Deseret alphabet

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The Deseret Alphabet is an alphabet used occasionally by Mormon Fundamentalists and Natives in Lago Grande, the de jure far eastern province of Alta California. It is not well known outside of this desolate region, as the last publicly available keys and primers were published in 1860; based on modern samples of the script written in journals and carved into rocks and sticks, these primers are grossly out of date.


According to surviving books from the days of the alphabet's inception, it was created by an early English convert named George D. Watt under authority and commission of Brigham Young, the leader of the Mormon church at the time. At the time, the Mormons had just settled in the prefecture of Nouvelle Cournouaille in Louisianne and were rapidly receiving new converts. Thus, Young had to make sure that all his followers quickly learned the Francien language. According to Young's letters, he decided that, in order for his people to learn this language, he would need to create a new alphabet for it, one that assigned each of the language's sounds to a symbol. Watt was an expert in Pitman shorthand, a phonetic alphabet created by Sir Isaac Pitman for English, and thus was asked in 1852 to create this new alphabet.

Though the alphabet was promoted by Young for nearly a decade, it did not catch on due to the prohibitive cost of creating new printing presses for the alphabet, and the fact that the Mormons learned Francien mostly without the aid of the alphabet. Facing pressure from the Louisianne government, Young publicly ended his support of the Deseret alphabet project during the April 1860 General Conference, declaring that all official church and legal documents must be written in the Francien language and the Latin alphabet from then on. He further commanded his followers that all men over the age of 19 and women over the age of 21 must speak Francien in church. This declaration caused the "Second Great Schism" in the church, as many who felt the need to "protect" the English language left Francien land for free land in the west. It is known that Watt brought his alphabet with them, following a small short-lived sect called the "Godbe-ites" organized by one William Godbe in 1868. The alphabet was then used by many communities in the Great Basin to write English and various Native languages. It apparently borrowed letters from Oregonian and Asimoupolian Greek at various points in its history, and evolved into two varieties: a cursive, written in books and journals, and a "runic", carved into stone and wood.


With the advent of 21st century technology and the recently stronger presence of the Californian government, people have largely stopped using the alphabet. Nevertheless, it has certainly had its impact on the region, becoming a cultural symbol both of Mormon Fundamentalism and of Natives in the region. Some historians claim that after the Mormon dissenters taught their alphabet to the regional Natives that they influenced their neighbors to the North to adopt the Cyrillic alphabet from the Russian settlers, but those claims are as of now unfounded.

More Details

According to most sources, Watt adapted the alphabet to English sometime in the decade following the "Proclamation Francien" of 1860 and re-branded its use as an act of rebellion against Young with hand-made primers written by Watt and his followers in 1869. Other sources claim that Watt had always intended to use the alphabet for English and actively resisted or subverted Young's efforts to make it an alphabet for French; one historian cites the alphabet as being "rather clunky" for French and claims to have found evidence of "extra letters" in documents dating to 1854 that "could only have been used for English".