Funnish Funnish

Funnish is a completely original writing system designed in 2011 by Sheldon Ebbeler, a linguist and analyst of verbal behavior. It was created to explore a unique philosophy of writing. That is, the terms "alphabet," "syllabary," and so on, which involve lumping together simultaneous features of sound, do not apply. By contrast, Funnish represents sequential features of sound. This new type of writing system (for which Funnish is the first example) is herein termed a Mananone. The term "Mananone" arose in the spirit of how other writing systems have been named. As "alphabet" is derived from the names of the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, and as "Futhark" came from the initial sounds the first six rune names, "Mananone" stems from the names of the first graphemes of the Funnish Mananone. Incidentally, the word "mananone" translates very loosely to "Hell, yes."

Notable features

How a mananone is different from conventional writing systems

Sounds within any given spoken language are not totally dissimilar from each other. Rather, sounds relate to one another by sharing distinctive features. Distinctive features are properties or aspects of phonemes that allow us to describe and identify that sound in a more systematic and detailed fashion. For example, the sounds [p] and [m] share the distinctive feature value of labial place, referring to the fact that they are both produced with the lips. The sounds [p] and [t], on the other hand, are both stop sounds. This stems from fact that airstream must stop with a complete closure somewhere in the mouth. In general, there are at least two distinctive feature types that must be identified to specify a given sound for a language: place and closure. Closure is the distinctive feature type that relates how the areas of the mouth and vocal tract are closed and the extent of that closure. (NOTE: I use the term "closure" here to encompass the traditional term "manner." The reason for this becomes more obvious when we discuss vowels.) Place, on the other hand, is the distinctive feature type that specifies exactly where in mouth the sound is being made. (There is a third distinctive feature type, voicing, which is typically discussed, but we will address this later.)

Here are the minimal phonologies for Finnish and Estonian. These charts identify the values for these two distinctive feature types (place and closure) for each sound of each language. The graphemes shown here illustrate how the Latin alphabet has been used to represent the sounds of these two languages.

Minimal phonologies for Finnish and Estonian

Here are some significant points about these alphabets:

  1. For Finnish, v represents the semi-vowel [ʋ]; for Estonian, v stands for a (voiced labiodental) fricative [v].
  2. In Finnish, [y] is represented using y; the same sound in Estonian is written with ü.
  3. Estonian has an additional atypical vowel [ɤ], an unrounded [o], which is given by the letter õ.
  4. Both Finnish and Estonian exhibit short versus long vowel contrasts and (geminate) consonant contrasts. Double sounds are generally characterized by doubling the corresponding written letter.
  5. Each language has symbols for sounds arising in foreign loan words, e.g, f and š. These sounds and symbols are not shown here. Additionally, there are other sounds that are occasionally contrasted but that are not represented here by the more standard alphabet. For example, a ng digraph stands for a doubly articulated velar nasal [ŋ ŋ].
  6. Voiced plosives: In Finnish, historically, voiced stops occurred only in loanwords. However, more frequently, contrasts occur (e.g, /bussi/ ‘a bus’ vs /pussi/ ‘a bag’). Using Funnish, an optional diacritic is available to clarify the distinction when necessary. (See below.) In Estonian, plosives become voiced between vowels. This is a predictable pattern that need not be represented orthographically.

Conventional writing systems that represent spoken sounds of a language (like alphabets and even syllabaries) combine simultaneous features of sounds. For alphabets, this yields the familiar segment graphemes of a language, i.e, its written letters. (See the charts above for the traditional Finnish and Estonian alphabets.) For syllabaries, multiple segments are combined into syllabograms. The diagram below shows how simultaneous spoken features can be coded by multiple letters (in this case, using the Latin alphabet) or a single syllabogram (using the Cherokee syllabary, in this example).

Syllable [se] in Funnish

A mananone is a completely unconventional writing system. Instead of combining simultaneous features, a mananone combines sequential features. Here is the same syllable captured with the Funnish mananone.

With alphabets, the two main types of letters are consonant graphemes and vowel graphemes. Each of an alphabet's graphemes represents the combination of that sound's simultaneous closure and place values.

In contrast, with a mananone, the two types of component graphemes are place graphemes and closure graphemes. Each of a mananone's graphemes represents the combination of two sequential closure values (for closure graphemes) or two sequential place values (for place graphemes). Below are the Funnish mananone's two sets of written symbols:

The two Funnish mananone grapheme sets & their names

Notice that each of the individual Funnish graphemes consists of a monogram of the first initial letters of the two sequential place values or closure values for that pair of sounds. Therefore, for example, the closure grapheme for "fricative" + "mid" is a monogram of f + m. This pattern was modeled after the fanciful monogrammed letters after z as envisioned by Theodor Geisel (AKA "Dr. Seuss") in his children's book On Beyond Zebra. The pattern assists in memorization of the symbols. However, the symbols themselves cannot be decomposed into individual feature values. For example, the f in the fricative+mid monogram is distinct from the f in the fricative+nasal monogram. (Thus, Funnish is not strictly featural, like Hangul.)

Another aid to memorization is the specific arrangement of each monogram. Namely, an inverse of any given sequence is represented by the mirror image of that sister monogram. So, for example, the mid+fricative grapheme is simply the reflection of the fricative+mid grapheme. This cuts in half the number of symbols to be learned. Not surprisingly, when the two sequential place or closure values are the same (e.g, fricative+fricative), the grapheme is symmetrical about the midline.

