World Speedwords (R. J. G. Dutton) 1923

L im d u kos ric qu Herder & Goethe ygeni nese dl utl d vus d art, h n obu eb la por dl utl d vus d sy. F, dl omz k onk ha i igi, n e so oku ige & demin z sy. Nu al gein & fovy d sy us l odm yfur by lin, & so l demin d sy barix axa l demin d lin. X w puv k cde ud sy raz, il bustuz, e ytral ia 12 or me nato lin, nux w sav qd u lae to d ra yp e safu, x jep o l ronge, buz yp e z ig ysav z, f idys, utmuz or tabz d logarithm.

Translation (from Robert J. Petry's webpages)

The idea of a world literature, which Herder and Goethe conceived essentially from the point of view of art, has now gained even greater importance from the point of view of science. For, of the things that mankind possesses in common, nothing is so truly universal and international as science. Now all communication and propagation of science uses the means supplied by language, and so the internationality of science irresistibly demands the internationality of language. If we consider that today numerous scientific works, particularly textbooks, are translated into twelve or more foreign languages, then we understand what an immense quantity of labour could be saved, if everywhere on the globe books could be as generally understood as, for example, musical notes or tables of logarithms.

(material found in Robert J. Petry's webpages)

"Another outstanding and attractive feature of Dutton Speedwords is the fact that it is the first abbreviated writing invention in history which at once transcribes all languages." ---R. J. G. Dutton

Received: from by; Thu, 20 Jan 94 10:25:01 GMT From: Richard K Harrison Subject: overview of Speedwords

language profile: Speedwords by Rick Harrison

Reginald J. G. Dutton created Speedwords, a unique project which can serve as either an international auxiliary language or a stenographic system which allows one to take notes very quickly. Unlike other "shorthand" writing systems, Speedwords uses only the familiar letters of the Roman alphabet, with no unique symbols. According to Dutton, "Because they are composed of ordinary alphabetic letters, speedwords can be typed on a typewriter as well as written by hand. Speedwords typists are therefore able to attain typing speeds never known before. Indeed, those with nimble fingers attain speeds up to 150 words per minute."

In linguistics, there is a notion called Zipf's Law which states that frequently-used words tend to be shorter than seldom-used words. Dutton took this principle to its logical extreme in designing his project. As he explained in the introduction to Teach Yourself Dutton Speedwords: "The word-lists are logically and methodically built up from Professor Ernest Horn's remarkable analysis of the frequency of occurrence of all words. The Iowa University philologist and his staff examined and tabulated 15,000,000 running words of all classes of written and printed matter. The very-high-frequency words tabulated by Professor Horn are expressed in Dutton Speedwords by single alphabetic letters standing alone. The next highest in his order of frequency are alloted two-letter speedwords, and so on..."

In addition to short words which can be written rapidly, Speedwords also boasts a relatively small vocabulary of basic concepts ("semantic primitives") which can be re-combined to express virtually any idea. "Only 493 one-, two-, or three-letter word-roots have to be memorised: all other ideas are expressed through the medium of adding single-letter suffixes, or forming short compounds." Dutton mentions that he studied the 1000 categories of Roget's original thesaurus and the 200+ radicals of which the Chinese characters are composed; these influences are evident in his selection of vocabulary items. So, it appears the vocabulary was designed with two objectives that were given nearly equal importance: to make the most common morphemes as brief as possible, and to cover all of semantic space with the fewest possible morphemes.

The Speedwords vocabulary mainly consists of shortened a posteriori borrowings: _gu,_ meaning "good," is related to German _gut_ and English _good;_ _v,_ meaning "you," is from French _vous_ (and coincidentally resembles Esperanto _vi_); _sa,_ meaning "know," is from Spanish _saber._ Many of the 3-letter words are remarkably similar to words found in other projects like Lincos and Vorlin: bel = beautiful; fem = woman; lin = language; lud = game, play.

Although publishers and the book-buying public apparently were more interested in Speedwords' stenographic uses, Dutton wanted to focus on its potential as a neutral international language: "The author wishes to emphasize the fact that Speedwords has, above all, an international value, inasmuch as it constitutes the simplest, easiest and most adequate medium for the interchange of ideas between the 54 United Nations, whose closer collaboration is at present hampered by linguistic differences. By making themselves conversant with Speedwords, users of this book will not only add to their personal equipment and to their efficiency in both private and commercial affairs, but will also rank as pioneers in this method of advancing international understanding...

