"One world, one alphabet."


Geoffrey Graham Tudor 

November 15, 1995

Copyright © Geoffrey Graham Tudor 1995-2020. All rights reserved.




A.    Introduction
B.    History

C.    Characteristics of PA
    1.    PA is featural
    2.    PA is universal in application
        a.   PA applies universally to all humans

        b.   PA’s decryption key is the human body
        c.   PA applies into the deep future
        d.   Culturally neutral

    3.   Single case letters
    4.    PA is easy to understand, teach, learn, remember and use 
 D.    Uses
     1.   Linguistics

     2.  Speech therapy
     3.   Deaf education
     4.   Learning a first language
     5.   Learning a second language
     6.   One world alphabet for languages with and without a writing system
     7.    Dictionaries

     8.    Alternative to International Phonetic Alphabet
E.    PA letters
    1.    Consonants
        a.  Table of consonant letters

        b.  Consonant elements
            (1)    Table of consonant elements
            (2)    Design of elements
        c.    Consonant letters
            (1)    Design of consonant letters
            (2)    Alphabetic ordering of consonant letters
    2.    Vowels
        a.    Table of vowel letters
        b.    Vowel elements

             (1)  Table of vowel elements

             (2)  Design of vowel elements
                   (a)    The midline   

                   (b)    Tongue openness/elevation
                   (c)    Tongue backness
                   (d)    Lip roundedness
        c.    Vowel letters

              (1)  Design of vowel letters

              (2)  Alphabetic ordering of vowel letters

F.    Examples of PA
G.    Earlier featural alphabets
H.    Conclusion


A.   Introduction 

Physioalphabet (PA), also known as the Human Physiological Alphabet, is a universal featural alphabet based on the human physiology used to produce speech.  An alphabet is technology, which ideally should be simple to understand and easy to use.  Speech pronunciation is the product of human physiology.  PA is designed so that the form of every letter encodes and communicates to a speaker six dimensions of information about the letter.  No natural, organically evolved alphabet does this.  

Each "letter" in PA is comprised of smaller “elements” that are assembled to form the letter.  There are two systems of constructing letters in PA, one for consonants and one for vowels.  For consonants, each element graphically represents specific body actions that combine to produce a specific speech sound.  For vowels, each letter is comprised of different elements that communicate information about tongue position, lip roundedness and nasality. These unique features make PA a very useful and flexible tool with many valuable functions.​     

B.    History

PA was created in 1994 by Geoffrey Tudor, an English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) instructor.  His aim was to create a new international phonetic alphabet based solely on the sciences of linguistics and human physiology as universals of human speech.  Tudor had previously taught ESL to Indochinese refugees at a university in Texas.  His classes contained students from 3 countries: Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.  Each country had its own unique alphabet, and each alphabet differed considerably different from the other two, as well as from the Roman alphabet used in English.  With students from such radically diverse language backgrounds, Tudor realized that he really needed an alphabet that would be truly universal and would visualize the sound relationships among the letters.  PA was designed to represent the sounds of any language on Earth.  It turns out that in satisfying its original design purposes, PA possessed many features and characteristics for representing sounds in language that made it far superior to other alphabets.

PA's full, original name was (and remains) “Human Physiological Alphabet” because that name accurately described the most important features of the alphabet:  

      1.      PA applies only to human beings.  (Note: Any notation system for communication by any other species would ideally                           be based on its own physiology, as well.  PA is the notation system based on our own, human physiology.)
      2.      PA originates from human anatomy and physiology.
      3.      PA’s writing system is an alphabet, not some other writing system.

The shorter term “Physioalphabet” was adopted for easier reference, and its abbreviation "PA" will be used throughout this article.​

C.    Characteristics of PA

PA is a universal, featural and single case alphabet that is easy to learn and use. 

