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Competition, discussion, and choice of alphabet.

Thereupon, the Trustee announced a world-wide competition to secure ideal designs for a Shaw Alphabet. Though this clearly reduced my own chance of formulating it, my previous work was not unknown to the Trustee who in January 1958 persuaded me to illustrate and discuss competition requirements on BBC's programme, Panorama.

Clause 6 of the Trustee's 'Advertisement M.4405.V' stated that "it is implicit in the Will and in Mr Shaw's writings" that the main object is "saving of labour ... a means of writing and printing the English language which will be more economical of the writer's time, of the paper and ink of the printer, and of transport and storage, yet convenience and ease in reading are of importance... Practical problems of typography will be taken into account". Clause 7 adds that "designs of shorthand codes for verbatim reporting and designs for reforming the existing alphabet by addition of analogous letters will be disqualified".

Competitors had a year in which to prepare their alphabetic entries. I saw no reason to amend my Lord's prayer alphabet, nor to submit alternative entries. The Advertisement offered inconclusive counsels on sound-sorts to be represented. I hardly believed it possible to arrive at a perfect alphabet without finally pooling the wisdom of competitor(s) and judges.

In view of Shaw's stipulated speech model, "that recorded of His Majesty our late King George V", I went to Broadcasting House to have a number of the King's recordings played over to me. His pronunciations varied according to context as with all other speakers. I also went to type-founders - the Monotype Corporation - and consulted printers, becoming convinced that Androcles ought to be type-set, not reproduced from a calligrapher's fair-copy as the Will permitted "in the absence of printers' type". I wrote to Mr Pitman on 18 November 1958 that fair-copying "is superfluous. Worse, the very absence of type provides a gratuitous argument for opponents ... The Will provides for propaganda costs. The fait accompli is our best, most widely intelligible propaganda". His reply agreed: he too had taken stock of the possibilities.

My competition alphabet was accompanied by examples, type designs, and detailed reasons for sounds and characters chosen. It proved to be one of 467 entries, many of them from abroad. None met exactly the ideals of the judges. However, I found myself among four competitors sharing the honour and the prize. Our four entries are best compared as scripts, though hardly as typography, in renderings of the Lord's Prayer reproduced in a trade journal, Print in Britain.

Mr P A D MacCarthy, from Leeds University's Department of Phonetics, was undertaking a transcription of Androcles in the new alphabet as soon as one could be adapted and approved. He was therefore asked by the Trustee "to collaborate with one or all of the four designers mentioned... (see the Foreword to Androcles) to produce the best possible alphabet... " Various revisions were considered till finally each designer's latest attempt was re-written by a disinterested calligrapher for comparison. The selectors chose mine as closest to their requirements, discussed with me a few possible alternatives, and nominated me for appointment as designer responsible to the Trustee and his adviser. My letter of appointment is dated 19 July 1960.

Date: 2015-01-29; view: 893

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Origins and advantages of written speech. | The Shaw Alphabet in print and typewriting.
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