"Many students of Dutton Speedwords have testified that they have found the study of this new system to be a fascinating pastime, and in no sense an arduous task. The dual ability to take shorthand notes in ordinary writing, and later -- if desired -- to enter into an international correspondence without having to learn a foreign language, opens up quite exciting possibilities."

Although Dutton has been dead for several decades and his books have long been out-of-print, Speedwords lives on. Several people have reported to me that they use (slightly modified versions of) Speedwords in taking notes, in writing their diaries and so forth.




There are no synonyms among the root-words. "One idea, one speedword."

Although it would seem that the radicals are already short enough, frequent Speedwords can be abbreviated: ms = mus, pl = ple, js = jus, fn = fin. "Kom is abbreviated to capital K when a business organisation is to be expressed."

Below is a list of all the Speedwords root-words, plus important contractions such as F and O. Some words have two forms, for example qid can be abbreviated to qd, so this item is entered as q(i)d.

& and a to, toward, at ab about, concerning, regarding ac purchase, buy ad add, addition af business, trade {French affaires} ag field ai also [contraction of adi] ak attack al all, whole alk alcohol am love amu amuse an year ang angle, corner ap open {aperture} aq water ar friend are area, region, district arg argue, discuss arm arm art art as ascend, rise at expect, anticipate au hear aut authority, official av fly ax ask, inquire az always, ever [contraction of al oz] aze forever, perpetual azo never b but ba back, rear, behind bar obstruct, check be before, prior, previous bed layer, stratum, sheet bel beauty, beautiful ber carry, bear bi life, live {biology} bib drink bid command, order, tell bil account, bill bit piece, bit ble grain, corn blu blue bo tree bod body, trunk bol ballgame bor border, edge bra brave, bravery, courage, courageous bri shine bru brown bu book by by c this, these {French ce} ca room, chamber cav hollow ce receive {receive} cel heaven, celestial realm cen hundred cer certain, positive, sure ci decide, decision cir circle, ring co collect(-ion) con cone cu that [demonstrative adjective] d of, from {French de} D day #... (e.g. D1 = Sunday, D2 = Monday) da give, donate {Latin dare} de day deb debt, owe def define, distinguish dek right-hand side dem nation, people des desire, want, wish di say {diction, French dire} dig finger dik fat, thick dio God dip deep dir direction dis disc do live, dwell, reside dok document don pardon, excuse dor sleep dos 2 dra act, drama, a play du continue, keep on dy since {French depuis} e am, are, (to) be, is {Latin est} eb even {German eben} ed end, finish ef efficient, competent, capable eg equal eis ice ek church el electric(-ity) ele element em emotion en attention {attention} eng narrow ent enter ep place, position, location, to put er person ern earnest, serious es estimate, assess est appreciate, esteem et little, small {booklet, islet} f for F Madam [contraction of Femu] fa deed, act, to do, fare {Latin facere} fab fabric, material fas easy fat fat fe glad, happy {felicity} fem woman fet celebration, festival feu fire, burn, combustion fi filament, thread fid faithful, loyal fil son f(i)n find fir firm fis fish fix fixed, secure, tight fla inflammation (of a body part) fle flesh, meat flo flower, bloom flu flow, current fo front, in front of fol leaf fon origin(al), source for form, shape fot photograph fra brother fru fruit fu few ful full, fill fun 5 fur provide, furnish, supply fy render, -ify, cause, reason g them, they ga complete, completely {German ganz} gar keep, retain gas gas ge together, join gel yellow gen birth, yield, generate gla smooth gm gram (unit of weight) go go, goes gom rubber gra gratitude, to thank, thanks! gre degree, grade, stage gro grow gu good, well gus flavor, taste h has, have [also used as aux. verb, e.g. G h go = they have gone] ha possess, own hab common, habit(ual), ordinary, usual han hand har hair haz chance, luck, hazard he heat, hot hem half hi conceal, hide ho height, high, tall {German hoch} hon honest, sincere hor hour, o'clock hu having hum humble hy had i in, within ib possible {possible} id same {identical} if inform, tell ig general (shared by all) ik property, quality il particular, special ilu influence im idea, imagine, suppose in between, among {Latin inter} ind indicate int interest ip self, selves {Latin ipse} ir here is complement isk insect ist professional it implement, instrument, tool ite journey, travel, voyage iv associated with [indefinite preposition] iz herewith [contraction of ir ze] j I, me {French je, Scand. jeg} ja soon je every, each, per {German jeder} jet cast, throw jm everything [contraction of je om] jr everyone [contraction of je er] js [contraction of jus] ju judge jun young, youth jur law, legal jus fair, just, right jut jut, project(-ion), prominence k that [conjunction; akin to Esperanto ke] K company, firm ka head kal alkaloid kan sing, song ke credit, due kem chemical ken acknowledge, admit ki move, motion {kinetic} kil thousand kin kindred, relation