C.1      PA is featural

PA is uniquely featural in six different ways, on 3 different levels of writing complexity.  PA transcribes the three levels of phonological complexity (someme, phoneme and phonemaro) into three corresponding levels of writing complexity:

            a.  soma-grapheme level, as PA "elements";

            b.  phono-grapheme level, as PA "letters"; and 

            c.  language phoneme inventory level (phono-graphemaro level), as the PA "alphabet" itself.

 A thorough discussion of these featural concepts is found in the Appendix.

Here is how PA is featural on each level:

C.1.a.  Soma-grapheme level (element)

Each PA element that comprises each letter encodes a phonological featureof the phoneme that the letter represents.  It does this by encoding each body action that constitutes each phonological feature.  The elements are designed as abstract graphic representations of those body parts involved in producing those body actions, from the reference point of a head facing left.

​C.1.b.  Phono-grapheme level (letter)

C.1.b.(1).  Each letter, as a whole symbol, encodes the phoneme that the letter represents.

C.1.b.(2).  Each letter encodes the combined body actions that produce a phoneme.

C.1.b.(3).   Each letter, with its assembly of body actions, encodes instructions for pronouncing of the various phonological features that combine to form a phoneme. Letters in PA are “self-instructional.”  PA allows a speaker to translate the information communicated by a letter itself into correct pronunciation of the corresponding phoneme.  PA letters are anatomical descriptions of how to pronounce themselves.  A speaker can see what body parts to use (or not use) to produce the phonemes represented by the letters. 

 C.1.b.(4).  Each letter displays a spatial arrangement of the PA elements that encodes the actual spatial arrangements of the speech-producing body parts within the head and neck.  Just as the nose is above the mouth, which is above the throat, in PA the nasal element is above the mouth elements, which are above the throat elements.

C.1.c.  Phono-graphemaro level (alphabet)

Physioalphabet, with all its letters taken together as a whole alphabetic system, encodes and displays the phonological relationships among all the different phonemes that the letters represent.  That is, the design and construction of PA letters allow users to see the sound relationships among letters. This is not the case with organically evolved alphabets.  For example, the letters F and V in the Roman alphabet look nothing alike and convey no information about any relationship between the phonemes they represent.  (Alphabets other than PA are dumb; they tell us nothing, give us no information about a language's phonology.)  Both F and V are labiodental, aspirated fricatives: the upper teeth contact the lower lip, and breath moves out through the contact point. Physiologically the two letters are pronounced exactly the same way, except that /v/ is voiced and /f/ is not.  The PA letters representing the phonemes /f/ and /v/ clearly reveal the phonological relationship between the two letters.  As to be expected, the two PA letters look identical except for the addition of the base line showing that /v/ is voiced. 

C.2      PA is universal

C.2.a.  PA applies universally to all humans

PA is based solely on human physiology, in particular the body structures that all human beings use to produce speech.  PA is an alphabet for all humankind, because it can be used to write any language in the world.  This could go a long way toward giving all of humanity one common bond in a world of cultural and linguistic diversity.  One world, one alphabet.

C.2.b   PA’s decryption key is the human body

The decryption or decoding key for PA is the human body itself.  Every person on the planet carries with them at all times the decoding key for converting PA letters into sounds.  Each letter encodes the speech-producing body parts and body actions for the corresponding sound.  As a result, the PA system allows anyone at any point in time, whether in the present or some distant future, to decode PA and know the sound of any language.

C.2.c  PA applies into the deep future 

Those speech-producing parts of the human body do not change or evolve over time.  This means that PA applies universally to all past, present and future languages, and in fact into the deep future.  

C.2.d.  Culturally neutral  

PA is totally culture neutral.  PA is a script that was constructed based on the science of the human body.  This means it is completely unrelated to any ethnic, national or cultural group, or any group’s particular history.  It did not evolve organically over time as did almost all writing systems on Earth, past or present.  In short, PA carries no cultural baggage.

