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Deseret Alphabet

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Deseret: 𐐔𐐯𐑅𐐯𐑉𐐯𐐻

Early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came from many countries and did not share a common language. As these people gathered to the West (primarily to the valley of the Great Salt Lake), Church leaders were faced with a problem: How to communicate effectively with such a diverse group of individuals.

One solution was to create a type of "universal" language that could be learned by all members. On April 8, 1852, Brigham Young announced that the Board of Regents of the University of Deseret was preparing such a language, which would be a new method of writing English. This language, which was never fully implemented, was known as the Deseret Alphabet.

The Regents discussed letter forms and sounds to be represented in the alphabet, and finally decided on 38 characters corresponding to various sounds in the English language. Learning the phonetic system on which the Deseret Alphabet was based was easy. For instance, a previously illiterate missionary was able to write letters home after only six lessons.

Scriptural passages written in the Deseret Alphabet appeared in the Deseret News in 1859. Orson Pratt transcribed further materials that were published in New York City, printed with type designed and cast there, at a total cost of $18,500. These included school "readers" in 1868 and the Book of Mormon and a reader of excerpts from it in 1869. Although few of these books were sold, some schools used them in the Utah territory.

In 1873 it was estimated that developing and printing a library of a thousand titles using the Deseret Alphabet would cost about five million dollars, which was prohibitively expensive for Utah's sparse population and the subsistence economy in which it operated. Those already literate had little incentive to learn the alphabet, while illiterates would have had very little to read if they did learn it. The death of President Young in 1877 marked the end of efforts to promote the Deseret Alphabet.

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