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Apr 11, 2022

Illinois Researchers Make Deseret Alphabet Texts Available for Study

Two University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign researchers are developing resources for studying the Deseret Alphabet, which was created by the Mormons and used briefly in the 19th century.

Linguistics professor Ryan Shosted and computer science professor Neal Davis created the Illinois Deseret Consortium to make available online searchable transcriptions of texts written in Deseret for researchers to study and also to help people rediscover the alphabet.

Their website, at go.illinois.edu/deseret, includes phonemic transcriptions of texts using a computer-readable script so researchers can search for the phonemic spellings without using the Deseret characters, as well as computer-readable transcriptions in the alphabet.

Shosted’s research interest is phonetics, and Deseret is a phonetic alphabet, using symbols to spell words the way they sound. Growing up in Salt Lake City, Shosted remembers his grandmother’s unique pronunciations. She and other members of her generation pronounced the “or” sound as “ar” – so “cord” sounds like “card” and “fork” sounds like “fark.” He wondered if texts written in Deseret would offer evidence of that way of speaking in the mid-19th century.

The Deseret Alphabet grew out of the Mormon interest in spelling reform and shorthand that began when they were headquartered in Nauvoo in western Illinois in the 1840s, Shosted said. They wanted to be able to quickly write down the words of church leaders and make them available to the public. Education was a priority for the Mormons, and they also were interested in making English easier to read, he said.

You can read more in an article by Jodi Heckel  published in the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign web site at: https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/1858823463.