C.3.   Single case letters

PA letters are single case letters.  Each letter has only one invariable form.  In linguistics, this type of alphabet is described as unicase or unicameral.  Alphabets whose letters have two forms are called bicameral alphabets.  These two forms are described as majuscule or miniscule letters, uppercase and lowercase letters, or, in everyday speech, capital or small letters.  The Roman alphabet used in English is just such a bicameral alphabet.  But PA's single case form for its letters makes it much easier to teach and learn because a student only has to learn one, not two, sets of letters.

C.4.   PA is easy to understand, learn, teach, remember and use  

Because of its universality, featural nature and single case letters, PA is extremely easy to understand, learn, teach, remember and use (reading, writing and speaking).  As a result, PA can easily be learned, mastered and applied in a few hours.  And native speakers learning PA already have an in-grained sense of what their body is doing to produce speech, which accelerates their learning.  Contrast this with the years that speakers now must take to learn the pronunciations of letters in an alphabet that evolved organically over time, in which the form of each letter is unrelated to the form of any other letters in the language, or in which one letter or letter combinations may have multiple pronunciations.

D.   Uses

D.1.  Linguistics 

Linguists can use PA to record the sounds of any language. 

D.2.  Speech therapy

Speech therapists can use PA as a teaching tool to help students learn how to correctly pronounce sounds in English and any other language.

D.3.  Deaf education  

PA can help deaf students learn how to pronounce sounds in English and any other language.  There is no easily applied or consistent way to represent English pronunciation to ASL students other than through pictures or films of a cross-section of the human head, showing the body parts that produce a certain sound. PA does this.  With PA letters, a speaker (deaf or hearing) can see how to pronounce them. 

D.4.  Learning a first language 

PA facilitates learning of a first language by native speakers.  The speakers come to the learning table with a fully functioning pronunciation of the language.  This provides a readily available reference for learning the phonological features represented by the PA letters.   This allows a native speaker to learn the PA letters in the alphabet extremely quickly.

D.5.   Learning a second language

PA facilitates learning of a language by non-native speakers, in particular those whose original languages were not written in any alphabet.  PA allows them to compare the set of sounds used in their native language with those of the target language they are learning.  This enables more accurate pronunciation.  For example, in ESL, students often have no reference point at all for pronouncing the Roman alphabet as used in English.  And the wide irregularity of English spelling impedes their ability to learn pronunciation.  PA solves this problem. 

D.6  One world alphabet for languages with and without a writing system

Every language in the world that has an existing writing system could be written in PA as an alternative to that existing writing system.  Since any language can be represented by letters in PA, parallel texts in all countries in both the native language and in PA would increase comprehension by non-native speakers.  All students worldwide would learn PA in their own first language, which would mean that there would be no need for them to learn a new writing system for a new language.  In addition, PA could easily become the writing system for the half of the world’s 7,000 languages that currently have no writing system.

D.7  Dictionaries 

A dictionary in any language can use PA to show the pronunciation of words in the language.

  Alternative to the International Phonetic Alphabet**  

PA is an alternative to the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). PA can represent all the same sounds as the IPA, in any human language.  IPA does not share many of the PA features listed above, and therefore has the same handicaps as other existing alphabets.  Most importantly, there is no underlying unifying principle of letter design in IPA as there is in PA.  IPA letters do not show how the letters relate to one another physiologically and phonologically.  They give a speaker no information to aid in pronouncing the letters.  

Unlike in PA, almost all IPA letters are based on the Roman alphabet.  The IPA uses graphic gymnastics to amplify the Roman alphabet so that it has enough characters for all IPA letters.  For example, the IPA:

      a.  adds to Roman letters tails curling forward and backwards,
      b.  uses capital and small letters, and
      c.   reverses and even inverts letters.  

Compared with PA, the IPA is an unhelpful and uninformative system of symbols for sounds.  PA is a far superior alphabet.​

E.    PA letters

E.1.    Consonants

E.1.a  Table of consonant letters

Here is a table of all PA consonants.

E.1.b.    Consonant elements

As mentioned above, PA letters representing consonants are an assembly of symbols called elements. 