kla class, kind, sort ko come {German kommen} kok cook kol neck kom company, accompany kon accord, agree kos world {Greek kosmos} kot cotton kre believe, belief kru cross ku enclose, include, contain kub cube kup guilt, culpable, fault kur curve kut cut ky eat l the {French le} L month #... la large, big las allow, permit, let {German lassen} lat side le letter (correspondence) leg leg lek lecture, oratory len gentle, mild les damage, harm, injure li liquid lib free, liberate, release lim bound(ary), limit lin language lo long, length lob praise log logic, sense lon lend, loan lot allot, allocate, assign, deal lt litre (unit of volume) lu month lud game, play luf air lum light, illuminate lut contest, a match ly long-and-thin m with {German mit, Scand. med} M Mr. ma make, produce, construct mar marry mat matter, material, concrete [adj] mau mouth me more, greater, increase mek machine mel sweetness mem memory, remember men mind, mental mer mother mes measure met metal mi midday, noon mid middle, medial mik microbe mil million min mineral mir wonder(-ful) miu minute (time unit) mol soft mot word mr meter (unit of length) Ms Ms. mu much, very m(u)s must, have to muz music my most {German meist} n no, not na of course, nature nam name, call nar story, narrat(iv)e, tale nat native nav ship {naval} ne take [in the sense of E-o preni, G nehmen] {German nehmen} ner nerve nes need, require, necessary nm nothing [contraction of n om] no look (at), notice, observe nob celebrated, honor, repute nor north nov new nr nobody [contraction of n er] nu now {Dutch and Scand. nu} num number, count, several nur food ny near(-ly), almost, approximately nyn 9 o on O sir [contraction of onu] ob get, acquire, obtain od manner, method, mode, way odo odor, smell of offer og eye oil oil ok right, correct, accurate ol receptacle, vessel om thing, article, object on man op against, contrary {oppose} or or ord order, arrange(ment) org organ orn ornament, decorate os bone ost east ot other otto 8 ov over, above oz occur, occasion, happen p can, be able to, have the power or potential to... pa pay(-ment) pad pad, cushion pap paper par part, portion pas ago, past pat paste pe period, a while ped foot pel clear, plain pen hang per father pes heavy, weight pin point pi(r) soul, spirit pit mercy, pity pla flat, horizontal, level pl(e) please, pleasure pli fold po after(-wards), post- poe poem pol polite por important, matter pos post(age) pot earthenware, pot(tery) pov poor, poverty pre prepare pri price, cost pro promise pru prove pu think, thought pul powder pur clean q do ...? [in questions; akin to Esperanto c^u] qa how {Latin quam} qar 4 qe when qi who(m) {French qui} q(i)d what {Latin quid} qo where {Latin quo} qu that [relative pronoun], which... qy why r will [future tense flag] ra work, labor rad root rag anger, rage rap quick(-ly), rapid(-ly), fast re again, repeat reg control, govern, direct rek direct, straight rel religion ren meet-ing, rendezvous rep reptile rev revolve, rotate rex king, monarch ri write {write} rit rhythm ro list ron round, rotund, around ru remain, stay, rest, stop rub friction, rub rud red ruk crease, wrinkle rup break ry building, establishment, -ery {bakery, library} s he, him sa know, knowledge saf safe(ty), secure sak sacred, holy sal jump, leap, spring san health sau sauce, condiment se week {French semaine} sed sit sek follow, sequence {consecutive} sem seed sen feel, sentiment sep 7 ser look (for), search (for), seek ses 6 sev divide, division {sever} sh her, she sha sharp sho exhibit, show shu shoot sig meaning, significance, signify sil silk sip simple sis sister sit position, situation sla hit, strike, a blow so so, such sok social, society sol only, sole, single, alone son sound spa space, volume spe speak, speech, talk spi breath(e) sq square sta stand ste compass, extend, range, scope sti condition, stipulation, terms sto stone stu learm, study su better, improve sub substance sud sudden suk succeed, success sup exceed, excess, surplus sur surface sut maintain, support, sustain sy science t it ta late, tardy tab table tat condition, state te time teg cover ten hold, grasp ter earth, land tes test, experiment tin color tir draw, pull to amount, quantity top top tra transfer, transport tri 3 tru through try attempt, try, endeavour tu touch tub pipe, tube tuf tough tur turn ty 10 u a, an, one {French un} ub favorable, well ud many, numerous ue being ui musical instrument uk transact, undertake ul some, any um something [contraction of ul om] un negative uo another [contraction of u ot] up up ur return, revert urb town, urban urg drive, urge us use, utilize ut item, unit uz once v you {French vous} va war vag wander, aimless val value, worth van vanish, disappear ve vehicle, car veg vegetable ven blow, wind ver green ves garment, to dress via road, route vib vibrate, shake vig hard, strong, vigor(ous) vik instead, substitute vis force, power viz face vo willing vok cry, voice vot choose, pick, select vu see, sight, view vy advice, advise w us, we we purpose, intend, aim wo wool wy white x if y was, were ye yes yr would z as, than, compared to za dear ze send {Dutch zenden} zi because zo animal zu condition zy disease

