While we have been focusing on school the past weeks we thought it would be interesting to post about one of the subjects all early Utah Territory schoolchildren learned, the Deseret Alphabet.
Brigham Young had the idea to create an alphabet that would help simplify the spelling of the English language for the thousands of new converts that were coming to Utah. For many of these new converts, English was a new language. The purpose of this new alphabet was intended to ease the burden for students learning to read and write English, which with its many inconsistencies proved difficult to learn.
The Deseret Alphabet began on January 19, 1854. The new alphabet consisted of 38 to 40 characters. Each character was designed to present a sound of the English language. George D. Watt along with Brigham Young created the symbols for the alphabet. Its characters were to be so much simpler than those in the Roman alphabet that one would not have to learn to print one way and write cursive another. In fact, an ordinary person using the alphabet would easily be able to write one hundred words a minute. Every letter would have a specific sound, and every word would be spelled just like it sounded. The letters C, D, L, O, P, S, and W of the Roman alphabet were retained, but most of them were given new sounds, and thirty-one characters were added.
For some time, beginning February 16, 1859, the front page of the weekly Deseret News was nearly covered with articles written in the Deseret alphabet. In 1860 “Holiness to the Lord” was inscribed in the Deseret alphabet on Deseret gold pieces. For at least a year Brigham Young’s account books were kept in the Deseret alphabet. Four books were published using the Deseret Alphabet; Deseret First and Second Book Readers, the Book of Nephi Part 1, and then the entire Book of Mormon.
Despite being heavily promoted by President Brigham Young, the Deseret Alphabet never gained wide acceptance and the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 brought many people to Utah who were uninterested in learning the system. Soon after Brigham Young’s death in 1877, resources and funding for the project came to an end.