Symbol Names

The symbols are named not based on what they look like. Rather, a word that is written using two of that particular symbol serves as that symbol's name. (That is, for instance, the Estonian word for "wheel" is "ratas." It is written in Funnish using two of the Dorsal-Coronal graphemes. Therefore, "Ratas" is an appropriate name for the Dorsal-Coronal symbol.) When a common word fitting this criterion was not readily available, a compound-often nonsensical-was created to name that symbol. (For example, one particular symbol happens to be named "wicked squirrel.") The letter names are all derived from Estonian words unless otherwise noted (i.e, H. = 'Hungarian,' F. = 'Finnish').

Unwritten Distinctions

Finnish and Estonian often make distinctions that are not written using the standard alphabet. With Estonian, for example, palatalization occurs before front vowels, though this is unseen within the orthography. With Finnish, initial consonants geminate at morpheme boundaries. Generally, a nasal undergoes place assimilation before a velar consonant (i.e, [n] à [ŋ]), though this is not written. Other effects (e.g, Sandhi effects) are predictable in a similar fashion. Such alterations in sounds not indicated with the standard writing need not be represented when using Funnish either.

There are, however, situations for which added detail would be preferable. In particular, when a contrast occurs that might result in ambiguity, otherwise optional symbols should be used for further clarity.

  1. Word-final lengthening: Because of the nature of a mananone, a word with an odd number of phonemes must be represented with a geminate symbol somewhere, though the sound is articulated as a single sound. This is because there is generally no way to represent single segments. With Funnish, this singly-articulated geminate is conventionally written at the end of the word. As such, if a word with an even number of phonemes happens to end with a geminate sound, it will look identical when represented in Funnish. If this does occur for a pair of words distinctively, this situation can be disambiguated by ending the latter with the geminate sound conjunct written twice. 'Use' versus 'using'
  2. Palatalization contrasts: In Estonian, if palatalization occurs in the absence of a front vowel, and this is contrasted with an otherwise identical word, a palatal form can simply be used instead of the alternate place form.
  3. Overlong contrasts: Estonian is unique in that there can be up to three contrastive lengths: short, halflong, and overlong. However, overlong lengths occur only suprasegmentally. Moreover, overlong versus halflong contrasts are not standardly written differently using the Estonian writing system. If two words do contrast these lengths, the overlong length may be captured in Funnish by writing the longer sound as it is pronounced, with 3 units of length.
  4. Labialized Front Vowels: Both languages phonemically distinguish between rounded and unrounded front vowels. (Additionally, Estonian has one unrounded/rounded back vowel distinction.) Only when such is distinctive with a pair of words, the labialized vowel should be written with a labial diacritic. This symbol occurs beneath the relevant conjunct, since place values are typically specified on the bottom half of a conjunct. Note that this diacritic resembles a capital l, as in "Labial."
    'Fall' versus 'ergo'
  5. Voiced Stops: As noted above, voicing is not generally contrastive. However, when such is the case for a pair of words, the voiced counterpart can be written with the voicing diacritic above the relevant conjunct. Note that this diacritic resembles a v, as in "voiced."
    'Bus' versus 'bag'

The Trill

One sound common to both languages that does not fit within the Funnish grid of phonemes is the trill [r]. This sound is exceptional with Funnish in that it is represented segmentally via a non-optional diacritic. When a trill occurs between conjuncts, a carat symbol occurs between the conjuncts. When a trill occurs within a conjunct, this carat occurs above the conjunct. Note that this diacritic resembles a simplified, rotated r.

'Basket' versus 'moth'

A final caveat

There are several aspects of a mananone that do not make it the most practical of writing systems. For one thing, it is not uncommon for things in close temporal or physical proximity to each other to be identified with each other. Thus, it is certainly much more natural for speakers of a given language to perceive simultaneous features together as a unit (i.e, segmentally), rather than sequential features. It is not surprising then that alphabets have naturally arisen over mananones. Second, the general inability to represent words with an odd number of phonemes elegantly is an obvious drawback. Finally, for a mananone to be at all practical, most sounds should fall within and fill up a 2-dimensional grid of sounds. This is why Finnish and Estonian are close to ideal candidates for this type of writing system. However, a mananone would not be an efficient means to represent most languages' phonologies. So, in general, while a mananone might not be a viable alternative for a more standard alphabet, its consideration has been fun nonetheless - or at least, funnish.

Sample texts

Sample text in Funnish in Finnish

Finnish transliteration

Kaikki ihmiset syntyvät vapaina ja tasavertaisina arvoltaan ja oikeuksiltaan. Heille on annettu järki ja omatunto, ja heidän on toimittava toisiaan kohtaan veljeyden hengessä.

Sample text in Funnish in Estonian

Estonian transliteration

Kõik inimesed sünnivad vabadena ja võrdsetena oma väärikuselt ja õigustelt. Neile on antud mõistus ja südametunnistus ja nende suhtumist üksteisesse peab kandma vendluse vaim.


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

For more information about Funnish, please contact Sheldon Ebbeler at sheldonebbeler[at]yahoo[dot]com

Con-scripts by Sheldon Ebbeler

Funnish, Knot alphabet, Tengwarpt, Uriovakiro

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