Apparently the first versions of Speedwords were published in 1943 or earlier; Hogben reportedly mentions the project in his book on Interglossa. In the autumn of 1951, Dutton made some changes to his vocabulary. He added the words con, ele, sub, and zy, and removed the following items, replacing them with the new items shown in the second column:

deleted item replacement


grav ern (earnest) <--- 4-letter words shortened iflu ilu (influence) krel rel (religion) ling lin (language) mato pi(r) (spirit) neur ner (nerve) sers fin (find) stat tat (condition)

end ed (end) <--- 3-letter radicals shortened bla wy (white) dax ne (take) hid hi (hide) hot he (hot) kap ka (head) lab ra (work) lan wo (wool) man on (man) mul ud (many) sin mo (without)

sel aco (sell) <--- radicals replaced by compounds lig bos (wood) mon pam (money) nig wyx (black) on eri (one [impersonal pronoun]) onk peri (uncle) ra zee (radio) sim idi (similar)

kav cav (hollow) <--- respellings and replacements fin fun (five) ja ye (yes) ka za (dear) kar qar (4) kum kom (company) mo ki (motion) mus muz (music) na ja (soon) ne na ("nature-ally") pt par (part) ym we (intend)




Only one of Dutton's books, the World Speedwords Text-book (which I have not been able to obtain), gives complete rules for the pronunciation of Speedwords. His other books only mention that all Speedwords are pronounceable. From hints given in Teach Yourself Dutton Speedwords, we know this much: The Speedwords letter _c_ is always pronounced like the English digraph "ch" in "church." When a consonant is followed by _y,_ the y is pronounced /ai/; the speedword _ny_ sounds like the English word `nigh.' Q is pronounced /kw/.



    • general

A typical speedword word may be used as a modifier, verb or noun: hex = cold [noun or adjective], lob = praise [verb or noun]. Dutton claimed that it is not necessary to use particles or affixes to convert a word from one part-of-speech to another: "`Beauty' and `beautiful' are both conveyed by the one Speedword _bel,_ and `necessity' and `necessary' by the one Speedword _nes._ ...In this connection it is worthy of note that the Chinese have not, in thousands of years, found it necessary to differentiate between `beauty,' `beautiful' and `beautifully' ...Word-order, both in Chinese and Speedwords, suffices to indicate the purpose of every word-unit." However, if we carefully examine Dutton's word lists, we _do_ find instances of Speedwords using affixes to distinguish between nouns and modifiers.