E.1.b.(1)    Table of consonant elements

Here are tables of all elements that can be assembled into PA consonant letters. 

The elements are displayed in the uppermost row and leftmost column of the PA consonant chart (see below D.1.b.(2)).  The format of the PA consonant chart is almost identical to that of the IPA's.  The uppermost row lists and shows the elements representing the individual body parts used to produce speech.  The leftmost column lists and shows the elements representing individual body actions.

E.1.b.(2)   Design of consonant elements

         An "element" is a graphic symbol, or pictogram, that encodes and represents a body action that contributes to speech production.  Here is a cross-section of t
he head and neck, showing the speech-producing body parts and their corresponding elements:    

E.1.c.  Consonant letters

E.1.c.(1)  Design of consonant letters

PA consonants are combinations of elements, assembled spatially in a very specific order.  The sound of any PA consonant comes from integrating the all the information communicated by the elements that comprise the letter.

Each PA letter is constructed in a rectangular area called a “letter field.”  Consonants are assembled from elements.  The elements are arranged spatially in the letter field to reflect their relative locations to one another in the body, i.e., in the head and neck.  Assembly occurs from top to bottom, and right to left.  

The nasal cavity is above the mouth and can only appear at the top of the field.  

Just below comes the throat and mouth cavity, which occupy the wide middle area of the field, from top to bottom.  In this area, from right to left, the glottis comes before the epiglottis, the soft palate comes before the hard palate, which comes before the alveolar ridge.  Next come the teeth and the lips.  

The vocal cords lie below them all, and can only occur at the very bottom of the field.  The vocal cords are represented by a single horizontal line segment.  

This modular assembly of letters from graphic elements is what makes PA so easy to learn and remember.  For example, the PA letter for the M sound contains 3 elements, indicating that pronunciation of the M sound is nasal, bilabial, and voiced.  The 3 elements are assembled into a single letter, itself a pictogram, that codes for the M sound.

The PA letters for vowels, while they clearly differ from one another, do look a lot alike.  They do not share the visual variety of the consonants, since the parts of each symbol are not pictograms that reflect body parts.  Vowel letters are therefore more difficult to learn than consonant letters and must be learned outright.  However, in doing so, one learns how each vowel is pronounced and how all vowels relate to each other phonologically.

E.1.c.(2)  Alphabetic ordering of consonant letters

PA consonants are generally recited in an order from bottom to top and from back to front.  More specifically, the consonant phonemes are recited in the order of the location where they are produced: throat, mouth and nasal.  Nasal phonemes are grouped together last in the series.     

Here are the English consonants with their PA counterparts in PA order.


​​​E.2.​  Vowels

E.2.a.  Table of vowel letters

Here is a chart vowels.  Rounded vowels are shown to the right of the bullets, and unrounded vowels to the left.  The chart orientation is with the head facing left.  

E.2.b.  Vowel elements

E.2.b.(1)  Table of vowel elements

​[table of vowel elements]​

E.2.b.(2)  Design of vowel elements

Vowel letters are comprised of only three elements.

The first element is a vertical line, known as the “midline.” 

The second element is a projection, that can be either straight or curved.  The curved projection indicates rounded lips; the uncurved projection indicates unrounded lips.    

The third element indicates when a vowel is nasal.  The element appears as a curved line over the vowel only when the vowel is nasal.  It is a consonant element, borrowed for vowels.  Each of these elements is examined in more detail below.

Since all vowels are voiced, no element is necessary to indicate voicing.

E.2.b.(2).(a)  The Midline

The midline represents the horizontal midpoint of the tongue in the mouth cavity when viewed from the side, and marks the highest elevation of the tongue when pronouncing central vowels.  The midline is the same as the central line in the IPA vowel chart.  Central vowels occur up and down the midline. The midline also serves as a reference point for frontness/backness of the tongue in the mouth.  Note that the orientation of the PA vowel chart is the same as in the IPA: the left side of the chart represents frontal vowels, and the right side, back vowels.    

