Why are there more than 26 letters?
As anyone who’s ever had to learn to spell knows, English is not the easiest language to write. Many letters and letter combinations have more than one possible sound. Sometimes, the same letters can even represent different sounds depending on the context, like the word “bow” (as in bowtie) or “bow” (as in to take a bow, which rhymes with “bough”).
Also, English speakers all over the world pronounce words differently, especially when it comes to vowels. (This is one of the reasons a more phonemic writing system has not caught on.) Since I speak a west-coast-United-States variety of English, I based the letters for my writing systems on the speech sounds we use here. Depending on where you live, you might find you would have chosen different characters.
The Brace alphabet (or “ath”), like most of my writing systems, has 13 vowels. Although you might think English only has 5 or 6 (a, e, i, o, u… and sometimes y), it requires combinations of letters to represent all the different sounds each letter can make. In contrast, my writing systems use only one unique character for each major vowel sound. While this makes them less realistic than the wild and crazy legacy of English spelling, it also makes them simpler to create, and easier to use. Again, depending on where you live, you might use even more vowels!
While consonants vary a lot less among the many speakers of English, its writing system still has its oddities. Some consonants can represent more than one single sound (“g” can say “g” as in “gum” or “j” as in “gem”, “c” can make a “k” or and “s” sound), while others represent two sounds (“x” says “ks,” unless it’s pretending to be a “z”). Sometimes what linguists consider a single sound (like “sh”) is represented by two letters, and what are considered two sounds put together (like the “j” sound in “joy,” a quick combination of the “d” and “zh” sounds) use a single letter.
Most of my writing systems use 24 consonants, with separate characters for the “ch,” “sh,” “zh” (as in “azure”), “ng” (at the end of “sing”) “th” (as in “bath”), and “th” (as in “bathe”) sounds.
Listen to your friends and family speak. What sounds do they use? How are they the same (or different) from the ones I’ve used here? Do they pronounce words like “cot” and “caught” the same? How about “Don” and “Dawn”? And “marry merry Mary”? Where I live, these groups of words are homophones (pronounced the same). But in other areas of the country, and world, they each sound different.
Try it at home!
How many characters would YOU use to make your own writing system? For English? For another language? For your own invented language?