Compounding is used: ca + dor (room + sleep) = bedroom; ry + bu (building/establishment + book) = library. Note that these compounds are in headword-modifier sequence, the opposite of what we find in English, German, Chinese and Esperanto compounds. Many of Dutton's example compounds are not exactly obvious in their meaning, and some of them make us wonder if his elevator went all the way to the top: ky + luf (eat + air) allegedly means "picnic," soninum (letter/spell + number) supposedly means "algebra," and regnob (govern + honour(ed)) is translated as "senate."

    • verbs

The word _r_ indicates future tense, the prefix _y-_ indicates past tense: j sa = I know, j ysa = I knew, j r sa = I will know. When used as a free-standing word, _y_ is the past tense of _e_: sh y fe = she was happy.

The word "to" is omitted from infinitive verb expressions; thus_ce_ = "receive" or "to receive."

The continuous or progressive verb is expressed by copula + stem, e.g. S e pu = he is thinking; be ze t = before sending it.

The English verb "do" is not translated into Speedwords when it is superfluous: Qa v di t? = how (do) you say it? J n sa = I (do) not know.

Existential sentences do not contain the word `there': E 3 le ir f v = (There) are three letters here for you.

    • pronouns

Pronouns are not inflected to indicate case: w = "we" or "us." The possessive forms of pronouns are created by suffixing -i: ji = my, si = his, shi = her(s).

    • nouns

Nouns do not inflect to indicate plurality when preceded by an adjective of quantity: 4 le = "four letters," al mer = "all mothers." Plurals when necessary are formed by adding -z: liz = liquids. The absence of the singular article _u_ can also indicate plurality.

Possession is indicated by an apostrophe: wi K' buz = our company's books.




A system of approximately 20 affixes expands the usefulness of the limited vocabulary of root-words. Unfortunately, the definitions of most of these affixes are vague, and their uses are very unpredictable and idiomatic. Even if you memorize all the root-words and affixes, it is unlikely that you would be able to guess the meanings which Dutton has assigned to various combinations of radicals and affixes.

The suffix -a indicates an unfavorable connotation to the root-word: bixy = kill, bixya = murder; en = attention, ena = worry; pro = promise, proa = threaten.

The suffix -b indicates possibility: kreb = credible, ozb = perhaps.

The suffix -c denotes a collective entity: ci = decide, cic = committee; on = man, onc = community. Some of Dutton's uses of -c have less-than-obvious meanings: fi = filament/thread, fic = brush; gusu = tasty, gusuc = salad.

The suffix -d indicates passive voice: rid = written. J r ku l pam m l le = I will enclose the money with the letter; L pam r e kud m l le = the money will be enclosed with the letter.

The suffix -e is expansive/ intensive/ augmentative; ny = near, nye = next; ja = soon, jae = immediately. "When the -e suffix is also added to any qualitative word it has the force of `very,' as mue -- very much, gue -- very good, loe -- very long..." In practice, Dutton's uses of this suffix are somewhat idiomatic and unpredictable: aq = water, aqe = steam; ko = come, koe = forthcoming.

-f/-y is causative: bix = death, bixy = kill; ta = late, taf = delay.

The suffix -g indicates a "general" relationship: pe = period, peg = season. In practice, Dutton's uses of this affix are quite idiomatic and unpredictable. Using the vocabulary list above, see if you can guess the meanings of _bleg, dog, ming_ and _ping._ (Answers at the end of this section.)

The suffix -k indicates the presence of a quality: bi = life, bik = vital; am = love, amk = affectionate. Some of Dutton's uses of this affix don't seem to fit in with his definition of it: ku = contain/include, kuk = capacity; sta = stand, stak = standard.

The suffix -l indicates "an idea or object which has a special association with the Speedword to which it is joined." Ax = ask, axl = a request; if = to inform, ifl = a report; pa = to pay, pal = a cheque.

The suffix -m indicates an object or article: pam = money, afm = commodity.

The prefix me- forms comparatives: mela = larger.

The prefix my- forms superlatives: myla = largest.

The suffix -n indicates negation (equivalent to English un-, non-, -less). Often it is impossible to predict whether Dutton will use -n or -o: garn = dispose, garo = expend; habn = strange, habo = rare; jusn = unjust, okn = incorrect, juso / oko = wrong.

A suffix of opposites is one of the most common affixes. Words ending in consonants add -o, words ending in vowels add -x. Examples: ir = here, iro = there; up = up, upo = down; ov = over, ovo = under; he = hot, hex = cold. (Exception: "As `ax' is already used for `ask' the contrary of `a' is expressed by `ao.'")

