My project for 2021 is to put together a useful little book that you can carry in the bottom of your backpack in case of emergencies. With this kind of thing, you really have to begin at the beginning and carry on from there, so here are the first three pages of the book:
The first page is the English alphabet together with the equivalents in Morse, NATO, and Braille (English Grade 2). The NATO and Morse will be useful if you’re ever on the phone with somebody or kidnapped by them. The Braille alphabet is a little less frequent in books of this kind but perhaps you’ll come across a Braille letter behind your hotel couch and want to know what it says.
The second page is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) chart, assembled by the International Phonetic Association, which is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License. (Copyright © 2015 International Phonetic Association.).
If you can spare a couple hours to get acquainted with this chart, it will help you with whatever language you’re working on. It’s all the sounds in all the languages organized by how you make that particular sound with your mouth. Training yourself to think in this way will improve your speaking and listening skills. There are lots of great resources to help you. There is a Wikipedia IPA page for most languages and here is another great website for learning the IPA itself.
The last page of my pdf is the Russian, Arabic and Hindi alphabets, along with their IPA equivalents. This page has various shortcomings that I know about and probably many more that haven’t registered with me. I am probably in full-bore English as She is Spoke territory here but I still think it’s worth including these alphabets. I started studying the Russian alphabet one afternoon when I was stuck at the train station in New Haven. I was surprised how easy it was and it’s been pretty useful to me over the years whenever I’ve been in Cyrillic countries. My Russian is still pretty weak but, knowing the alphabet, I can at least sound out the names of restaurants, neighborhoods, etc.
I’ve chosen these three alphabets because they are widely used and can be set out on a single page. Our own Latin alphabet is the most popular with 4.9 billion users and the three alphabets on my pdf will cover an additional 1.5 billion speakers:
- Arabic is third most popular with 660 million users,
- Devanagari (Hindi is one variant) is fourth most popular with 606 million users,
- Cyrillic (Russian is one variant) is sixth most popular with 250 million users.
The number two most popular script is Chinese. Chinese is a logographic script: every word is a different symbol. I experimented with a few ideas here but decided not to include any kind of Chinese resource here. You’ll just have to wing it in China.
With that said, the shortcomings in my pdf include the following:
- I’ve tried to use the most reduced IPA equivalent that seems reasonable. So, in English, the letter “a” can be pronounced in many ways depending on the word: car, plan, mate, etc. And then letters are pronounced differently depending on the accent, dialect, language. For this pdf, I’ve (mostly) omitted all of that: the letter “a” makes the sound “ɑ” and so kindly disregard all of the other sounds.
- I’ve written all the alphabets in left to right order, even though Arabic is written right to left.
- When they are written in words, Devanagari and especially Arabic don’t look like this. For Arabic, the alphabet on my pdf is just the “isolated” version of the letter and eventually you have to learn how the letter is written when it comes before, after, or in between other letters. For Devanagari, vowels have a different form when they follow a consonant.
- I’ve made all sorts of violent decisions about what letters to include and exclude, trying to follow the main conventions. The Arabic alphabet as I have seen it usually doesn’t include vowels or certain non-letter symbols like أ and ة and so I haven’t included them here. For Devanagari, I have included अं and अ and excluded ह and other letters, in line with the resources I’ve been using.
- In Devanagari, the consonants are normally quite usefully organized in sets of five related sounds. I’ve totally ruined that order by setting out three rows of twelve. It fits better on my page like that.
If you are interested in learning any of these alphabets, here are some links that I’ve found helpful: