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The Briefscript Project

Speedwords: genesis of the Briefscript Project

Brief History of Speedwords

Reginald John Garfield Dutton, the inventor Speedwords, was born on 8th November 1886 in Nottingham, UK, but grew up and lived the rest of his life in Skegness, UK. He married and had three children, two sons and one daughter. He died in Skegness on 22nd June 1970.

In 1920 he was introduced to Esperanto and "spent much time and money in efforts to persuade the British public to take it up. But ultimately it had to be admitted that for some reason the great masses of people remained apathetic. Consequently, those who regarded a second language essential to world understanding exercised their minds to as to whether some new advantages could not be introduced which would have the effect of attracting much greater numbers to the study of an international auxiliary language." [Dutton, Reginald J.G. (1946), Dutton World Speedwords. 3rd edition. London: Dutton Publications]

The advantage that Dutton sought to introduce was brevity. According to Wikipedia, [u]nder the influence of Horn's frequently used words list, an early attempt was made to develop an alternate international abbreviated language. Dutton expressed this in his one-page sheet called International 2-letter correspondence symbols (published 1933). From this was developed Dutton's first international briefscript, which he called "International Symbolic Script" (ISS), and introduced to the world in an article in the 'Journal of the Royal Society of Arts' (JRSA) of 20th December, 1935.

The vocabulary of ISS was constructed in the manner of the 'philosophoical languages'of the 17th century, Ro of the early 20th century and Babm of the mid 20th century. In Dutton's own words:

... my scheme uses the ordinary Roman alphabetic characters found on most typewriters. All thoughts and objects, classified in 26 groups, are expressed by the employment of no more than 530 one- and two-letter symbols.

Each group has its own special initial letter, by which letter it is always immediately identified, whatever the reader's language may be. Thus every symbol expressing a part of the body begins with k, e.g. kl limb, kc head, kp foot, and so on. The other 25 groups are - Aspect and Vision, a (e.g., av see) ; Business, b (e.g., bp post) ; Concrete Objects, с (e.g., cb book) ; Sensibilities, d (e.g., da love) ; Estimate and Judgment, e (e.g., ef easy) ; Form, f (e.g., fa angle) ; Time, g (e.g., ga before) ; Vegetation, h (e.g., hf fruit) ; Intellect, i (e.g., im remember) ; Volition, j ; Liquids, l ; Movements, m ; Number, n ; Order, o ; Position, p ; Quality, q ; Relation, r ; Sound, s ; Touch, t ; Inter-social, u ; Life v ; Woven and pliable materials, w ; Transport and change, two half-sections, x ; Non-pliable matter, у ; Temperature and space, two half-sections, z.

Twenty-five single letter suffixes provide hundreds of additional symbols without placing any great additional burden on the memory. For instance -a reverses the meaning of the symbol it follows, e.g., ma ascend, maa descend ; -v gives an unfavourable twist, as dc courage, dea fear, dcav cowardice ; -m gives an augmentative idea, as mf flow, mfm pour ; -k likewise provides a diminutive idea, as da love, dak like.

Particles are represented by single letters, which are also subject to a change of meaning by the addition of one of the standard single-letter suffixes, as z to, za from ; j I, me, jr my, mine ; о or, on nor.

All other thoughts known to humanity are provided by suggestion compounds.

His friend, the Rev. Dr. F.W.G. Foat, in the JRSA of 13th March, 1936 wrote:

... we see he is thinking of written and printed communication only. His "script" cannot be spoken systematically ... so that it is not useful for conversation, for dictation, for directng labourers or soldiers of mixed nationalities, etc., as Esperanto is. This is a grave limitation and fatal, I think, to its general adoption.

Dutton took this criticism on board; he could, of course, have retained his ISS and given each letter of the Roman alphabet a syllabic value as Fuishiki Okamoto did with his language Babm [bɔˈɑːbɔmu] (see BrScB & other Roman letter syllabaries: A possible Roman letter syllabary); but he did not. He stuck to using the Roman script with the sort of values common in western European languages and found that inserting "vowels between the consonants ... had the effect of making it impossible to write the Script at a speed within the region of 100 words per minute." As a result:

Next I tried making the radicals, for the most part, abbreviations of Latin and Teutonic roots. By this means the high speed of writing is still retained, and as Russians, Japanese, and even correspondence-minded Zulus, should not find it unduly difficult to memorise 452 pronounceable syllables - the total number used in International Symbolic Script to express every object and thought - the loss of the classifying principle may be regarded as not too serious.

Thus Speedwords was born!

There were further revisions in 1946 and in 1951, by which time the number of root words had grown from 452 to 491. Both Dutton's ISS article and this article in October 1936 gave an excerpt from Bernard Shaw's "St Joan." Both are given in Speedwords is (largely) a relexification of English: The St Joan texts, together with later Speedwords versions.

Where to find information about Speedwords

If you do not know Speedwords, you may wish to look at one or more of these three sites:

  1. For many years Richard Kennaway's Conlang directory has contained information about Speedwords. Currently, you will find: * NOTE: there is a link to the full 1951 Speeds to English/English to Speedwords dictionary in the menu on the top right of this page.
  2. When I wrote this page in 2003 I gave pointers to The New Congress's "Dutton Speedwords Official Site" and to Bob Petry's "the only official Speedwords web-site." Neither of these links are any longer active and, indeed, all reference to the former site appears to have vanished from the Internet, an archived version of Bob Petry's page may be found by clicking here. I have since discovered (April 2022) there is an website,, which promotes Speedwords and also includes a biography of its inventor.

What features of Speedwords prompted Briefscript Project?

There were principally two features I came not to like in my late teens? They are:

  1. that Speedword roots and affixes are not self-segregating
    (This page links to "So what do itollis and evue actually mean?": an examination of the structure of those two words)
  2. that the rules of pronunciation are complicated and kludgey.

There were also two other features which were not so prominent in my mind at that time but were certainly there and, over the years, have helped mould my design principles for BrSc; they are:

  1. that word-building presents problems
    (This page also links to "So what do itollis and evue actually mean?")
  2. that Speedwords is (largely) a relexification of English.

A note on the pronunciation

The pronunciation rules which I found unsatisfacxtory are those that given in "Dutton World Speedwords" (3rd ed. 1946) and "Dutton Double-Speed Word Companion to Text-Books" (3rd ed. 1946). It is the pronunciation I learnt and, as far as I know, the only full account to be published and is summarized here.

A member of The New Congress had told me that The Congress had come upon at least three different methods of pronunciation. The one I know is the most widely circulated and also the most complicated. I was told The Congress was fortunate enough to lay hands on copies of original papers from the Dutton estate from his late daughter, Elizabeth, and that in these papers Dutton had revised the pronunciation.

This last revision, I was told, was much easier to work with and that The New Congress had adopted it, with one minor modification. This method has never been published and was, of course, not known to me in the late 1950s. Indeed, although I had requested details, I received none and, regretfully, I still remain entirely ignorant of them.