The suffix -p indicates the place for something: au = hear, aup = auditorium. In a few cases Dutton uses -p when one might expect him to use ry: kyp (instead of ryky) = restaurant.

The suffix -r indicates a person or agent-noun: stur = student, junr = child, nyr = neighbor.

The suffix -s is defined as "compliment," i.e. something which has a complimentary or reciprocal relationship to the root-word. ze = send, zes = bring; ri = write, ris = read. Some of Dutton's uses of this suffix are idiomatic and unpredictable: fil = son, fils = daughter; fe = happy, fes = enjoy.

The suffix -st indicates a professional person: artryst = architect; just = judge; sanst = doctor. In some cases Dutton uses -r when one might expect him to use -st: afinr = broker, berr = porter, rybur = librarian. He tells us that _rist_ means `clerk' and _rir_ means `writer.'

The suffix -t is diminutive: bo = tree, bot = a plant; nav = ship, navt = boat. Dutton's use of this affix is sometimes unpredictable: even if you know that _ge_ means "together/connect" and _gro_ means "to grow," you probably would not guess that _get_ means "to attach" and _grot_ means "a bud."

The suffix -u indicates something generally favorable: haz = chance, hazu = fortunate; rap = quick, rapu = prompt; to = amount, tou = sufficient(ly).

The prefix u- creates the present (active) participle: ubi = living. Often one cannot predict whether Dutton will use u- or -k to express a given meaning.

The suffix -v/-i indicates "association" (a vague relationship): au = hear, auv = listen; ri = write, riv = print; arm = arm, armi = sleeve. -v also indicates ordinal numbers: 2v = 2nd, 3v = 3rd.

The prefix y- indicates past tense: ybi = lived. But the past tense of "have" is written _hy,_ not _yh._ In general y- need only be used once in a sentence, and can be omitted if past time is otherwise indicated.

It's also worth noting that Speedwords roots and affixes are not self-segregating. The word _nob_ might be no + b ("noticeable") or the root _nob;_ the word _kony_ might be ko + ny, or ko + n + y; _por_ might mean "successor" or "important"; and words such as _itollis_ and _evue,_ which combine morphological ambiguity with semantically ambiguous affixes, are difficult to analyse.

If Dutton's examples are any example, so to speak, it seems unlikely that any given Speedwords user could assemble new compounds of roots and affixes in a way that other users could spontaneously duplicate or unambiguously analyze. For instance, we might expect the Speedword for "house" to be _dop_ or _rydo,_ but Dutton claims it is _ryg,_ and he asserts that _dop_ means "address."

Likewise Dutton tells us that "bridge" is translated as _sutkru,_ not _krum_ or _krul_ as one might expect; Dutton asserts that _krul_ means "swastika"! The notion of "republic" is expressed by Dutton as _demrexn,_ "non-monarchy." He renders "unpaid" as _pan_ rather than _padn._ And he translates the English words "nevertheless, still, yet" as _mexn,_ a compound which literally means `not-opposite:of-more.'

(Answers to the -g quiz: bleg = wheat, dog = hotel, ming = coal, ping = a pin.)

It is my opinion that the basic vocabulary of Speedwords is a brilliant implementation of Zipf's law and lexical parsimony, but the system of affixes is woefully inadequate. Dutton has simply tried to stuff too many different meanings into each suffix and, as a result, many suffixes have no predictable meaning at all. Perhaps a Speedwords reform project is needed. 1/2 :-)




(Teach Yourself) Dutton Speedwords Dutton, Reginald J. G. Teach Yourself Books/English Universities Press: 1951, 1971, 1973 [160 p.]

Dutton Speedwords Dictionary Dutton, Reginald J. G. Dutton Rapid Writing Systems Ltd.: 1951 [64 p.]

other items mentioned in the above works:

World Speedwords Text-Book

Companion to Text-Book

Supplement to Text-Book

Dictation Exercises on 1,000 most-used Words

Thanks to the participants in the Conlang forum, especially Ron Hale-Evans and Richard Kennaway, for helping me to obtain information about Speedwords.

(This article is in the public domain and may be freely redistributed.)

Rick Harrison

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.