[graphic of cross-section of head with superimposed vowel chart, with midline in bold]

E.2.b.(2).(b)  Tongue vertical position (openness or elevation)

For any vowel, the vertical distance of a projection from the bottom of the midline indicates the tongue’s elevation within the mouth. The lower the tongue's elevation in the mouth, the larger the mouth cavity and the more open the pronunciation.  Projections can occur on one of four main elevations, from 0-3 (indicating low to high).   Elevation 0 is called open, 1 is mid-open, 2 is mid-closed and 3 is closed.

Example of vowels with main elevation projections:

There are also three subelevations that occur halfway between each of the elevations 0-3.  They are numbered 0.5, 1.5, and 2.5.  The subelevations are indicated by a short line segment drawn below the elevation projection just above it.

Examples of vowels with subelevation segments are: 

Altogether, this system allows notation of 7 levels in all.  

E.2.b.(2).(c)  Tongue horizontal position (frontness or backness)  

Backness is represented by the projection appearing right, middle or left from the midline.  This indicates whether the sound is a frontal, central or back vowel, respectively.  Central vowels have projections that straddle the midline.  

Examples of vowels front , mid and back:

E.2.b.(2).(d)  Lip roundedness  

Just as vowels can be unrounded or rounded, a projection can have two shapes: straight (not rounded) or rounded.  The straight projection represents unrounded vowels, and the rounded shape, rounded vowels.

Examples of vowels front , mid and back:

​​.2.c.  Vowel letters

E.2.c.(1)  Design of vowel letters

​Every vowel letter consists of three elements:

a.  a vertical line representing the midline of a vowel chart; and
b.  a projection from the midline to the left or right, or on top of, the vertical line.  This projection can be either straight or curved, indicating whether pronunciation is with lips unrounded or rounded.  The projection can also be at different elevations up the midline, indicating tongue elevation; and 
c.  A curved element on top of the entire letter indicating nasality, if any.  This element is optional, used only if nasality exists.

PA vowel letters therefore code for 4 bits of information:

       1.    tongue forwardness/backness in mouth
       2.    lip roundedness
       3.    tongue elevation
       4.    nasality

Keep in mind that since all vowels are voiced, there is no separate element necessary for indicating voiced.  

E.2.c.(2).    Alphabetic ordering of vowel letters 

PA vowels are ordered by position in the mouth: bottom to top, back to front.   PA vowels are ordered from the left bottom corner, up to the left top corner, to the midline bottom, up to the midline top, to the right bottom corner, up to the right top corner.  Here are the English vowels with their PA counterparts in PA order.

[add table]

F.    Examples of PA

Here is the first sentence of Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in English and PA: 

          All human beings are born free and equal dignity and rights.  They are         endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one               another in a spirit of brotherhood.


G.    Earlier featural alphabets

There are several other constructed alphabets that were designed to be featural like PA.  (Remember that in a featural alphabet, letters encode the phonological features of the phonemes they represent.)  The two most famous examples are Hangul, the Korean alphabet, first published in 1446 and still in use today in Korea, and Visible Speech, created by Alexander Melville Bell about 1864.  

One clear difference between Hangul and Visible Speech on the one hand and PA on the other is that the first two have a system of notation for consonant pronunciation that focuses on the tongue and its orientation toward its contact points on the inside of the mouth.  But rather than focus on the tongue for these actions, PA's notation focuses on the contact points themselves, the body parts inside the mouth which the tongue contacts in pronouncing a phoneme. 

H.    Conclusion

Physioalphabet is the ultimate technology for maximal flexibility and convenience in expressing any language on Earth.  Its featural nature, universal application, and ease of learning and use make it the perfect choice for a writing system in today's world.

**  The International Phonetic Alphabet chart and all its subparts are copyright 2005 by the International Phonetic Association. As of July 2012, they are made freely available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA).


Copyright © Geoffrey Graham Tudor 1995-2020. All rights reserved.