, sentences, and words for similar thoughts (of the people, by the people, for the people: all relations to the people) and usually similar word parts for similar concepts (six is 6, sixteen is 16, sixty is 60: all numbers related to the sixth natural number* in the perspective of our base system). This cuts massively from the amount of time needed to learn a language as it reflects the structure of the relations among ideas expressed: if we say similar things in similar ways, we more easily guess and remember how to effectively communicate each of them.
*To people who consider 0 a natural number: I zero-indexed this statement.
*To people who consider 0 not a natural number: I one-indexed this statement.
The makers of Hangul saw beyond the levels of structure that other script-makers and script-contributors saw: they saw the structures relating sounds—the features that allow sounds to fall into certain categories, and the various ways different pairs of sounds are different in the same way—and decided that their script will utilize relations down to the level of the phoneme. Letters differing only by aspiration will be the same except for the horizontal in the middle. Sounds made in the back of the mouth have a circle, representing the throat. Sounds made by both lips (bilabial sounds) have a rectangle, representing the two lips. Find all the letters here.
Why not, then, have the most assimilating language of the world, English, adopt the ideas of Hangul, and obtain phoneme-level relation-reflection in script? In the rest of this post, I define Mantul (/’mæntʊl/), a Hangul-inspired script for the English phonological inventory.
Symbols of Mantul map from English sounds, not English letters. Thus, one could anticipate an issue with the fact that English is very widespread and exhibits a wide palette of different dialects and accents. This problem is palliated via the fact the similar sounds look similar, and thus most variation among dialects will map to a very similar-looking written manifestation. Of course, there are also some rather significant differences that can be found, for instance between rhotic and non-rhotic accents of English (one that pahks their cah in Hahvahd yahd is often r-short), but these differences tend to be consistent, and thus could become expected as a deviation, just like how we come to expect certain patterns of exception in learning English.
Here are symbols for the 24 English consonant sounds:
Many levels of relation are considered in symbol design of the consonants: plosives (like /p/ and /d/) have sharp corners while nasals (like /m/ and /n/) and fricatives (like /θ/ and /z/) have rounded corners. Voiced sounds are reflections of voiceless counterparts over the horizontal midline (like the symbols for /f/ and /v/). Affricates are the approximate superposition of the sounds combined.
Here are symbols for 9 vowels and 5 vowel diphthongs:
(Notice I group some similar sounds together.)
Front vowels point left or up. Back vowels point right or down. The /ə/ sound, the sound most vowels reduce to and the most “neutral” vowel, is the most vanilla vowel. Modifications on the left side for front vowels correspond with left vertical strokes for consonants articulated near the front of the mouth.
Each syllable of English is represented by one character composed of one or more sounds. The liquid sounds (/l/, /ɹ/, /w/, /j/) are allowed to be merged with the vowel they’re next to in written form. Here are the thirty-six most common words of English, all monosyllabic, written in Mantul.
Within a square character, symbols are read left-to-right then top-to-bottom. It does not matter how the symbols are grouped into lines, just that they follow this order, though characters look nice when they approximate a square, and thus vowels with taller symbols (open vowels) are more likely to share a line with consonants.
Words with multiple syllables are written with a column (|) separating the syllables. Thus, even if characters are written too close together, which ones belong to the same words is clear. Below, I transcribe a passage from a famous document:
(If you’re familiar enough with this document, you’d be able to pinpoint the two words I left out.)
Notice how I transcribe ‘and’ differently in this passage than I did in the word list above. See how even though the word ‘and’ could be pronounced differently, the characters are similar enough to still ‘look like’ the word ‘and’?
This is the resilience of phoneme-level relation.
Mantul is pronounced /’mæntʊl/. It comprises of m, a, n, t, and l, five letters for which the sounds they most commonly represent in English (/m/, /æ/, /n/, /t/, and /l/) happen to be represented by Mantul symbols that look similar to the Latin-script letters themselves, and the ending -ul, to syllabic-rhyme with the English approximation of the pronunciation of Hangul (/ʊl/). Unfortunately, /ɯ/, how the ‘u’ in Hangul is supposed to be pronounced in Korean, is not a sound found in English.