A Dan: Phonetics and Writing System (1)

I’ve been work­ing on A Dan lan­guage for near­ly three years now, though I haven’t fin­ished it yet. I have a basic idea of how it sounds like, with now com­plete pho­net­ics, and gen­er­al rules for things I’m using in my nov­els and sto­ries, like nouns, place and per­son­al names.

Though I speak sev­er­al lan­guages (pro­gram­ming lan­guages includ­ed), lin­guis­tics is way out­side of the spec­trum of my exper­tise. Being an engi­neer, this is what I’m try­ing to do here: to engi­neer a lan­guage. It is a major work in progress, and I still have to under­stand a lot about lin­guis­tics.

A Dan: Pho­net­ics and Writ­ing Sys­tem, Part One

‘A Dan’, writ­ten with the Glyphs. The word means ‘speech of the Dan­na’

Type of writ­ing sys­tem: alpha­bet.

In A Dan glyphs are writ­ten in squares called box­es. Text can be writ­ten hor­i­zon­tal­ly from left to right, right to left, and ver­ti­cal­ly from top to bot­tom. Hand­writ­ten text usu­al­ly has right to left align­ment, because most of the Dan­na are left-hand­ed.

Word glyphs are clus­tered togeth­er and glyph clus­ters (words; also called pop­u­la­tions) have spac­ing between them. Punc­tu­a­tion signs are includ­ed into the last box of the word, after which they fol­low.

Box­es for glyphs.

A Glyph con­sists of a frame and a core.

Vow­el Glyph
Con­so­nant Glyph

Vow­el Dia­crit­ics

While a Dan has only five vow­el glyphs, it has fif­teen phonemes. Each glyph has three grades. Glyphs of the first grade are called free and have no mark­ings. Grade Two (Roman­ized with the invert­ed breve) has a sin­gle stroke mark­ing in the glyph’s core; grade Three (Roman­ized with the macron) has two strokes in the core.

Vow­el dia­crit­ics (left: A Dan, right: Roman­ized)

Con­so­nant Dia­crit­ics

Not all con­so­nant phonemes are rep­re­sent­ed with glyphs. There are two, /h/ and /j/, which don’t have their own let­ters. They are shown with dia­crit­i­cal mark­ings instead.

In the mid­dle of the word these are put on the glyph frame, fol­lowed by the /h/ or /j/ phoneme:

If a word starts with /h/ or /j/ phoneme, the marks are reversed and put on the glyph frame that fol­lows /h/ or /j/:

Punc­tu­a­tion marks


A Dan has 13 con­so­nant phonemes, but only 11 glyphs for those.

A Dan Con­so­nant Phonemes and Glyphs

Com­ments on Roman­iza­tion of con­so­nants for orthog­ra­phy

/j/ might be rep­re­sent­ed as let­ter j or y. With vow­els it is as y (when word starts with /j/ which is fol­lowed by vow­el, or /j/ is between two vow­els); with con­so­nants it is j (between con­so­nant & vow­el, or between two con­so­nants). E.g. Eyu­ran, Rjg, tjr­ne­nagh.

Labio­den­tal approx­i­mant [ʋ] might be rep­re­sent­ed as let­ter w or v, not b; e.g. Orewen

/k/ might be rep­re­sent­ed as let­ter q (before /ue/); e.g. Quen­nah


A Dan has fif­teen vow­el phonemes, and only five glyphs for those. This is where things get com­pli­cat­ed.

A Dan Vow­el Phoneme base
A Dan Vow­el Phonemes Grid and Glyphs

The dia­crit­i­cal mark­ing for /h/ can be omit­ted between two iden­ti­cal vow­els, as they will always have /h/ between them (e.g. Falaha). A Dan does not have gem­i­nat­ed vow­els.

There are no diph­thongs, but there are clus­ters of vow­els with­out syl­la­ble break. These are treat­ed as long vow­els.

In A Dan dif­fer­ent phoneme can change a mean­ing of a word, or be an allo­phone. Though they only have five let­ters for vow­els, dia­crit­i­cal marks help dis­tin­guish between the sounds in sim­i­lar-writ­ten words. More­over, sounds can have dif­fer­ent length and it is not marked in any way; it is sim­ply an accent on dif­fer­ent worlds. For­eign­ers have to learn the pro­nun­ci­a­tion from the native speak­ers. Natives can tell where you are from just by hear­ing you talk. Here the clas­sic A Dan is pre­sent­ed, as it is spo­ken by the Dan­na.


Stress is quite pre­dictable. Usu­al­ly the first or the last syl­la­ble. The com­bi­na­tion of two or more vow­els is treat­ed as a sin­gle syl­la­ble, but any of the vow­els can be accent­ed in such vow­el clus­ter (e.g Diona – ‘dio’ is a syl­la­ble, and ‘o’ is accent­ed; Kieren – ‘Kie’ is a syl­la­ble, and ‘i’ is accent­ed.)

Phono­log­i­cal con­straints


All syl­la­bles have at last one vow­el or semi­vow­el [j] as a nucle­us. Some syl­la­bles can con­tain 2 or 3 vow­els, or com­bi­na­tions of one or two vow­els with semi­vow­el. A Dan has no con­so­nant clus­ters big­ger than three phonemes.

(to be con­tin­ued.)

Jeno Marz
JENO MARZ is a science fiction writer from Latvia, Northern Europe, with background in electronics engineering and computer science. She is the author of two serial novels, Falaha’s Journey: A Spacegirl’s Account in Three Movements and Falaha’s Journey into Pleasure. Marz is current at work on a new SF trilogy. All her fiction is aimed at an adult audience.


  1. This is fan­tas­tic! Reminds me of my days study­ing lin­guis­tics for Uni­ver­si­ty.

    I love the glyph sys­tem you have devel­oped as it makes the writ­ing look so pret­ty.

    Devel­op­ing my own lan­guage is some­thing I’ve stayed away from just because it’s SOO hard to do right. Though lots of peo­ple ask me how to do it. How­ev­er, you seem to have real­ly rel­ished in the devel­op­ment of this lan­guage and it looks great!

    Keep up the fan­tas­tic world build­ing as it’s a plea­sure to read 😀

    All the best,

    The World Build­ing School

  2. Hey Nate,

    thanks for stop­ping by. I’m glad you like my glyph sys­tem.

    The hard­est part was to design some­thing the oth­er con­langers already didn’t, and that had fit the require­ments of my invent­ed cul­ture, both aes­thet­i­cal­ly and prac­ti­cal­ly. This is the trou­ble with aposte­riori devel­oped lan­guages — more lim­i­ta­tions.

    But I can tell that the hard­est part of a lan­guage is every­thing that comes after pick­ing pre­ferred phonemes. You won’t get it right from the first time, you will be peel­ing and pol­ish­ing for quite some time until it fits and feels right. 😀


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