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As incredible as it may seem, for a period of time the Church trialed the use of a new alphabet, different from the standard English alphabet in use today. Why the change? Maybe you have perplexed over the confused look on your child’s face as you have tried to explain the different sounds one letter in the alphabet is capable of creating. Brigham Young also had the same issues with the English language. On one occasion he instructed:
Brother Spencer has used language quite beyond your reach. Well, I have the foundation, and he can make the building. When he commences the building, I have asked the Board of Regents to cast out from their system of education, the present orthography and written form of our language, that when my children are taught the graphic sign for A, it may always represent that individual sound only. But as it now is, the child is perplexed that the sign A should have one sound in mate, a second sound in father, a third sound in fall, and a fourth sound in man, and a fifth sound in many, and, in other combinations, sounding different from these, while, in others, A is not sounded at all. I say, let it have one sound all the time. And when P is introduced into a word, let it not be silent as in Phthisic, or sound like F in Physic, and let two not be placed instead of one in apple.
President Young realized there was a solution. Having attended Pittman shorthand classes in Nauvoo, as taught by British immigrant George Watt, Young realized that this could be the solution. Brigham Young once stated: “We will continue to improve the whole science of truth; for that is our business; our religion circumscribes all things, and we should be prepared to take hold of whatever will be a benefit and blessing to us.”
On February 21, 1850, the University of Deseret was incorporated. On March 20, 1850, the Board of Regents that was created at the time of the formation of the University of Deseret met in the home of Parley P. Pratt when a discussion ensued on altering the current English alphabet so “that spelling and Pronunciation should be the same.” The January 19, 1854, edition of the Deseret News reported:
The Board of Regents, in company with the Governor and heads of departments, have adopted a new Alphabet, consisting of 38 characters.
The Board have had frequent sittings this winter, with the sanguine hope of simplifying the English language, and especially its orthography. After many fruitless attempts to render the common alphabet of the day subservient to their purpose, they found it expedient to invent an entirely new and original set of characters.
These characters are much more simple in their structure than the usual alphabetical characters; every superfluous mark supposable, is wholly excluded from them. The written and printed hand are substantially merged in one. We may derive a hint of the advantage to orthography, from spelling the word eight, which in the new alphabet only requires two letters instead of five to spell it, viz: AT. There will be a great saving of time and paper by the use of the new characters; and but a very small part of the time and expense will be requisite in obtaining a knowledge of the language.
The orthography will be so abridged that an ordinary writer can probably write one hundred words a minute with ease, and consequently report the speech of a common speaker without much difficulty. As soon as this alphabet can be set in type, it will probably be furnished to the schools of the Territory for their use and benefit; not however with a view to immediately supersede the use of the common alphabet— which though it does not make the comers thereunto perfect, still it is a vehicle that has become venerable for age and much hard service.
The symbols of the new alphabet appeared on gold coins minted in the Salt Lake Valley in 1860. The symbols from the new alphabet spelled out “Holiness to the Lord.” This was soon followed by the same symbols on paper money, store front signs, and believe it or not, tombstones. By 1869, readers were published (the Deseret First Book and the Deseret Second Book), designed to educate all people of readable age the new language. Other books printed using the Deseret Alphabet included portions of the Book of Mormon and A Christmas Carol.
So why don’t we use the Deseret alphabet today? For whatever reason, not all educators in Utah Territory taught the new system. With time interest was lost and by 1870 the idea failed.